When you hear the word “realtor,” most people think of buying and selling. But, for some local agents, real estate is more than a transactional business. “Our agents are truly invested in our community,” says Stacy Durbin, sales manager and Habitat project manager. “‘Lead, teach, serve is our company motto. Service is part of our core set of values and doing service projects in our community is a huge part of what we do.”
“We have all helped so many families find homes that we have a deep understanding of how important that is."
That’s more than marketing speak. The five hundred agents on the Semonin team spend upwards of five thousand hours a year on community projects and fundraisers for Habitat for Humanity hosting an annual golf scramble, planning in-office raffles and fundraisers and participating in their yearly build. “We have no problem getting volunteers or support for any of these projects,” says Durbin. “We typically have one hundred percent participation.” Their agents are notoriously generous with time and money; their holiday bake sale for Norton, for instance, raised $17,420 last year.
The Habitat build is especially meaningful to the team because it gives them a chance to get out of their routine and put some sweat equity into a cause that resonates with them. “We have all helped so many families find homes that we have a deep understanding of how important that is,” says Durbin. “Over the course of three days, we take the house from foundation to nearly finished. When we get there it’s a slab and when we present it to the owner, it has windows, doors, a roof and siding.” And that’s because the agents on their team roll up their sleeves and make it all happen.
Many return year after year, learning and cultivating skills that they can use on the next project. One agent who’s typically on site from start to finish is Boyd Hurst. “It’s such a nice program— we have a lot of regulars who come out every year,” says the thirteen-year real estate veteran. “I’m a jack of all trades. I help with the framing and usually end up on the roof.” Guiding the realtors are professionals led by builder Chuck Sgro. “These guys are permanent habitat volunteers. They build Semonin homes and they build several Habitat homes a year,” says Durbin. “What’s great is that they can train our volunteers. People can show up with no skills at all and actually learn on the site.” Those who can’t build help in other ways—whether it’s cleaning up, running errands or bringing food and drinks to those swinging the hammers. “It’s a great way to really get to know your co-workers,” says Hurst. “And it’s a great sense of accomplishment.”
"In the end, we have a dedication where we get to turn the home over. It makes the entire experience very personal."
The Semonin team not only works side by side with the construction crew, but with the new homeowner. This year, it’s a single mom and her twelve-year-old daughter. “The family volunteers two hundred hours on the build, so they’re working right along with us,” says Hurst. Before that happens, Durbin gets to meet with the family to help customize the home and select finishes and fixtures. “We want the homeowner to have the full experience of building a home,” she says. “They select paint colors, floor finishes, light fixtures. It’s so exciting to watch them go through this process of creating a home they thought was out of reach.”
The months of preparation, three intense days of building all culminate in the moment when the Semonin team gets to hand the keys over to the new homeowners. “In the end, we have a dedication where we get to turn the home over,” says Hurst. “It makes the entire experience very personal.” While the agents are familiar with the satisfaction of helping families find the perfect home, the Habitat projects offer a different sense of accomplishment. “Most of these people would never be able to afford a home if it wasn’t for this,” says Hurst. “Many are immigrants to this country. Some of them have had to flee bad situations. They’re all good people chosen by Habitat who just need a little spark to get going. We get to be that spark.”