Join Tracey Velt editor of publications for REAL Trends as she interviews Jeff Martell, broker-owner and chief inspiration officer for Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate 43 Degrees North in Meridian, Idaho. After being moved by a presentation announcing Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate’s partnership with New Story, a next-generation crowdfunding charity, Martell shared his passion with his team to raise money to build homes for those in El Salvador. The team raised enough in one day to build two homes and has been going strong ever since. Here is his story.

Tracey: We appreciate you sharing your story with us. Why don’t we start by giving us some information about your brokerage and how you got your start in real estate.

Jeff: Well, we actually started the brokerage in 2008, because the real estate market was completely melting down. So we decided, why not start a real estate brokerage during that time. It was actually a great time for us to start our real estate brokerage, we understood how to be lean and mean and we focused on marketing and client service, and really started to differentiate ourselves from the competition when doing that. Then around 2013, we made the big decision to affiliate with Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate, and that has increased our growth trajectory and made all of our agents so much more successful. It was a fantastic change that I wish I had done back in 2008. 

Tracey: So tell me a story about a time that impacted you surrounding your professional or personal life, what was your ah-ha moment?

Jeff: You know my ah-ha moment in real estate was when I was operating as a sales professional. Currently, I don’t sell, but originally when I started my career about 15 years ago, I was a sales agent. One of the ah-ha moments for me that put me on this trajectory was when I realized I liked to include a lot of people in everything I was doing. When I would find a new opportunity, instead of just working on it by myself, I found other colleagues to join me and participate in the opportunity with me.
And one day I just realized, I like watching other people succeed, and that’s my why. Fast forward to today and why I am a real estate broker and why I am a trainer and a coach. I get up every day to work with the agents, help them increase their business, help them feed their families and find success. So my whole focus is on getting them to look at things a little bit differently, to change the way they are working on something. They are the ones doing the heavy lifting; they are the ones doing the work. I am just seeing it from the thousand-foot level and tutoring them a little bit so they get on the right tracks, that truly is my why and where I find my satisfaction.

Tracey: Wow, it sounds like helping people is something you are passionate about. Last year, Better Homes and Gardens partnered with New Story, which is a next-generation charity that crowdfunds to transform slums into sustainable communities. You are currently raising funds to support an entire community of homes for residents in El Salvador and that’s great! So tell me a little bit about that partnership and your involvement in the charity?

Jeff: Well, it was actually kind of a cool introduction. I was at the Inman conference in San Francisco, and I received a nondescript invitation, to go to some private residents in Pacific Heights in San Francisco. I mean all of San Francisco has ritzy real estate, but this place was really ritzy. We got to this amazing home, overlooking both bridges and the whole bay, and it was just an incredible evening at this amazing home that was probably one of the largest homes I have ever been in, and one of the most expensive home sites I had ever been on, in one of the most amazing cities. I grew up in San Francisco; it has a special place in my heart to go back there every once in a while. We did not know why we were there. Then, Sherry Chris came out and introduced the partnership with New Story. It was such a striking contrast, at least what I took from it. We were arguably in one of the nicest houses in the United States, in an incredibly blessed city and yet we are talking about people who don’t have houses. They live in little shanty town shacks, where the children sleep on the floor. When it rains, there is so much trash and sewage that flows through the shack that the children have to stand up all night just to be safe.
It was such a stunning contrast, and there was a lot of wine drinking at this event so it might have touched me a little bit differently, but I left that event and said I want to get involved in that. It made a lot of sense to me. That night, after I finally got myself back to my hotel room, I drafted a simple email to my whole team back in Boise and explained what had happened that night. I explained the process and what New Story was doing, and their approach of how all the money that is donated goes directly to people in El Salvador. It is designed to help.  I figured it would resonate with my team. What surprised me was how well it resonated. I just kind of gave them a challenge, I said, for every dollar you put in, we will put in a dollar and match it from the company. By that next morning, I went to Sherry Chris and told her that we got enough money to build two houses. 

Tracey: It’s wonderful that all donations go directly to fund the home construction. So where are you in the process of raising funds, tell me a little bit about what your brokerage is doing?

Jeff: Well, originally from that evening, it was before a web page was even set up, and we were able to source those funds. Then, we got a web page set up, and the agents went out and invited their clients to participate. So it continually increases, and we are continually trying to achieve. I would love to build a whole city if we could, that would be wonderful. But I also have seen that, in addition to what we are doing, our agents have introduced it to customers who are interested. I have seen the clients set up pages as well. One of the clients set up donations in his grandchildren’s name.
I think the overarching theme that works for at least for my core team, and I think why a New Story is so different is that crowdfunding approach, where it is very easy and everybody can get together, that you know the money is going directly to the people in need. More importantly, New Story shares with us videos of the people that are being directly affected and the people that are going to get the home to live in. So, you see a direct manifestation of the help, rather than just writing a check and not knowing where it goes.  I think that part of it really resonated with everybody. Another side note that I liked so much was the fact that, even though these homes are being given to those in need, those people have the opportunity to pay it forward and pay it back. It’s not a handout, it’s really just a hand up in life.
To me being in the real estate industry, seeing what homes do; it’s not just a transaction; it’s not just a financial arrangement. Homes are so much about family and stability and education and strength of community in terms of ownership and those same ideals apply anywhere in the world. So this opportunity, New Story finds people that are not going to have a home without some sort of catalyst towards home ownership. But then the approach of the company is to really allow those people to participate in it, to pay it forward without paying it back, without it being oppressive. I think, to me, it’s a full circle approach to giving people a hand, without creating a cyclical issue for dependence. I absolutely love that, I think Brad—the founder of New Story—he is a visionary and one smart dude. I really like him and his energy and enthusiasm are absolutely contagious. So once I met him at that event I knew we wanted to participate, and I was blown away with how my whole team jumped on board and just ran with this, it’s just been fantastic to watch.

