In 1995, Antonio Matarranz built and sold a house for $70,000 to a Hispanic laborer who couldn’t read or write. He needed to sign the contract with an X. The neighborhood had a high crime rate at the time, but it eventually became a neighborhood where other laborers wanted to live due to its proximity to jobs in downtown Dallas.
Matarranz, now 71 and president of Avangard Real Estate Services, ended up building about 60 more houses there. And his client, the laborer, now 86, was recently able to sell the property for $350,000.
Reaching Out to the Underserved
In the past, when very few real estate professionals or lenders in the U.S. spoke Spanish, Matarranz, an architect and native of Barcelona, Spain, found that to become successful in the real estate industry he needed to educate the consumer. He met people where they were, at churches and recreation centers, and he taught free classes on buying houses. Most of his attendees were low- to moderate-income Hispanics.
He partnered with banks and mortgage companies, insurance agents, and housing inspectors, educating them on cultural differences and the needs of the Hispanic population. Matarranz also convinced some lenders to re-examine standards of creditworthiness.
Matarranz helped thousands of families buy their first home when most never thought they could.
Before COVID-19 shut things down in March 2020, Matarranz was still doing the home-buying seminars. Now, one of his agents, who is in her 20s, is helping him reach more people by using TikTok, Facebook, and other social media platforms to educate potential clients.
“These people had always been very discriminated against. Most only had negative feelings about buying a house,” he says. “They thought all lenders were crooks.”
Matarranz’s company motto is “Eliminating the fear of buying,” and for his perseverance in the fight to make home buying accessible, he won the HOPE Leadership Award in 2005 from the National Association of REALTORS®. Matarranz was selected from more than 150 nominees around the country based on the impact, innovation, minority focus, contributions to affordable housing, and minority acceptance of his work.
Sharing His Life and Passions
Matarranz married while working as an architect in Spain and has two adult children and four granddaughters who still live there. He has been married to his second wife, Sally, for 40 years. He travels back to Spain to visit his children as often as he can, but luckily, they also now have Facetime to catch up.
One of his greatest passions is cooking. His friends and family often request his paella, a traditional Spanish dish named after the pan in which it is cooked. It can include a variety of meats, fish, and vegetables depending on the recipe.
“I’ve cooked for eight people and up to 50 people at family gatherings. I cook about 300 days a year at home,” he says.
Matarranz calls himself “an olive freak,” which is natural for growing up in Spain. “I like them all, especially those marinated with lemon juice, garlic, and red pepper.” And he believes the best brain exercise is playing chess.
Choosing His Company Name
Matarranz purposefully misspelled the French term “avant-garde” for his company, Avangard Real Estate Services. Avant-garde is derived from the word vanguard, referring to an advancing army. The term can refer to someone who pushes the boundaries of what is accepted as the norm or the status quo. It symbolizes his brokerage as a troop of highly skilled soldiers who go ahead of the army, exploring the terrain and warning of possible dangers.
The term also applies to his fight to help Hispanics and lower-income people to grasp their piece of the American dream.
Matarranz has kept his company small, running out of a single office, where he currently has nine agents. The most he’s ever had was 15.
He does miss the days when brokers had to meet face-to-face to exchange offers or to get a key to show a house.
“Right now, it seems like 70% of the transactions that are done, the two brokers don’t even meet,” he says. “Back when I started, we didn’t even have fax machines. It was all person-to-person. But you have to adapt to the times.”
Working in Iran and Coming to America
When Matarranz graduated with a degree in architecture in Spain, his first job landed him in Tehran, Iran, in July 1975.
“It was an excellent life, and I was very saddened when I had to leave because I learned so much there,” he says. “But it became very, very dangerous for us all.”
Tensions grew in 1977, and by January 1979, the Shah fled in exile, and Ayatollah Khomeini returned to power. Matarranz packed all his belongings in three metal trunks and fled to the airport.
His company in Spain, which had more than 15,000 employees worldwide, asked him to move to Dallas in December 1979 because Matarranz was one of only a handful of architects who spoke English.
“In Spain, French was mandatory. Today, it is English. But in my second year in architecture school, I went to a couple of conferences about career selection. If I wanted to be successful, I needed to speak English,” he recalls. So, he studied the language several hours a week while getting his architecture degree.
During his 41 years in the U.S., he believes he has learned as much about himself as others. “It truly is a country of opportunity. The people are very independent,” he states. “If you work, you can prosper. You can create.”
Thriving Even Amid the Pandemic
The last two years have been the best in Avangard’s 35 years of business.
“The numbers are unbelievable. Twenty-five percent of our business is commercial,” Matarranz adds.
The commercial side of his business intersects with his residential sales. Several of the laborers who bought houses from Matarranz are ready to become their own business owners a few decades later—and they’re turning to Matarranz to help them again.
Bussers who bought their own houses a few decades ago are now coming back to him to find a space where they can open their own restaurant. Others who worked at the hotels now have their own retail shops.
“It is a country where you can work and build wealth,” Matarranz says.
His experience as an architect has helped him understand how to buy a piece of land and subdivide it and the best ways to design a home or business.
But the most important skills he passes on to his agents are how to be transparent and honest with people, which has helped him build a lifelong career he’s proud of.