Join Tracey Velt as she interviews Matt Curtis of Matt Curtis Real Estate Inc. about how he built a social responsibility program for his brokerage.
This is Tracey Velt, editor of publications for REAL Trends. We partnered with QuantumDigital to give you a peek into the secret lives of real estate. Where we pull back the curtain to share the personal passions, philanthropic efforts, community spirit and industry insights, from industry leaders, trendsetters and legends. Today we are talking to Matt Curtis founder of Matt Curtis real estate Inc., and team leader of the Matt Curtis Team in Madison, Alabama. Welcome, Matt.
Matt: Thanks for having me, Tracey.
Tracey: Absolutely, so I know you started in real estate because you wanted to invest in some property personally, so tell me about your path to where you are now.
Matt: I started in real estate because I was investing and I could not find an agent I was comfortable with. My background is in engineering. So, like a typical engineer, I was like “ok, I will just get my own license.” I was actually a sales engineer so what I found was that I also had some customers that were buying and selling. I started off part time doing my own investing thing and then helping a few clients on the side. Fast forward six months later, and I quickly found that this is not a career you can do part time. I got an offer from a local builder that I was building a home with at the time to join his team.
It’s funny how my wife tells the story – when we made the commitment we said if it’s working nights and weekends if there are no benefits and if there is no set salary then I am definitely not going to do it. So I went on to interview with the owner of the building company and then my wife was like, “OK, how did it go”? And in her story, she will say I said, “Well, there are no benefits, I am going to be working nights and weekends, and I won’t get paid for six months, but its good because I am so excited.” And so off I went with the support of my wife. I started with the builder and definitely the right decision. I sold two homes in my first week and even with starting in the middle of the year, I almost sold more homes than anybody else for the builder.
I was their top agent for about three and a half years. Eventually, there were then some things that I became uncomfortable with as far as putting my name on the builder’s product, so I decided to start my own brokerage. There were a couple of other challenges with some franchises locally and so I was like “ok, I am not going to go from one problem to the next”, so I started my own company mostly for job ownership. I just wanted to continue to sell real estate. And so I did that for a couple of years and was successful, and fortunately got some really good mentorship by someone in the industry by the name of Howard Tiger, who owned a company called Tiger Leads at the time. He told me I really needed to look into starting a real estate team. So I listened, went to his conference, took a lot of notes and came up with a business plan. Now here we are 6 years later, and I have grown the team over 1000%, we have a team of over 34 team members and we will be at 40 by the end of the summer. We are on pace to sell over 700 homes as a team this year.
Tracey: Wow, that’s wonderful. Now I know your brokerage has a culture where you are dedicated to helping people succeed, that includes on a charitable level where you believe in giving it back and paying it forward, so tell me a little bit about how you maintain that culture and why it’s so important to you?
Matt: I’m at a conference in Orlando this week, and I listened to Lou Holtz, and he told a story over dinner saying, “you know I am a lot better of a coach when I have good players” and I think the same is true for me as a real estate broker. I am a lot better of a team leader when I have better teammates. The first thing is it really starts with the hiring. When we hire good people, that is step one. Step two is leading by example. Giving and sharing and leading by example makes all the difference. The other thing is that your team does not really understand or buy in or hear you until you have told them something seven times. So repetition is a big thing here.
Tracey: Great, so I know that you have had a life changing trip to Nicaragua a few years back, where you decided to build homes for Nicaraguan families in need. So tell me a little about your trip and how you got involved in the lives of those families.
Matt: Before I actually went on the first trip I was reading in a magazine about an organization and how they were building homes in Nicaragua. I decided to jump on board after doing some research. Kind of going back to my background and roots in real estate and investing. I found out you can build a home in Nicaragua for about $7,000. To me, it’s the best return on investment that I have seen in real estate. Just the lives you can change with just a small amount of money. And so that was kind of the motivation. And so then I was lead to, I guess through divine intervention, to the concept where we would build a home in Nicaragua for every hundred homes that we would sell. So just breaking down the math it ended up being $50 per home, so it’s something very affordable we could do. And that small momentum built upon itself and made a big difference. And so that was kind of the roots of how we got started.
Then, on the first building trip it really just hit in on the head as to why we were behind what we were doing, and it became a life-changing mission. I got over there and found out that one of four kids die before the age of 5 due to inadequate housing. This is due to the dirt floor, catching parasites and something as insane as dying going to the bathroom. A lot of them don’t have indoor plumbing so they go to these latrine pits and they fall in and they die. It’s the second poorest country in the western hemisphere. They have a housing deficit and I think it’s something around 77% of the homes are inadequate. 79% live on less than $2 per day. So what you might expect to find is a lot of crime and a lot of bitterness, but what I found was actually the opposite. There are a lot of things they can learn from us in terms of industry and business but then there is a lot that I learned from them in terms of contentment and community. So I took those lessons back to our team and our community
There was this little boy named Christian that was on that first build site. It was not his home, but he was one of the village kids. He was sharing with us how Nicaragua has a lot of rain, how it has a rainy season throughout the year and during that rain when he is trying to do homework and trying to better himself his papers are getting all wet.
These poor kids are trying to sleep in this little bitty shack that would barely hold one American, and there are 5 or 6 people sleeping in this area and they are getting rained on when they are trying to sleep and get prepared for the next day. That’s one thing I certainly will never forget. The girls in Nicaragua fear rape due to the living conditions and not having locks on the doors. So it has made a huge impact on me and I learned a lot.
In my opinion, God speaks through children. When I got back from the trip and was telling my family about my stories and what happened, my son who was eight at the time said,“daddy my goal for me and you in our lifetime is to build one thousand houses”. And so dad thinks he has this big vision, we are going to build a house for each 100 homes we sell, and then my son just lays it on me with a bigger vision. And so that’s kind of been our rallying call and vision for this whole Nicaragua project. 1,000 homes—that’s what we are going to do.
