Can you ever really go home again? Nicholas Acosta certainly wasn’t planning on it.
Nick, the owner and lead broker of Downtown Expert Realty LLC, calls St. Pete his hometown, but he quit town after college and hadn’t planned to return. In 2020, he was happily married to his husband Lee, living in a beautiful high-rise condo in Orlando, and growing his real estate business. Everything in his life seemed to be going perfectly. Yet Nick couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing.
Part of that feeling stemmed from the loss of his father. Dr. Anthony Acosta was a legendary figure in St. Pete: the emergency room medical director at Bayfront Health for 46 years, Dr. Acosta was a pillar of the community, in addition to being Nick’s beloved dad. “He was such an inspiring person,” Nick explained. “Everyone knew him, and everyone loved him.”
Tragedy struck the Acosta family when Nick was five, taking the life of his mother. Immediately, the St. Pete community surrounded the grieving family, ensuring that Nick and his sister Kristina had a circle of love and support as they mourned the loss of their mother. “Nothing prepares you for the loss of a parent when you’re a child,” Nick says. “But St. Pete is the kind of community where people really show up for each other, no matter what.”
When his father fell ill with cancer four years ago, Nick was reminded of the community spirit that runs through this corner of the Florida gulf. Neighbors and friends reached out with support, whether it was dropping off meals or just sharing warm memories they’d shared with Dr. Acosta. When his father passed, Nick found himself drawn to the close-knit community that had been such a support to his family. “You can’t fake that kind of neighborly feeling,” Nick said. “It’s something that gets built over time. It’s organic.” Though his real estate brokerage was thriving in Orlando, Nick and Lee began to discuss a move back to Nick’s hometown. And in July of 2020, a second generation of Acostas planted roots in St. Pete. This St. Pete son was back home.
For Nick, it made sense to seek community, because community is the heart and soul of his business, Downtown Expert Realty. From the earliest days of his real estate career, Nick’s been on a mission to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in the housing market. “Everyone deserves safe, quality, affordable housing,” Nick explains. “That’s something we as realtors and brokers can actively do something about.” Since launching the brokerage, Nick has focused on diversity in hiring a diverse team of brokers and associates. “We’re the client-facing side of the housing market, so the diversity on our team can help set different kinds of clients at ease, and really welcome them into the process,” Nick notes. Research backs this up: studies have found that customers report greater satisfaction when they are served by someone who looks like them. Affinity between client and agent builds trust and understanding, which are critical when it comes to helping families buy or sell their homes.
To fulfill Downtown Expert Realty’s dedication to diversity, equity and inclusion, all associates achieve the At Home with Diversity designation, a training and certification program to increase cultural competency at all steps of the real estate process. “St. Pete is the definition of multicultural,” Nick explains: 35% of the area’s residents are foreign-born, and the city is home to vibrant Black and Latinx communities. Spending a day in downtown St. Pete, you’ll hear a symphony of different languages, and taste a bevy of different, delicious cuisines.
For Nick – whose upbringing was defined by this multicultural milieu – St. Pete’s diversity is its heart and soul. Now that he’s returned to his hometown, he’s celebrating St. Pete’s diversity through his own work in the community. To make real estate information more accessible for his neighbors, Nick launched a podcast, Home2All, sharing insights into the real market and interviewing local industry experts. He also started the Downtown Expert School of Real Estate, which provides online training for aspiring real estate agents, associates and brokers. “It was really important to us to invest in education,” Nick explains. “There’s so much opportunity in this industry – we want to make that’s accessible to young people in St. Pete.” The school is now training 12 students, who will graduate as licensed real estate professionals, ready to launch their own careers.
Plus, as a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community himself, Nick is championing the inclusion of queer families in the St. Pete housing market. He’s chapter president of the National Association of Gay and Lesbian Real Estate Professionals (NAGLREP), which advocates for queer housing rights. LGBTQ+ adults are 15% more likely to be poor than their straight neighbors, making rates of home ownership lower for the queer community. “St. Pete is a great place to be LGBTQ+,” Nick notes, “but that doesn’t mean everyone feels empowered to become a homeowner.” Through strategic outreach initiatives, diversity trainings, and grassroots networking to connect queer Floridians with homeownership opportunities, Downtown Expert Realty LLC is helping turn dreams into roofs overhead.
While St. Pete has welcomed its growing diversity, minority residents still face discrimination and inequality in the housing market, which reflects national trends. The overall rate of American homeownership is 65.4%, but the rate of LGBTQ+ home ownership has stagnated at 49%. Furthermore, in a survey of LGBTQ+ Americans by the LGBTQ+ Real Estate Alliance, 10.6% of respondents reported facing discrimination from a real estate professional. The gaps in home ownership by race are even more alarming: while 73.3% of white families own their home, Latinx families lag behind white families by 26 percentage points, Asian American families by 16 points, and African American families by 30.
In St. Pete, there is a growing commitment to addressing these glaring inequalities. Residents have begun reckoning with the city’s legacy of redlining—a racist housing policy that barred mortgages in majority-Black neighborhoods—and calling for direct measures to create home ownership opportunities for Black and brown Floridians. As for LGBTQ+ inclusion, local chapters of organizations like NAGLREP are fighting for LGBTQ+ protections in federal Fair Housing Laws, supporting the careers of local queer real estate professionals, and increasing diversity of both clients and realtors. For Nick Acosta and the team at Downtown Expert Realty, St. Pete’s dedicated real estate professionals are key to changing the face of home ownership.
“I’ve called St. Pete home for nearly my entire life,” Nick said. “I’m proud to be part of a long line of Acostas helping to grow this amazing city.” His father may no longer be here, but Nick hopes to continue Dr. Anthony Acosta’s legacy by building a more inclusive, diverse community in the city his dad called home.
It’s true that in some ways, we may never go home again. But for this St. Pete son, home is at the heart of everything he does. And he’s happy to be back where it all began.