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The backstory of NAR investing in Latin American proptech

A chance meeting at a conference has led to NAR’s imaginative move into Latin America to create more opportunities for all.

NAR moves into Latin America creatively

Disputes over private property ownership in Mexico are often unpleasant and can sometimes turn violent. The Associated Press reported on an exceptionally gruesome example in the final days of 2022.

Indeed, few economic arenas highlight the distinctions between the United States and Mexico more than the world of residential real estate.

Carlos Rousseau, co-founder of Orange Investments—a billion-dollar multinational real estate firm—is President of the Mexican Proptech Association. Having also authored his country’s preeminent guide to real estate technology, Rousseau’s work has afforded him a unique look into this divide.

In an arcane and uncertain marketplace, Mexican home buyers and sellers often enter a transaction knowing the process will be, at best, cumbersome and confusing. At worst, Rousseau says, these experiences can rob people of their time and money, all the while leaving them unsure if their investment will remain viable in the long-term. 

“It takes time. It involves a lot of people; it involves trusting people,” Rousseau notes of Mexico’s typical residential transaction. “And things don’t always end well for the consumer.”

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This realization has led Rousseau on a crusade he hopes will help Mexican real estate firms operate more like their counterparts in the U.S. and Europe. That includes capitalizing on the technological and investment opportunities readily available across Mexico’s northern border and elsewhere around the globe.

As they have done in the States, these innovations hold the key to making housing transactions more viable for Latin American consumers.

Rousseau contends that just about anyone who buys or sells property in the region leaves the experience pleading for increased transparency. Expanding access to data and other critical information is a challenge he and his colleagues continue to wrestle with as they aim to bring Mexico’s marketplace in line with other nations.

This contrast is particularly acute for Americans who travel to Mexico in search of vacation homes or investment properties. These buyers, Rousseau points out, expect the same level of service they receive in the U.S. and “don’t want to lose money in what could be a potentially risky transaction.”

Overall, Rousseau calls his nation’s real estate industry “disjointed and disorganized,” a classification he says extends broadly across Latin America. He sees these persistent, inherent obstacles as an opportunity, though, pointing to the surge of Mexican proptech firms founded in recent years to address gaps in the system.

“We’re seeing companies coming into Mexico to implement iBuying processes with goals to reform workflow and make all of these steps in real estate more efficient,” Rousseau notes. “There is so much value in that, and it’s something that’s always had my attention.”

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From his residence just 150 miles south of the U.S.-Mexico border (where he’s launched various professional enterprises of his own), Rousseau sees the structure he believes should serve as a model for Mexican real estate. And it comes with tremendous potential.

Attending commercial real estate conference CRETech in 2021—keenly aware that he was “one of the few Latinos” at the Manhattan event—Rousseau stumbled upon a booth manned by a member of the National Association of Realtors®’ Strategic Business, Innovation, and Technology team.

At that point unfamiliar with the REACH program and its inherent overlap with his own expertise, Rousseau told the NAR representative about his background in proptech and of the ventures started from outside his home in Monterrey, Mexico. She then suggested Rousseau meet Dave Garland, a managing partner for REACH and NAR’s investment arm, Second Century Ventures.

A little more than a year after that first encounter, NAR was proud to announce last November that REACH would be expanding into Latin America.

Jointly based in Mexico City and Monterrey, REACH Latam will connect the region’s startups to international capital sources and innovators propelling the industry elsewhere around the world.

With Rousseau as its managing partner, the program will also work to facilitate numerous consumer-minded protections like those so commonly found in the U.S. Boosting professionalism of the region’s real estate-related jobs will be a key focus.

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“Let’s say my mom wakes up and decides she wants to be a broker; she can just be a broker,” Rousseau speculates. “She could be a great broker, of course, but either way she could sell a house tomorrow in Mexico if she wanted to without any formal education or certification.”

Rousseau adds, “That creates a problem, because there are people who don’t know certain basic elements about real estate. They confuse the market, they confuse their clients, and they may not compete in the most ethical way.”

I was fortunate to have helped launch REACH from my previous position as NAR’s Senior vice president responsible for business development and strategic investments.

From the first days of these conversations, we hoped to spur changes like those now on display through REACH Latam—programs and partnerships that can provide immense benefits to global consumers and real estate agents alike.

Today, the Latin American real estate industry represents nearly $1 trillion USD in opportunity. And with internet accessible in 78% of the region—a number significantly higher than India or China—proptech has rapidly become one of the most attractive sectors for venture capital investment throughout South and Central America.

Hoping to serve as a conduit between Mexican and American institutions, Rousseau sees clearly the potential—and responsibility—before him.

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“I want to be the bridge that connects Mexican and U.S. real estate,” he says. “We’re very close geographically, but we’re far away in terms of the way we conduct business and interact with one another.”

Rousseau concludes, “The opportunity is immense, and there are so many people who can benefit from that.”

Chief Executive Officer, National Association of REALTORS, Bob Goldberg has overseen transformations that have positioned NAR as real estate's leading figure in the fight for diversity and inclusion; the industry's primary driver of technological innovation; and as an association lauded for a genuine, unwavering commitment to its members. Bob's full bio is available here.


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