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Passion and Purpose

James Dean may have been a rebel without a cause, but real estate agencies across the country are increasingly opting to be passionate for a cause. Kylie Dulhunty talks to four agencies who have made it their mission to practice real estate with purpose and make a difference in the lives of some of our most vulnerable people.

Leading real estate agencies across the country are putting their hands in their pockets to give those less fortunate a place to call home.

Across the industry, we’re seeing a societal shift, with agencies passionate about buying and selling homes with a purpose that reaches far beyond a signed contract.

From building homes for the homeless in Cambodia to providing housing for women and children, and financial support for charities, real estate agencies with purpose are driving a new look in the market.

SHELTER FOR A CAUSE
In November, former Mitchell White agent Zali Reynolds launched Shelter Real Estate in Glen Iris, intending to fund the construction of 100 homes in Cambodia.

Since opening its doors, the agency has already built its first home, at the cost of about $5000, through Global Village Housing.

“I genuinely feel as though this is my purpose in life,” Zali says.

“I have a specific, specialised skill set, and I’m really good at selling real estate.

“So being able to combine that with a larger purpose and make a real difference in other people’s lives is something that’s really valuable far beyond the initial bricks and mortar that I’m selling.

“Everyone deserves to have a home.”

Zali says she was inspired to start the agency and work with Global Village Housing after visiting her brother and his Cambodian fiancee in the South-East Asian nation in 2014.

She says her stay there enabled her to see, not just the tourist elements of the country, but just how tough real life was for those who call Cambodia home, despite not having a physical home of their own.

“It got me thinking about how we live and how fortunate we are,” Zali says.

“Here I am selling some of the most expensive homes and some people don’t have a home at all.

“The experience really moved me, and I came home thinking ‘there must be something we can do’.”

Another visit to Cambodia a year later saw Zali and her partner Danny make contact with an Australian charity worker based there who knew a family in desperate need of a house.

“They had been living under a tree,” Zali recalls.

“So we purchased a piece of land and built a very small house for them.

“To us, it looks quite basic, but that’s the way the average Cambodia person lives.

“We also purchased some ducks for them and the lady started a duck farm, which provided an income.”

The next question to pop into Zali’s mind was how to do the same thing on a larger scale.

Zali and Danny set out researching charities and running background checks to ensure that whoever they chose to partner with gave the majority of the funds to the root cause.

They didn’t want their donations eaten away in red tape and administration costs.

They decided to partner with Global Village Housing, which was started in 2009 by Melburnian Jason Thatcher.

Living conditions in the remote villages of Cambodia are among the worst in the world, with safety, sanitation and unemployment a constant worry.

Cambodians suffer extreme poverty, earning less than $2 a day, if they are lucky enough to work at all.

This means families can’t afford to educate their children, locking them in an endless cycle of poverty.

Over the past decade, Global Village Housing has built 300 homes to house more than 1,500 Cambodians in 10 provinces and on one remote island.

“We had a goal that for every 10 houses I sold for Mitchell White, we would build a house in Cambodia,” Zali says.

“Danny and I reached the point where we had built 10 houses, and we were keen to do more, and I had been playing with an idea in my head along the lines of ‘sell a house, build a house’.”

So, Shelter Real Estate was born.

Zali says the one-to-one ratio of selling a house and building a house didn’t stack up in reality, but Shelter aims to provide funding for one house to be built for every 4.5 homes they sell.

After staff wages and business operating costs are covered, all profits will go to Global Village Housing.

“The ripple effect building a house for someone creates is significant,” Zali says.

“Once you provide a house for a family then they can think about other things that are important, such as getting a job and educating their children.

“If you’re worried every day about where you’re going to be sleeping, then that takes away from you being able to think about and set up a meaningful life.”

Zali says clients had responded well to the news that Shelter Real Estate would be building homes for those less fortunate and it was also a selling point for attracting staff.

“There’s a real appetite from clients who are looking for agencies that are innovative in all areas of business, be it social responsibility, human relations or technologies,” she says.

“It’s a huge attraction for people to know that the work they do every day goes to a bigger cause.

“They’re not just selling or renting out a house.”

