Whether they are deaf or blind, or speak Farsi, Slovak or Korean instead of English, people have at least one thing in common: To real estate agents, they are potential homebuyers.
And the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors wants them to know: Someone speaks your language.
The GBBR has compiled a list of Baltimore-area real estate offices that have text telephone devices for the hearing- or speech-impaired, or agents who know sign language. Almost 60 GBBR member offices have agents who speak languages other than English.
More of the agents know Spanish, French, German and Italian than other tongues. But there are Realtors here who can converse in Greek, Lebanese, Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, East Indian, Russian, Lithuanian, Nigerian, Ukrainian, Estonian, Hebrew, Yiddish and Polish. And Korean, Farsi, Hindi, Punjabi, Gujarati, Urdu, Filipino, Arabic, Slovak, Sanskrit and Tagalog.
And they all want to help non-English-speaking clients through the complex process of buying real estate.
Among the Realtors who know sign language is Diane P. Snyder with RE/MAX Results Realty in Baltimore. She says she took a class in sign language after she met Billy and Patsy Bowman, a deaf couple from Cub Hill.
"They came in my office, looking at the pictures," Ms. Snyder says. "She could read lips and spoke, but he didn't. They wanted to buy a home."
She began showing them homes, often with the Bowman's two young, speaking children in tow. The children acted as translators, while Ms. Bowman read Ms. Snyder's lips, and Ms. Snyder used expressive gestures to "talk."
While she was learning to sign, Ms. Snyder purchased a text telephone device for about $400. The device, which features a keyboard, plugs into a standard phone and allows users to send and receive typed messages through telephone lines.
Making sure the Bowmans understood everything that went into the purchase of their new home was time-consuming and at times difficult, Ms. Snyder says. "The person who took the mortgage application wrote everything out. It took three hours."
At settlement, she hired a translator from the Maryland Rehabilitation Center for about $50 an hour. "[The translator] sat in corner and signed everything for them, even if it was a joke," Ms. Snyder says. "I didn't want them to feel that they didn't understand what was going on. I wanted them to be very comfortable.
Realtors can translate more than words.
Consider Nasser Bashi. The Realtor with Prudential Preferred Properties in Timonium, speaks Farsi, an Iranian language, and has many clients who use English as a second language. But he finds he often helps them more in understanding ideological and cultural issues than in translating real estate terms.
"I think it's easier to explain some of the complicated things in their native language," he says. "But usually the people are educated or have been here for awhile and know [English]. I'm helping them with my sphere of influence rather than language."
Knowing a foreign language is not always essential when dealing with people who do not speak English, says Jim Turner, a broker with Chesapeake Bay Realty in Perry Hall. He says he has closed home sales and found rentals for several non-English-speaking clients from the Philippines, Vietnam and France.
He doesn't have command of any of their languages. He and his clients simply created a common vocabulary -- with words and phrases in both languages, plus pictures and hand signals.
To help a Philippine couple understand the idea and importance of hiring a home inspector, for instance, Mr. Turner used a watch and magnifying glass as symbols.
"Everybody has a watch, and you know if you break it, you take it to somebody to inspect," he says. "We'd all look through a magnifying glass at the watch, which implies inspection, and point to the electrical, take it to the sink, the insulation and the furnace," until the buyers understood that Mr. Turner was suggesting they have their home inspected.
Interpreters have helped him explain more intricate financial arrangements to some clients. He has kept the process informal, however -- a waiter in a French restaurant once served as interpreter for a French client.
He recently helped a blind couple find and buy a new home. They were just as interested in the visual features of the home as sighted couples would be, he says. They insisted on touring many homes before they found the one they liked with the right color scheme.
"They said, 'Jim, you can see and our friends can see. We don't want to be embarrassed by the color of the walls.' "
The Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors publishes a list of its members who know foreign languages, sign language, or who have a text telephone device. Call (410) 462-2500 for a mailed or faxed copy of the list.