This month, we talk to Ariela Nerubay. Ariela (she/her/ella) is a Mexican Multicultural and Brand Marketer, born in Mexico City, living in Long Beach. Ariela is a great example of somebody who effectively used the economic housing ladder to reach her dream home. Critical in the mathematics of the economic housing ladder is the concept of accumulating equity ownership in a home. For decades, the financial industry required individuals to save for a 20% down payment to qualify for a mortgage. Thus, 80% of the home would be debt and 20% would be equity. Once in the home, usually, first time buyers would be in condominiums, the condominiums would be appreciating in value and the mortgage would be getting paid down. So, in a few years, the individual could find themselves with a Loan to Value (LTV) of, for example, 50% mortgage and 50% equity. They would then sell the home, walk away with 50% of the value of the home and ladder up to a bigger down payment on a Single Family Residence (SFR). This is exactly what Ariela did to be in the situation she is now.

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Video and photo by Farah Sosa

Sergio: Please describe your childhood home?

I grew up in Mexico City, on the hills of Lomas Vista Hermosa. Back then, the neighborhood was pretty empty, with just a couple of other houses and big plots of land surrounding ours. We had this cool little school called El Principito, where I went for both regular classes and ballet. It was all about nature there, with barrancas all over the place. We used to go for walks in those barrancas, and let me tell you, there were cows, pastures, and some risky spots too. But the best part was the wildflowers—purple and pink ones that covered the ground. I used to lie down in them, and they’d create this magical roof over me. We spent most of our time outside, running around like wild kids. Our house was like a palace to me, with two stories and a fancy entrance that had a circular driveway and a big ol’ weeping willow in the center. I could play there for hours! Oh, and on the left side of the driveway, there was this awesome blackberry vine that grew like crazy. I’d pick the berries, wash ’em, and gobble ’em up. And you know what else? I’d catch spiders from the vines and keep ’em in jars. When we went inside, we always used the side door that led to the kitchen, followed by a small dining room where I had my meals, and a black and white TV. We even had a record player, and my dad would play French and classical music while reading me books about Paris. He loved Paris, said it was the best time of his life, and he wanted me to know all about French culture. I remember listening to Edith Piaf’s songs with him. My dad was an architect and worked with this famous French architect named Le Corbusier. I guess he was my first inspiration for homeownership. My mom and my two little brothers also lived with us. Those were very happy times.

Sergio: When did you begin to fantasize about prosperity and did you tie your vision to an image of a home?

To me, prosperity came in the form of career accomplishment. I come from a family of Russian-Polish immigrants, who valued education as a way to prosper. For my brothers and I, going to college was not optional, every member of my family went to college and later earned a graduate degree. I moved to America to pursue my American dream, which included getting my Master’s. I always knew that part of my American dream included home ownership as being the daughter of an architect, I grew up going to his “obras” and seeing the foundation with rubble grow and convert into magnificent structures. My dad always said one must invest in “Books and Bricks,”meaning, focus on education and invest in homeownership to succeed. He was right. Once in America, I worked hard being an immigrant who did not know anyone and did not speak English well. I went to school, completed two postgraduate degrees and eventually my MBA. I purchased my first condo at age 30 with the guidance of my Latina friends and a wonderful realtor who taught me what I know now. That was my first step of many that followed to get me where I am today.

Sergio: What inspired your fantasy?

My American dream was inspired by the American culture I saw in TV shows and movies. I loved the childhoods of the characters in The Wonder Years. I loved New Wave music, like, Depeche Mode, also Bon Jovi, the Cranberries. I loved it all.

Sergio: What does your home look like present-day?

I absolutely love my home; it’s like a dream come true. It’s a charming Tudor-style house situated in a breathtaking location, overlooking a picturesque golf course. The surroundings are so peaceful, with an abundance of lush greenery, vibrant grass, and majestic pine trees that welcome me every day. On the left side, there’s a beautiful garden that I’ve adorned with a variety of blooming flowers, lemon trees, and a meticulously crafted rock path that I personally built. Whenever I see my cherished Mexican flower pots, it feels like I’ve stepped into a magical Mexican fairy garden.

Once you step inside, you’re greeted by an open-air kitchen and living room that’s perfect for entertaining. The seamless integration of indoor and outdoor spaces is made possible by vanishing doors, creating a fluid transition from the interior to the backyard. It’s hard to tell whether you’re inside or outside! One of my favorite spots is the patio, where a stunning two-level wall adds a touch of elegance. At the top level, there’s a refreshing pool surrounded by cascades of vibrant green ivy and delicate purple flowers, creating a truly enchanting atmosphere that captivates everyone who visits.

To accommodate guests, we have a separate guest house, thoughtfully designed to ensure comfort and privacy. It serves as a warm sanctuary for my parents whenever they come to visit, allowing them to share in the joy and tranquility that permeate our dream-like abode.

Sergio: When did you decide to become a homeowner?

When I first relocated here, I was fortunate to have no debt and some savings, but I was completely clueless about the process of buying a home. However, deep down, I nurtured dreams of owning a house, getting married, and starting a family. These aspirations were formed as early as age 7, when I played with Barbie dolls and created elaborate fantasies. Growing up, I was raised in a traditional manner, with an emphasis on the importance of family.

When I was in my 30s, I took my first steps towards homeownership by purchasing a condominium in the United States. With the generous support of my father, who assisted me as I embarked on this new journey. Along the way, I absorbed a wealth of knowledge about real estate by closely observing and learning from the realtors I interacted with. Their guidance and expertise became invaluable resources, gradually equipping me with the skills and understanding necessary for navigating the world of property ownership. Additionally, I’ve always been fortunate to have strong peer groups of fellow Latina/o individuals, from whom I’ve gleaned valuable insights and wisdom. Their experiences have played a crucial role in shaping my own understanding of real estate and beyond.

Sergio: Do you think homeownership is feasible for other Latina/os that aren’t born to your level of privilege?

Absolutely. Homeownership is feasible for all and it’s not solely about privilege; it’s about having the courage to venture into a new country, adapt to a foreign language, and overcome countless challenges with unwavering determination. Throughout my journey, I faced numerous obstacles and encountered situations that were far from ideal. There were moments when I found myself in tears, yet I persevered. No one could deter me from pursuing my vision.

Since my youth in Mexico, I harbored an unshakable belief that I would fulfill my dreams in the United States. And now, as I gaze over the serene expanse of the golf course, I acknowledge both the privilege I enjoy and the immense effort I invested to reach this point in my life. It is a testament to my unwavering dedication and hard work.

So, I firmly believe that homeownership is within reach for other Latina/os who may not have the same initial advantages. With determination, resilience, and a steadfast commitment to their aspirations, they too can carve their path towards realizing their dreams of homeownership. It may require additional effort and resourcefulness, but the possibility is certainly attainable. One just needs to take one step at a time. The first home purchase will lead to the next and the next until you reach your dream home. It is possible, but you need to save and take the first step.

Sergio: What advice can you offer on home ownership?

I recommend that those who want a home and build wealth start saving at least $1,000 a month for the next five years so by the end of the 5th year, you can accumulate $60,000 plus interest that you can use as a down payment for your first $300,000 home. It could even be an apartment in Texas that you end up renting. What matters is to take the steps of saving every month for an extended period of time for the downpayment and let the value of the home increase also overtime and enable you to sell for a profit and then continue buying and selling until you make it to your dream home.

Sergio C. Muñoz is a Mexican banker living in Floral Park, CA. He is the owner of Intelatin, LLC. His work has been published on PBS and in ReVista, the Harvard Review of Latin America, Studio 360 and...