Tracey: Great, and so I know you have made two trips to Nicaragua, how many homes have you built so far?
Matt: We have built over 30 homes so far, so we are just getting started. My last building trip was great, and I was able to spend a lot of time with the national director for the habitat for Nicaragua. He was telling me about some of his needs, and the way that we can continue to participate at a higher level. So we have recently made a commitment to $100,000 to a 34 home project in 2018. They told me is that it’s easy for them to raise half the money. So if we can find half the money they can take care of the rest, so that’s what we are going to do. Going forward, we’re looking at these big build projects, and I cannot wait to go see the work. It’s going to be in production February to June of next year. We will donate the money at the end of this year and go on a building trip, and tour the fruits of God’s labor next year.
Tracey: Ok, so 2018 you will be going to build?
Matt: Yes. My wife and I just got back a couple of months ago, but we will be going on another building trip as a part of that 34 home project.
Tracey: Now tell me about your fundraising. How are you raising the money to help those families?
Matt: You know, that’s something that’s really going to be a focus for me over the next 12 months. We have been really good at just donating on our own, but I felt the calling to use my influence to share this story and to raise additional funds. We are going to do that with our vendors and give our clients an opportunity to give. The last time I made a presentation I had two individuals that donated $5,000 each to build a home, so there might be someone listening to this podcast who wants to get involved. We are going to do charities, 5k runs and things like that and we are going to continue to build support for Nicaragua towards that 1,000 home goal.
Readers/Listeners: If you would like to donate directly to the Nicaragua build for next year, go to www.habitatnicaragua.org/donat
Tracey: When you go who builds the home? Do you go with a group? Or does habitat help you?
Matt: Habitat for Humanity has a building group of volunteers, typically 10 to 12 per house. Then they also have a couple of hired experts, like a stonemason or someone like that to help do the skilled labor. We can take a group over there, or we can join a group that’s already in the works to build a house.
Tracey: Is there a specific family who you have built a home for that has made an indelible impression on you?
Matt: I have two responses. One is just in general – the kids. The kids for me are the reason why I do it. I see the hope and potential in these kids, and my favorite part of the trips are during the breaks. During the breaks, I will bring a soccer ball or a jump rope and see the kids and say “football!”, and we will start a game in the streets playing football, or you know soccer. It’s amazing how you can get a soccer game of 10 to 20 kids in a 5-minute period. So that’s one really cool thing about their culture. They are just so tight knit.
The other memories are street vendors on the streets that are going around selling ice cream. One of the more fun things for me to do is providing ice cream for the kids. You can buy ice cream for the whole village of kids for less than 30 bucks and just make their day. Those are definitely some of the memories we have taken back.
Specifically, on the last build that we had, the family that we were building for was made up of a mother and two sons. The oldest son, did a bit of prep work on the site before we come and build. As he was doing that he got an infection on his hand. When we arrived the first day his hand was literally 3 to 4 times the size of a normal hand, and so he did not work that day and eventually they had to take him to the hospital. You can imagine this is supposed to be the most joyful time in his life, and the mom is just really stressed out. She is having to walk to the hospital which is somewhere around a four-to-five hour walk. So she is walking back and forth to this hospital. This is something that would not be a big deal in the States but turned into potentially a life altering experience for him. He actually almost lost his whole arm due to infection. Which would be a big deal for us, but it’s an even bigger deal for them because that’s their livelihood, it’s manual labor. Fortunately, there is a happy ending to the story. My wife journals and she handed a prayer journal to this stressed out mom. There was someone on site that knew Spanish and interpreted it for her, and the mom just started crying. We had friends in the states that were praying for the boy. The prayer was answered in the boy’s hand and the infection went down. That will always be a memorable event for me.
The other boy she had really wanted the soccer ball. A soccer ball is a big deal, even though it’s $4.00 to us. We are not technically supposed to leave gifts like that, but fortunately, we were able to get the silent nod that it was ok. So that just made a huge impact on the boy and the mom gave me a huge hug. So just those little lessons of contentment made an impact on us. At our house we probably have 25 soccer balls around, so we are learning to find contentment to be happy for what we have been given here.
Tracey: I know your charitable acts extend into your local community. So tell me why servicing the local community on a personal level is so important as a business owner?
Matt: I think I have shared this with your team leader Steve Murray. I strongly believe to whom much has been given much is expected, and he has that verse on his desk. It’s just what we do, it’s part of the core values we live by. Nicaragua is big in our heart, but we do a lot of things locally as well. Probably the biggest local project was that we rebuilt the gym at one of my kid’s schools, which was a $50,000 project. We donate heavily to school teams, travel teams, local camps we support a local food bank, and we also support numerous local concert events as well, like Christian concert events. The more that we are blessed, the more we see that as an opportunity to be a bigger blessing for our community.
Tracey: Congratulations, I am impressed with all that you do. As a wrap up for our interview, I want to know what are some of your future goals for the team and your caused based endeavors?
Matt: Well, you know as Jim Collins would say we have some pretty big “Bhags” or Big hairy audacious goals. Some of our immediate goals are that we plan on growing our team to one of the top 5 nationally ranked teams and we plan on becoming one of the first team brokerages to join the top 500. Long term, we plan on replicating and duplicating our systems across the southeast. My life goal is to create a legacy similar to what the Guinness family did in Ireland and to also build 1,000 homes in Nicaragua.
Tracey: That’s great, well thank you so much for joining us, and I wish you all the best luck for raising money for all the families that you’re helping.
To read more about Matt’s story, go to: