A DECADE AGO, IN KB HOME'S California division, a grass-roots initiative took place. With a strong focus on the first-time buyer market, associates were convinced there was untapped potential in the Hispanic buyer group. They looked for an innovative way to reach out to the Spanish-speaking segment of their marketplace.

The program they launched to meet that need was 888-KB-CASAS—a bilingual “help line” on which Spanish-speaking employees could answer questions about all stages of the new-home buying process—easing fears and building trust with a market segment few chose to pursue.

In the early '90s, many might have perceived KB's efforts as unnecessary, even risky, as it targeted what was then an unproven buyer segment. But today, by consciously recognizing the power of the immigrant consumer, KB's focused efforts have made it a pioneer. After all, the '90s represented a huge departure from the historical trends of immigration growth. According to a February 2004 study published by the Brookings Institution, the U.S. foreign-born population grew 57.4 percent during the decade.

LIVING LARGE: Not all immigrants are struggling; in fact, many are flourishing. This 3,029-square-foot home from KB Home is popular with established immigrants searching for move-up housing in Las Vegas' Iron Mountain Ranch.
LIVING LARGE: Not all immigrants are struggling; in fact, many are flourishing. This 3,029-square-foot home from KB Home is popular with established immigrants searching for move-up housing in Las Vegas' Iron Mountain Ranch.

Nine years later, KB's vision has evolved into an elaborate “House Calls” program that lets potential buyers from 35 markets throughout the country call and speak to a knowledgeable associate in one of 12 languages. Its call center, located in San Jose, Calif., is promoted on billboards, on radio, and in newspaper ads, and its Web site leads buyers to the information as well. “We also receive hundreds of calls in direct response to our Spanish infomercial and direct mail,” says COO Jeff Mezger.

Melting Pot Since the majority of immigration growth comes from Hispanics, they appear to be the subculture receiving the first wave of focus from this industry. But as builders search for success in these uncharted waters, it's critical to recognize the complex nuances within the immigrant buyer mix—and those within the Hispanic buyer group itself.

While the word “Hispanic” is used commonly by the U.S. Census Bureau and other official entities, the term is more of a label for people from mixed ancestries that are bound by a common language: Spanish.

Although demographers tend to refer to Hispanics as one ethnic group, there is incredible diversity among them. Many have Spanish or Mexican ancestry. Some have a blend of heritages that includes German, Italian, African-American, and others. Many identify themselves by their original ancestry, while others prefer the term “Latino.” In some areas of California, “Chicano” is favored.

While Mexicans are, by far, the largest part of the Hispanic immigrant group, their lifestyles and incomes reflect a wide diversity as well.

SPANISH LESSONS: KB Home runs various Spanish-language ads in several markets nationwide. The one above touts the firm's top J.D. Power and Associates rating for customer satisfaction in the Austin, Texas, market.
SPANISH LESSONS: KB Home runs various Spanish-language ads in several markets nationwide. The one above touts the firm's top J.D. Power and Associates rating for customer satisfaction in the Austin, Texas, market.

Recent Mexican-American immigrants often face tough times. In parts of Texas, “colonias”—unregulated subdivisions that consist of modest homes, shacks, and trailers that usually lack running water and sewage treatment—are rising around urban areas. While these communities have long existed along the Mexican border, they are now popping up in other areas of Texas, as far north as Dallas and Fort Worth, despite laws from the Texas legislature that prohibit them. Colonias currently house an estimated one million immigrants in Texas.

Immigrant Mexicans who have been in this country for a while are creating neighborhoods throughout urban and suburban corridors. Traditionally settling in areas such as East Los Angeles, this subculture has migrated into new areas, such as Atlanta, Las Vegas, and Orlando, Fla. Many are lower-income—and their influx is feeding a business community of restaurants, specialty supermarkets, and other shops that are cropping up to support their cultural preferences.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Houston, TX, Los Angeles, CA.