In 2017, Jeanette Avellaneda’s husband walked out on her when she was pregnant with her fourth child. The divorce was difficult, causing her to lose her house and move into a two-bedroom apartment.
“I knew I was going to face eviction soon, and my car got repossessed because I couldn’t pay anything because I wasn’t making anything,” she says.
She heard about Century 21’s Empowering Latinas Program during its first year in 2018 through an acquaintance who worked at the real estate company.
“I was curious. My only dream was to get my kids out of an apartment and into a house again and be financially stable,” she says. She applied and embarked on her journey into real estate. The program was the catalyst for a successful career, Avellaneda says.
“The program has taught me to keep going. You have everything in you to build your business,” she adds. “If you want it, you can get it. You can take control of your finances and life.”
As a successful real estate professional with Century 21 Garlington & Associates in Houston, Avellaneda built a new world for her and her children. She even bought another house.
When the Empowering Latinas Program rolled out in 2018, it initially served Texas, Florida, and California. The program, which is a collaboration with the Hispanic Heritage Foundation, has had more than 1,000 Latinas apply, and 121 awards given out.
This year, the program is expanding with educational opportunities for Latinas across the country.
“It’s about economic empowerment and building entrepreneurs,” says Cesar Lostaunau, director of growth markets, diversity & inclusion at Century 21 Real Estate.
The program attracts more diversity into Century 21 and the real estate industry, which better reflects the marketplace, he adds.
“We will be more successful serving more customers of all walks of life,” he says. “Not only does it help in the early part of someone’s career trajectory, with this program we inspire individual agents to be team leaders and we inspire team leaders to become owners of brokerages.”
Recipients receive a financial award provided for pre-licensing requirements and are matched with an experienced Latina mentor to guide them in the real estate world.
The only requirements are to have a GED or high school diploma, be 18 years of age or older, and be of Hispanic heritage.
The Latino community holds much power in the world of real estate, as both industry professionals and as buyers, making the program an asset in the market.
“It is more important than ever that our industry of real estate professionals represent the same level of diversity as those communities we are serving in markets across the country,” says Mike Miedler, president and CEO of Century 21.
The Urban Land Institute estimates 70% of new homeowners in the next 20 years will be of Hispanic descent, Lostaunau points out. Today, many Latinos are of the millennial generation and are ready to enter the market as homebuyers.
Given the tremendous influence the Latino community holds in the industry, Lostaunau hopes that the program will help equip Latina agents with the tools and resources they need to impact their community in a big way.
“They can turn a renter into a homeowner,” he says. “We are excited that we are making a global imprint in the industry. We are hoping our peers in other sectors, such as mortgage and title companies and even our competitors, will do the same thing to bring more Hispanics into real estate.”
Mariela Ramirez Gomez was working as a part-time server at an Olive Garden near the end of 2019 when she heard about the Empowering Latinas program and signed up. A few months later, she received an email that said she had been selected. Her schooling began immediately. However, the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered classrooms a few months after she began. She continued her studies virtually.
Her husband had already been laid off from his job at an engineering company, where he had worked for 15 years. Meanwhile, when restaurants shut down, Gomez was furloughed. All the while, they had two children to feed.
She continued and completed her studies, but most testing centers were closed. In California, where she is located, only one testing center stayed open and its waiting list was long.
Gomez persevered, joined the waitlist, and passed her test on April 1, 2021. In June, she signed on to work with Century 21 Peak in Granada Hills, Calif.
If she hadn’t completed the program, she believes she would have stagnated, especially with the closure of the restaurant where she had worked in the early months of the pandemic.
“As a mom, you tend to put your kids first. The restaurant industry provided flexibility,” Gomez says of her earlier career. “But now, I have gained a sense of accomplishment in my professional life. This is something I wanted to do. I have more confidence.”
Since her pivot into real estate, she and her husband have bought a couple of rental properties to start building their investment portfolio. She also has an example to follow—an aunt who has invested in real estate in the past.
“A lot of times when you have family members who have done it, it motivates you,” she says.
Gomez has since encouraged a couple of her friends to apply to the program. She posts about it on Facebook and Instagram to build awareness about the program among her friends and family.
“I share my experiences. One of my closest friends is very interested. Hopefully, she joins us this year,” Gomez says. She hopes the program will help her friends reach their goals as it did hers.
“There was always something inside me—I had aspirations to achieve bigger things,” she says.
This year’s deadline to apply for the Empowering Latinas Program is April 30. Interested parties can apply at C21EmpoweringLatinas.com.