When Yaser Perez looked down from an airplane at the illuminated buildings of Miami the night he arrived in the United States, he was both amazed and filled with anticipation.
As a 10-year-old Cuban who, along with his mother and her relatives, were seeking the American dream, Perez could only hope that their new life would prove fruitful and happy.
Fortunately for the Perez family, young Yaser's hopes were fulfilled as they settled into American culture. He learned English "within a few years" and looked forward to the chance to get a job and earn money in order to help out with the household expenses. The family moved from Miami to the Lowcountry when his stepfather got a position on the Air Force base, and Perez started his first part-time job at the Chick-fil-A in Summerville.
"I've always wanted to work hard and pay my own bills," he says.
Two years after starting at the fast-food chain, Perez worked at Circuit City and then at Outback Steakhouse, where he still tends bar. Though he was just a teenager during these experiences, Perez embraced work, eager to leave behind memories of his impoverished childhood in Cuba.
"I never thought I'd have any of these opportunities," he says. "I'm so grateful."
He stumbled into real estate almost accidently; his original goal was to pursue nursing. After graduating from Stratford High School, he enrolled at Trident Technical College and later attended the University of South Carolina for two years, steadily focused on the nursing degree.
Then one day a close friend shared his own success story about the Charleston real estate market.
"A buddy called me up and told me how well he was doing," Perez recalls. "So I followed suit and enrolled in real estate school in Columbia, where I was living."
After finishing real estate school, he moved back to Charleston to be near friends and family. He joined the Coldwell Banker United, Realtors office in Goose Creek shortly thereafter, which, according to Perez, has turned out to be an exceptional experience.
"Everyone in that office has been willing to help me grow," he says. "It's a great office, and it's part of my success."
Because he speaks fluent Spanish as well as English, Perez carved a niche for himself in the local market. Colleagues often refer potential clients to him when they discover that a bilingual real estate agent would be helpful or even necessary.
For example, one of his most recent clients is originally from Venezuela. The client called Coldwell Banker's Mount Pleasant office, hoping to purchase a home in the Lowcountry. Perez learned about her needs from a colleague in Mount Pleasant.
"Ann, one of the brokers, called me and said they needed a bilingual agent," he recalls.
Perez set up a meeting with the client at the Tanger Outlet mall. They forged a relationship that resulted in a swift closing, just one week later, on a house in Hanahan. He feels that listening to what his clients want, rather than imposing his own ideas, is important.
"Clients have remarked to me that they feel comfortable with me," he says. "If they don't care for the house, I won't push them."
His tactic seems to be working quite well; he has closed at least one house each month since he began working in the Goose Creek office.
When Perez isn't selling houses, he works as a translator for local attorneys - a great way to meet clients. But judging from the twinkle in his eye, it's the end result that matters most - helping people in whatever capacity he can.
That said, he plans to continue his education in the field of nursing soon; he feels that being bilingual will help in whatever profession he chooses.
"This is my American dream," he says.
Perez also shared the news that his father recently came to the United States for the first time and was greeted heartily by his son at the airport.
"I surprised him," Yaser admits, smiling. "It had been 10 years since we'd seen each other."
We're guessing the father was proud of his son.