By JOSIE MORALIDAD ZIMAN
Vietnamese American Nhan Lam, 39, and his Filipino-American wife, Mary Rose Ordinario Lam, 45, led a challenging life before becoming a power couple in Northern Virginia’s real estate business, eventually owning a company, “Fortune Homes.” The firm rehabilitates outdated homes, manages a rental portfolio, and provides financing to investors while mentoring them on real estate.
The couple accidentally met online in 2003. At age 23, Nhan was trying to expand his networking business in Virginia. Mary Rose at that time was the Editorial/Layout artist at a networking company in the Philippines. As it happened, Nhan saw Mary Rose’s profile online. He tried to call her but couldn’t get through. He thought she was from North Carolina because her number’s area code is 919. They got connected eventually.
She was intrigued by his interest. A chemistry quickly developed in subsequent long-distance calls and webcam chats. The online courtship led to a marriage proposal, with Mary Rose coming to America.
Nhan’s parents, both Vietnamese teachers, immigrated to the US in the 1970’s, when they were in their 40’s. They didn’t speak English. After South Vietnam fell, they wanted their children to have a good future, but not under communist rule. So they left Vietnam in the middle of the night, using a fishing boat owned by Nhan’s grandfather. Risking dangerous waters and sea pirates, they arrived safely in Malaysia with nothing but their clothes, living in huts and tents.
Refugees were offered three countries to choose from. Nhan’s father chose the U.S. In six months, Nhan’s family settled in Buffalo, NY, sponsored by the Lutheran Church. Four months after arrival, Nhan was born. “I became the first birthright US citizen in my family,” he says proudly of his parents’ immigration story.
Nhan learned from his parents never to take American freedoms for granted. He grew up in Buffalo’s inner city being the only Asian in a mostly African American school. They later moved to a mostly Polish-American neighborhood.
“I couldn’t understand why my parents were teaching me Asian values when none of my friends had the same teachings,” he recalls. “I often saw my friends disrespect their parents and older siblings right in front of me. There’s no tolerance for disrespect in my family. I didn’t invite friends to my house for fear my parents would embarrass me with their Asian ways. My parents didn’t understand American culture enough to fit in, and I often found myself upset and depressed for feeling different.”
In looking back, however, Nhan has become more appreciative of his parents’ values. Many of the friends he grew up with, however, ended up in jail or living off welfare.
Nhan graduated from North Carolina State University with a master’s degree in aerospace engineering. But he later realized his passion was business, especially real estate. As a kid, he made his first bucks shoveling snow. At 18, he sold satellite dishes to assist with the mandate to switch from analog to digital.
“Ambition, persistence and right attitude made me who I am today.” – Mary Rose Ordinario
Mary Rose’s story
Mary Rose, on the other hand, had a good life growing up in Quezon City, the youngest among four girls. Her father is an engineer and her mother owns several businesses, such as an auto shop and a salon. At age 9, she was already making money selling goods to her classmates. When she turned 17, she was the youngest employee hired by Dunkin Donuts while being a full time dentistry student at Centro Escolar University in Manila.
She was also teaching English to Korean students on her free time. Later, she sold houses as a part-time assistant agent with Ayala Land. “I was making lots of money at a young age and was able to put up my own business,” she says. “So, I’d say ambition, persistence and right attitude made me who I am today.”
When Nhan proposed, Mary Rose found it difficult to leave her life of luxury and comfort, growing up with house keepers and nannies. But she wanted to marry Nhan and move to America, only to encounter some roadblocks. She was not used to doing household chores, from cooking to doing laundry. Also, there was a time when her husband got laid off twice while she was pregnant with their first.” It was a major setback,” she says.
In 2011, they decided to attend a Real Estate Rehabbing program and applied what they learned to building a sustainable real estate business while Nhan kept working full-time. Within two years, the real estate income allowed him to leave his job. They grew their business together, while raising five children. They averaged 12 to 15 deals per year, which include rehabs, sales, and rentals. They also opened a Real Estate Investing Education company to help students get started.
They believe that the measure of success is not how much money one makes, but how many people can be helped along the way to achieve success.