Tracey: Yes, with New Story each time a family receives a home that family contractually agrees that over the next 10-12 years they will pay it forward so another family can get a house, that’s a great idea. So I know your office does a lot for your community, was there something that happened in your life that shapes the giving person you are today?

Jeff: I think if you ask my mother; she would say I was an over-sharer. I was an only child, so that might explain it. I’ve always liked including everybody, and I love being around people. One of our guiding lights in how we run this brokerage and the concept behind our brokerage is that it’s a very horizontal organization and that a rising tide will right all ships.
The real estate industry is a really competitive cut-throat industry, but I have always taken the approach that if everybody is working together to help each other everybody benefits and it truly does show itself that by paying it forward and helping others in the community it comes back to you tenfold, always has. So I think I have always been this way, I have always just enjoyed sharing and seeing other people thrive and by giving back to the community it’s both those things. It honestly benefits us way more than we can give and it always just works out that way. I think one of our changes over the last year or so that I am learning is that we were always a giving group but did it very much under the radar.
Just because you need to be humble to be happy, you don’t have to talk about it; you just go and do it. But I was missing something with that, and what I had missed was, if we talk about it and we tell others what we are doing, there is a good chance that they might do something and benefit the community, so it really is a force multiplier by talking about how you give back, and celebrating how the people within your company are giving back and donating your time. I was always very resistant to that, it just felt odd until I made the paradigm shift in my mind that this is a good thing to share it, it’s a good thing to talk about it, it allows others to think about what they can do and feel more comfortable about giving back to the community and then they will benefit from it, and it always works that way. So for us, it’s truly about our culture within our company, we do a lot of things for our community together. If it volunteer work or around causes like New Story. It’s a strengthener between the bonds within the company and the culture between the agents and the community at large.


Tracey: Absolutely, the community definitely benefits when you get the word out. So let’s switch gears and talk about your professional life. I want to know your one piece of advice that you turn to when you are feeling defeated?

Jeff: Wow, that’s a hard question, I try to be a really upbeat person, overly so. I think the piece of advice is that I learned is to stop negotiating with myself. If something is hard or not working out right, rather than talk myself out of it, or try to excuse myself, I just stop having negotiations with myself. I am sticking to the plan, and I want to achieve something and that’s what I am going to do and it’s helped to stop that internal dialogue. I have learned that so much in coaching agents.
A great example is that you have a brand new agent, you got to get out there and meet people, you have to go knock on doors, and it is horrifying for them to go do that. They just don’t want to go knock on doors and they are afraid they are going to get yelled at or someone is going to get mad at them or the door is going to get slammed in the face and the reality of it is that none of that ever happens and the worst part of it is the negotiation they have with themselves before they go and do it and then after they go out and do it they realize, “that was kind of fun” and I have these opportunities’ that actually work towards building by business and career. So I think that’s the most important thing, you are your own worst critique and own worst enemy when it comes to business, so stop having the negotiations with yourself.

Tracey: That’s great advice! What would people in the real estate industry be most surprised to learn about you?

Jeff: I don’t know that I don’t take it all so seriously I guess. Like I said, this is such a horizontal organization here and although I am in a leadership position, I truly feel like I am leading from within not from the top. So maybe on the outside people say well you’re an owner of a big company and the broker, but to me, every single person has input, has insight into the way that the company is going to go and the strategy and culture moving forward. So maybe they would be surprised by that. But ultimately I don’t take myself too seriously and I don’t take the business too seriously, I just have fun with it.

Tracey: That’s wonderful, I am sure that spirit is reflected in your cause based culture. So what tips do you have for other brokers that are looking for a purpose and have a desire to give back to the community?

Jeff: Find your passion. Find the things that give you happiness and use those as rallying points. Truly for me what works great, it’s not me directing it so much as it’s me opening it up to others to run with. So truly listening to other agents in the brokerage and if they have a cause that’s important to them or they have something going on in their life that you can help rally others around to help them, that’s the most important thing you can do. Ultimately, it comes down to listening and understanding what other people’s needs are or what other people’s passion are. If you can align your passions with those then you will have a real strength of the team that you have never had before. It’s been hugely beneficial to our company and culture, those passions that all the agents have, combining those two things that everybody can rally around.

Tracey: Passion is definitely a must in real estate. As you look forward to 2017, what trends are you seeing in the industry?

Jeff: I think it’s the same things, I have been doing this for about 15 years and its always been the same, it just has a different cast of characters, it’s all the distractions. There is so much centered around technology and speed of communication and different tools for getting leads and branding yourself. All that is fine, but I also see them as distractions, because ultimately this is a people business, and it’s about being with people and helping people and truly connecting with people. There is no app for that, there is no software program, no online program that’s going to do that, and there never will be, because human connection is what sets us apart from everything else. We are not selling widgets here, and I have never in my career sold a house. All I have done is worked with people and connected them with their lifestyle, their dreams and what they needed at that time in their life. So I think so much is centered around in this industry, ultimately becomes a distraction. Either a financial distraction that it drains the agent or the brokerage or a time distraction. They spend so much time setting it up and working on it when they could have just been out strengthening the connections with the people that they know and focusing on sphere and broadening that sphere and that’s truly how you can be successful in this business because it’s about the people, not the products

Tracey: Well Jeff it sounds like you are doing a lot of great things. We wish you the best of luck with New Story and your business, thanks so much for sharing your story with us

Jeff: Absolutely it was a pleasure, so much fun!

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