The success of Casa Latino Real Estate in Danbury, which caters to Hispanic homebuyers, has prompted its chief executive officer to start a franchise corporation that will extend across much of the country.

As the number of Hispanic homebuyers continues to climb across the country, real estate companies big and small are taking steps to woo the demographic. Web sites can be translated to Spanish, and brokers realize the importance of hiring bilingual agents. But effectively serving Hispanic homebuyers can go beyond language, and it can take more than an “español” button on a real estate company’s Web site to attract the demographic, particularly those who are first-time homebuyers.

One Connecticut company is hoping to capture that group across the country as it rolls out a franchise operation this November, and opens more offices across Connecticut. Casa Latino Real Estate began in Danbury last January, and its success and interest from people throughout the United States has prompted Chief Executive Officer Robb Heering to start a franchise corporation that will extend across much of the country.

“All the big players are tripping over themselves to serve the Hispanic community,” he said. “They’re all doing what they can to grab a piece of the Latino pie.”

A 2005 study from Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies predicted that the number of Hispanic households will continue to climb within the next 15 years. By 2010, 49 percent of the nearly 13 million Hispanic households nationwide, or more than 6.3 million households, will own homes, the center estimates.

“I do think the [Hispanic market] is there,” said Mark Foreman, president of the Connecticut Association of Realtors and founder of Cornerstone Capital Mortgage and Real Estate Services in Fairfield.

Foreman estimated that, of the first-time homebuyers in the market, 20 percent or more of them might be Hispanic.

Heering said his firm has been successful because its services go beyond translation. It specializes in first-time homebuyers, and the mainstay of the company’s services is the amount of time its agents spend with customers. There is a formal, one-on-one education program, during which the agent sits down with a potential homebuyer to make sure he understands the obligations – such as taxes, insurance costs and maintenance – that go along with owning a home.

“We just spend so much more time,” Heering said.

After the education, before looking at listings, the agent takes an in-depth look at the buyers’ credit. Heering also runs a mortgage company, so Casa Latino agents can sometimes send homebuyers there to get pre-qualified.

“Then we operate like any other Realtor,” Heering said.

But while Casa Latino’s agents show listings like any other agent, they do so with more understanding of the Hispanic culture, he said.

After closing, the agent is again available to help the buyer when his first mortgage statement arrives. The homebuyer can come into the agency, or an agent will visit the home to review the statement and make sure the buyer understands the details.

“It’s kind of a full circle,” Heering said. “We think it’s a beautiful niche.”

‘Looking Bright’

The concept for Casa Latino came about when Heering, a lawyer, started a mortgage company – Fortune Lending in Southbury – several years ago. He had been working in real estate law, and wanted to see another side of the industry, he said.

“I just wanted a different take on it,” Heering said.

About three years ago, he hired a mortgage broker of Puerto Rican descent. The broker started to bring in large numbers of potential first-time homebuyers who wanted to get pre-approved. Heering was happy to refer the homebuyers to local Realtors when it came time to shop for a home, but after awhile he started hearing complaints.

Some Realtors did not speak Spanish. Others were trying to push the buyers to homes they felt they could not afford, and others balked when the homebuyers asked to bring their extended family to see a property, a common request among Hispanic homebuyers.

So in January, Heering started Casa Latino. The firm leases space from the Hispanic Center of Greater Danbury.

The public was interested in the idea from the beginning, Heering said.

“From the get-go we were getting a lot of press coverage,” he said.

CNN en Español came to Danbury and followed around one of the firm’s agents, and the resulting story ran several times on the network.

“Things were certainly looking bright for us,” Heering said.

Heering said he believes in the strength of the Hispanic demographic, that he was willing to effectively forego a section of the market by choosing a name like Casa Latino for the company. Although anyone can become a customer of the firm, the name attracts mostly Hispanic homebuyers.

“Brian Jones is probably not going to call Casa Latino when he’s looking for his first home,” Heering said.

Danbury was a good place to test the model, he said. The city has a sizable Hispanic population, but it is still a relatively small city. Heering said he plans to expand to Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven and Waterbury. The Bridgeport office will be open within a month, he said.

Hispanic families who have bought homes have made significant changes in urban centers like Bridgeport, Foreman said.

“A lot of families have moved into or bought homes in areas where the market has been sluggish,” he said.

In Bridgeport, there are areas where Hispanic families who have moved in and renovated their homes are responsible for the revitalization of an area, Foreman said.

Heering also said he is confident the franchise will be a success. Since the airing of the CNN story, the firm has received calls from across the country, and from other countries, although an international franchise is not yet on the horizon. The interest prompted him to document the business model and proprietary methods and start the franchise.

Heering has hired Raquel “Garcia” Colby, a Realtor and a former law partner in the international tax and commercial law firm of Withers Bergman, as senior vice president and general counsel for the franchise.

Casa Latino will debut its franchise at the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professional’s annual convention in Las Vegas in November.

By then, the firm will have the necessary paperwork complete to do business in 38 states, including Massachusetts.

“Massachusetts presents a wonderful opportunity for Casa Latino,” Heering said in an e-mail. “We have identified several markets in Massachusetts where Casa Latino franchisees will be sought – including, but not limited to, Greater Boston, Holyoke, Lawrence, Springfield and Worcester. Although we are cognizant of the fact that large national real estate brands as well as smaller regional and local agencies are tripping over each other to grab a piece of the Latino pie, we also know that the Latino population in New England is poorly serviced by existing real estate companies. The entry of Casa Latino into the region will present a much-needed option and will result in increased homeownership among Hispanics.”

One Realtor in Springfield, Mass., already has found success by targeting the Hispanic market.

Broker Maria Acuna opened a real estate firm five years ago that mostly caters to Latino homebuyers and sellers.

Acuna, who used to work for a local Coldwell Banker office, said she started her own business – Maria Acuna Real Estate – because she already had established a strong Spanish-speaking clientele.

“I already had my niche in the Spanish community, so I thought, ‘Why not open up my own business?” said Acuna, who noted that most of the Latino customers were referred to her. “At the time, there weren’t many full-time Spanish Realtors.”

Acuna’s company currently has 19 agents, most of whom are Spanish-speaking. While the firm serves buyers and sellers of all nationalities, the bulk of the company’s business comes from Hispanic clients, said Acuna.

Acuna was one of the first brokers in the Springfield area to establish her own real estate business specifically targeted to Latinos. But in the last three years, many more Spanish-speaking Realtors have emerged, and some have started their own companies, according to Acuna.