AN AGEING ISSUE
In Brisbane, not-for-profit organisation Mangrove Housing has launched Mangrove Realty, which will channel its profits into affordable housing for the 700-plus women over 65 who live on the streets in the Queensland capital.

It will also support Mangrove Housing projects that support victims of domestic violence to find a home, and offer affordable housing for Brisbane families.

Mangrove Housing Chief Executive Officer Teresa Reed says in its first year of operation Mangrove Realty aims to donate $25,000.

“We’re a traditional real estate agency, but the difference is the profits we make go towards supporting Mangrove Housing’s work,” she says.

“We’ve set a target of $25,000 in our first year, but we want to increase it incrementally to $50,000, $75,000 and $100,000.

“But there is no cap on how much we will provide.”

Started in 1993, Mangrove Housing helps more than 2000 people each year with their housing needs through the management of more than 750 properties across Brisbane and the south-east corner of Queensland.

Since opening late last year, Mangrove Realty has grown to now manage more than 40 rental properties.

Teresa says while the agency is currently focusing on property management, it will branch out into sales as well.

She says one project the agency’s funding will go to is Mangrove Housing’s current conversion of six one and two-bedroom units for women aged over 65.

“They’re currently making them fit for purpose,” Teresa says.

“Women over 65 are the fastest-growing homeless population.

“They don’t have super, they’re living on a pension, and they’re trying to afford rent.

“A lot are widowed and they don’t reach out a lot to services.

“Many are living in their cars because they can’t afford rent or property maintenance.”

THE VULNERABLE PROFIT
In William St, Melbourne, you’ll find a small team at Property Initiatives Real Estate working hard to make a big difference to the lives of some of the city’s most vulnerable residents.

Officer in Effective Control Liz Charles says 100 per cent of the agency’s profits go to the Women’s Property Initiatives.

Founded in 1996, Women’s Property Initiatives aims to meet the housing needs of single women and single mothers and children who are at risk of homelessness.

The organisation owns 84 homes and houses 239 people, 88 of whom are children.

“We’re different to other firms in that we run on a really tight budget so that we can do all we can to ensure as much profit is directed to Women’s Property Initiatives,” Liz says.

“The housing they provide is long-term and it enables the women and children to get back on their feet and to build a life.

“Government housing is not necessarily increasing at the moment and housing waiting lists are long, with many women and children at risk of homelessness.”

Liz says Property Initiatives started in 2015 and was a full-service real estate agency with sales and property management, including a rent roll of about 150 properties.

She says vendors and landlords receive top rate service and know that the fees they pay are going to a greater cause.

“As a company, we ask ourselves what do we need as opposed to what do we want?” Liz says.

“We work on a low budget and spend wisely.

“We work in a relatively small space and we don’t have the marketing budget of other agencies.”

Liz says a lot of business comes from referrals, with clients happy to know their money is helping put a roof over people’s heads.

She says Women’s Property Initiatives has six properties under construction at the moment and the team feels proud when they see the buildings get off the ground.

“Everyone deserves to have a safe and happy home,” Liz says.

“We’ve grown considerably, organically over the past few years and clients come to us on the basis that we’re doing something different and then they see the service we provide is high quality.

“People have a passion for wanting to give back.”

A FAMILY TRADITION
In Sydney, buyers’ agents Gault & Co Property Advisory gives 10 per cent of its revenue to one of six charities, with clients able to nominate which one they’d like to support.

The charities include the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, the RSPCA, Lifeline, Starlight Children’s Foundation, WWF and Wayside Chapel.

Director Ramon Mitchell says since the brand launched in March last year, it had donated about $20,000 to the charities.

“The grand plan over the next decade is to give between $300,000 and $400,000,” he says.

“Who are we if we don’t give back?

“There are a lot of agencies out there doing great work in the community and giving back.

“Our difference is we give our clients the choice of selecting the charity that resonates with them.”

Ramon says his connection to giving back stems from his family.

His grandfather set up the first Presbyterian church in Young before moving to nearby Grenfell where he helped develop mice-proof silos and invited producers to store their grain to preserve their crops.

His father designed many hospitals in Australia and South-East Asia, including St Vincent’s Private in Sydney, and Ramon himself worked as a LIfeline counsellor for many years.

“It really has been a family tradition,” Ramon says.

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