By Daniel J Vaccaro
Trying to buy a house in Denver? Good luck.
An April report from the Denver Metro Association of Realtors showed that home inventory dropped a record 5.09% from February to March, with just 1,921 houses on the market. Increased competition for those available homes drove the average sale price to $589,587, up more than 15% from the same period in 2020.
Javier Diaz, a 2020 Metropolitan State University of Denver graduate, sees that demand as an opportunity – to serve as a guide for those navigating the competitive home buying process.
Diaz is the first-ever apprentice at Gemtrago, a Denver-based home financing company and subsidiary of Trelora Real Estate. As part of his yearlong apprenticeship, the 24-year-old will learn every aspect of the real estate business and, ultimately, become a home finance advisor.
The apprenticeship program – developed by Gemtrago with support from Prosper CO, an affiliate of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, and MSU Denver’s College of Business and Classroom to Career Hub – also helps diversify the talent pool in the booming real estate workforce.
“I want to help people achieve the American dream,” Diaz said. “Buying a home is a big step in that direction. I’m being prepared to walk people through the lending process.”
Diaz is also building his own American dream. He was the first person in his family to graduate from college and is putting his finance degree to work, while also developing skills to serve the community.
Born and raised on Denver’s North Side, Diaz recalls watching people leave the neighborhood as a result of gentrification. As a child he was curious about why some families left, while others moved in. As a home finance advisor, he hopes to help families with sound advice on decisions that shape their future.
Dave Workman supports that ambition. The co-founder and chief operating officer of Trelora said Gemtrago’s goal is to make home financing simple, safe and less costly.
He described the apprenticeship program as an extension of the company’s passion for tapping into diverse local communities.
“We want to activate the talent in places close to home,” he said. “We are always looking for people who are humble, hungry and smart. We can teach them real estate.”
In the early stages of program development, Workman turned to Lorena Zimmer, director of strategic initiatives at the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, for recommendations on finding apprentices.
“One of Prosper Colorado’s primary goals is to move more people of color into better jobs,” Zimmer said, “because a diverse and inclusive workforce is a key to maintaining the state’s economic growth.”
MSU Denver’s Classroom to Career Hub is looking for industry partners to scale its impact in the community. The C2 Hub can connect you to a rich talent pipeline of students who are tenacious, diverse and critical thinkers that will add adaptable skills and leadership to your organization.
Prosper CO is working to build an economy that works for all Coloradans.
Zimmer said she immediately thought of MSU Denver as a partner because it is the most diverse university in the state and a Hispanic-Serving Institution.
She connected Workman with the University’s Classroom to Career Hub.
The C2 Hub is more than a traditional career center, said Maluwa Behringer, director of industry partnerships, in that it strengthens students’ academic and professional acumen through strategic partnerships with local industries to ensure an equitable future for all Coloradans.
She described the C2 Hub’s work on the apprenticeship program as a case study for how her team develops mutually beneficial relationships between students, graduates and industry.
“We are nimble and work to create a curated experience for industry partners to help meet their needs,” she said.
Cathy Hehr, industry navigator with the C2 Hub, and Wendy Walker, advisor in the Department of Finance, collaborated to recruit recent graduates and current students from MSU Denver’s College of Business.
The response was extraordinary.
Diaz was selected from among 150 applicants. Candidates participated in an online assessment, which included creating a video presentation about home ownership. That was followed by in-person interviews with a panel.
“I didn’t expect to be one of the top candidates,” Diaz said. “But I kept my interview genuine, and gave my honest view of what experiences I had that could benefit the company.”
Diaz started his full-time role as a home finance associate March 15 and has spent his first weeks shadowing Workman. Diaz uses remote tools to watch Workman conduct client interviews. He reviews those exchanges to understand clients’ top questions and concerns.
Workman said that the unique industry-leading apprenticeship curriculum he developed is organized into four phases, all with the goal of teaching the ins and outs of the profession. By the fourth quarter, Diaz will be prepared to test for his loan officer’s license and will put all the pieces together as a master of his craft.
“The apprenticeship program is a solid way to develop and train talented young minds,” Workman said. “But I also hope apprentices learn how owning a home builds generational wealth. Not only can they access that; they can help others do so too.”
Workman expects the program to grow in the near future. He is working to get it registered with Colorado’s Department of Labor and envisions taking on six MSU Denver apprentices. Likewise, the University's College of Business will be launching a bachelor's degree in real estate in fall 2022.
Diaz wants to grow, too. He sees himself starting in residential real estate, before potentially moving into commercial real estate.
That is exactly the type of ambitious trajectory that groups like MSU Denver’s C2 Hub, Prosper Colorado and Gemtrago envisioned when they established their partnership.
“Not only is this a great job for Javier and a way to grow his career,” Behringer said. “But he is blazing the trail for the apprentices who will come behind him.”
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