Lisa La combines RE/MAX brand with English-Vietnamese fluency
By Mike Taylor // Photography by Marc Piscotty
Lisa La learned early that with hard work and education, anything is possible. Her parents arrived in the U.S. as Vietnamese refugees in the 1970s with $20 in their pocket, unable to speak English, yet her mother earned a college degree in technical drafting with straight A’s throughout, and her father built a successful landscaping business in Denver. Later they thrived as entrepreneurs, at one point owning four Subway franchises.
“It’s definitely inspiring,” says La, a standout agent with RE/MAX Professionals, an organization with 420 Associates and eight offices serving the Greater Denver area. “My parents worked so hard. When I want to give up, I think, ‘If somebody who doesn’t know how to speak English can build everything they have, then I have no excuse.’”
Given her appreciation for the entrepreneurial spirit and the fact that she grew up in the city where RE/MAX was founded, it seems inevitable that La would be attracted to the RE/MAX brand. She joined RE/MAX Professionals in March 2016, and her production over the next 10 months earned her Rookie of the Year honors. Last year she more than doubled her transaction total, finishing number two in her office for closed commissions.
La speaks Vietnamese and English with equal ease, and that bilingual fluency has been one key to her success.
“It’s been very valuable,” says La, who estimates that 90 percent of her client base is Asian, mostly Vietnamese. “Even dealing with the younger generation, a lot of the down payment money is coming from the parents and the grandparents, who only still speak Vietnamese. A lot of times I’m translating everything for them. I’ve even had instances where other agents have asked me to help translate their closings because they have a Vietnamese client. That has been my whole bread and butter of my business — working with people who were like my parents growing up.”
Because her particular bilingual aptitude is rare in the Denver area, La doesn’t confine herself geographically as she cultivates a client base.
“I work as far (away) as I can drive,” she says. “I always get asked, ‘What neighborhood do you work in?’ I say, ‘I don’t work in a specific neighborhood, I serve a community.’ I’ve closed deals as far away as Castle Rock (20 miles south), all the way up to Longmont (20 miles north).”
I don’t work in a specific neighborhood, I serve a community.”
La earned her real estate license in 2005, shortly after graduating from the University of Colorado Denver with a degree in business management. After about five years in real estate, the birth of her second child prompted her to take a job with more predictable hours, as an executive assistant, until her children reached school age. Once she decided to return to real estate, there was no doubt about her destination.
“I always wanted to be a RE/MAX agent,” says La, who serves as treasurer of the Asian Real Estate Association’s Denver chapter. “In 2016 I was looking back at my life and dreams, and I decided to go all in.”
So far, the RE/MAX experience has lived up to expectations. “I think having that brand behind me is how I was able to get Rookie of the Year my first year,” La says. “The second I went into the community and re-announced that I was back in real estate, people took to it really well. I know the RE/MAX brand played a big part in my success.”
When it came to establishing her personal brand, La says she thought long and hard about her mission as a real estate professional. That contemplation is reflected on a billboard that bears her image, the RE/MAX logo and the message: #HomeOwnershipForALL.
“I mean it literally,” she says. “I believe everybody, whether they have money for an $80,000 condo or a million-dollar house, should be treated exactly the same. They deserve my best effort in helping them buy a home that’s right for them.”
La also has commercial real estate ambitions, bolstered by her first commercial transaction last year. A lending group looking to expand to Colorado called on her, and she delivered. “They serve a lot of Vietnamese-speaking clients, so it was a good match for us to work together. I had a very short time frame (hours) to put together a list of showings for the big boss who was flying into town that day. Needless to say, within weeks, I was drafting a LOI (Letter of Intent) and we closed very quickly on this lease.”
Other reasons for La’s interest in commercial real estate stem from the need she sees in her community and her own familiarity with the sector.
“We own a couple of commercial buildings within my family, so I’ve managed commercial tenants,” she says. “Within the Asian community, I see a lot of opportunity in retail shops, liquor stores, and all sorts of restaurants and markets. In Denver, there are many people who mostly speak Vietnamese, and not that many Vietnamese-speaking commercial agents serving them. Commercial is a market I’d like to tap into – not just within the Asian community, but with everybody.”
La says she views real estate as a calling as much as a career. She cites an occasion in which she showed one family “probably 200 houses” before they found the right one — their first house.
“It was a challenge,” La says. “Finally, we walked into a house and the mother immediately said, ‘This is it.’ It had the perfect feng shui. She and her family left the projects to live in that house. When I closed that deal, I had the aha moment of my life – an epiphany. I thought, ‘This is why I’m doing this; this is why I work so hard.’ I realized it’s more than a career; it’s a calling to serve my community.”
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