Entrepreneur Robb Heering, CEO and Founder of Casa Latino, Helping Latinos Achieve Homeownership, One Family at a Time
The MEXICO Report
By Susie Albin-Najera
After many years in the mortgage business, Robb Heering (a 20 year veteran real estate attorney) founded a small mortgage company and started helping dozens of Connecticut Latinos qualify for home mortgages. After approving their mortgage applications, Robb referred his borrowers out to various realtors to start the home buying process. However, the process of obtaining the American Dream was turning out to be more of a nightmare. Almost all of his pre-approved buyers came back to Robb and explained how their realtors had treated them poorly. From cultural nuances to discriminatory comments to total disconnect, Robb had heard enough. These hard working Latinos simply wanted to buy houses. So Robb took action. He decided to create an agency specifically for the purpose of serving his Latino clientele. And Casa Latino was born.
Within two weeks after opening the first company owned agency in Connecticut, a producer from CNN en Español came calling. CNN interviewed the Casa Latino agents and followed one of their first-time homebuyers around the city all day long; went to his place of work (a local bodega) attended his real estate closing, and finally traveled to see his family enter their new home. The reporter from CNN mentioned that the concept of Casa Latino was fantastic, the business model was flawless, and that its mission was commendable.
By October of 2006, Casa Latino Franchise Corporation was given the green light to sell franchises and open offices in more than thirty states. By January 2007, the company had completed legal requirements to award franchises and open offices nationwide. Casa Latino also has plans to expand into Mexico, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, and several other countries.
Casa Latino is headquartered in Celebration, Florida and is staffed with extremely competent, professional, and experienced bilingual executives.
What inspired you to start your business?
Casa Latino was created for the specific purpose of providing fair and superior real estate services to clients of a mortgage company I had started in Connecticut. My mortgage company was doing in excess of 175 million dollars with me originating more than 100 million dollars in conventional mortgage loans every year. About 10 percent of my clients were of Hispanic origin. One family called me after I had approved them for a mortgage to advise me that the real estate agent they were using made some racist comments to them; another borrower of mine advised me that his real estate agent was pressuring him to buy a more expensive home since he ‘could always get 100% financing at low rates anyway’. To be honest, I had heard enough of that and decided I would create a company specifically to assist home-buyers and home sellers who would be treated fairly, honestly, and professionally. Casa Latino wasn’t really created to make money, it was created to serve the Hispanic and multicultural communities.
How did you finance your business?
Casa Latino was self-funded. I did well financially as a real estate attorney and as a mortgage lender and I had the faith that Casa Latino and the Hispanic community was worthy of my investment.
What qualities do you need to be an entrepreneur?
There are many people who are called entrepreneurs and even more who think they’re entrepreneurs. I believe the most critical asset of any true entrepreneur is passion. Without passion it’s hard to imagine success in business. With passion you can sell sand in the desert. In addition to passion, knowledge is key. Knowing your market, knowing the mindset of your client base, knowing the business you’re in, and knowing your competition are all vital to success. With that said, you can have tremendous industry knowledge and still fail. When you connect the dots between knowledge, ability, and passion you’ve got a better chance at success.
What are some of the sacrifices you took to start your company?
If we were writing a book rather than an article I could answer this question fully and honestly. In the interest of time and space, suffice it to say that Casa Latino has required a tremendous amount of time, money, and personal sacrifice. I have personally worked an average of 120 hours weekly in my business and keep in mind there are only 168 hours in a week. Since 2006, I have averaged more than 100 flights annually. Sacrifice is my middle name. The payoff will come when I can look back and see that Casa Latino played a part in helping create a healthy and financially stable Hispanic middle class. Without a vital middle class, America fails.
Are you Hispanic? (If so, what is your cultural background? If not, what peaked your interest in this market?)
While this subject is often debated, I am partially Hispanic. My father’s family has heritage from Denmark and Germany and my mother’s family has roots in Syria and Argentina. I have hung my hat on the heritage of my Argentinean ancestry. My interest in the Latino space was based not on my maternal ancestry, but on my understanding of the challenges faced by members of the Hispanic community in America and my desire to level the playing field for all.
Has being a Hispanic/Latino-oriented business been advantageous?
Yes. When your business focuses on serving the fastest growing, soon to be most economically and politically powerful demographic in America, there tends to be an advantage of sorts. While we don’t discriminate, and we serve all, we have endured some criticism and even some reverse discrimination “because” we are Latino. But that’s okay. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, and besides that, the world is conspiring in our favor. Soon, perhaps very soon, the browning of America will be obvious. We won’t be minorities forever.
Did your childhood have any influence on your entrepreneurial efforts?
I was always in business. I was born and lived on the second floor of my grandfather’s tiny New England chicken farm. Calling it a farm is a bit of a stretch. I think it was two acres. By age five, I was making signs and selling fresh eggs on the street. When I was 10, I sold vegetable seeds door to door. I started my first true business at age 14 after I sold my newspaper delivery route. I started an advertising specialty company selling imprinted pencils and keychains to local businesses. I worked fulltime while going to college and law school, and then took a job on Wall Street. I hated it and left to work for UPS as a real estate attorney. I did well but really felt constrained by corporate America so I left a fantastic position at UPS and started my own law firm, then a mortgage company, then Casa Latino. It’s been quite the ride.
Did you have a mentor growing up?
Honestly, no. There were a few people I admired, and even fewer that I listened to, but no true business mentor.
What are some of the challenges of being an entrepreneur?
Life is full of challenges. Staying focused in a busy world is always a challenge, but that’s not specific to entrepreneurs.
How many homeowners has Casa Latino created since the beginning?
We have helped more than 5,000 families become first time homeowners in the last couple of years.
You opened up the Casa Latino franchise opportunity and have since grown exponentially. Can you share any further news about expanding in Mexico and other international locations?
Sure. The international push is well underway here at Casa Latino. We opened a small office in Medallin, Colombia last year and began an effort to open in Costa Rica. International growth is very important to us and we’re currently looking to source market developers and master franchise owners for Panama, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Puerto Rico, the Dominican, Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, Brazil, Chile, Spain, Argentina, and Venezuela.
We are taking Mexico very seriously since we deem Mexico to be of critical importance to the growth of our brand domestically. We have recently secured our trademark in Mexico and we’re developing a plan to dominate the Mexican market. Unlike other U.S. based brands, our interest in Mexico exceeds the boundaries of the obvious office locations such as Cabo, Cancun, and Puerto Vallarta (which by the way are all markets where we plan to be) but we also want to have a significant presence in interior Mexico. The goal isn’t simply to sell properties in Mexico to Americans and Canadians but also to become the brand of choice for Mexican families.
Other entrepreneurs you admire and why?
I admire Bill Gates and Mark Cuban. Gates because he had the vision that nobody else had, the passion to pursue it, and the intelligence to admit his limitations and surround himself with the best and brightest scientists, engineers, and creative people. I admire Mark Cuban primarily because he’s a rebel. His personality, unlike Gates, is rough and a bit egotistical, but despite those shortcomings he had an idea based upon his passion for college sports and sold what’s now useless technology to Yahoo for $3 billion. Gates changed the world and Cuban changed his own fortune, to me both are admirable.
“Just Do it”
Robb Heering, Esq.
President and Chief Executive Officer
Casa Latino Franchise Corporation
Direct Cellular (203) 586-9116
Office (866) 611-CASA
Casa Latino Franchise Corporation
10100 Santa Monica Boulevard, Suite 300
Los Angeles, CA 90067
Casa Latino del Mundo, Inc.
1111 Lincoln Road, 4th Floor
Miami Beach, FL 33139