Banking & Finance, Real Estate, and Small Business & Startups

Brokerage reinvests commissions into community

January 29, 2016
| By Pat Evans |
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When Bryant Mitchell married his wife, Audrey, in 2011, they began listening to Dave Ramsey’s radio show. Both had college debt and wanted to learn how to get on their feet financially.

One of Ramsey’s principles was tithing. Prior to that point in time, Mitchell wasn’t in a place where he could donate a good chunk of his time, knowledge and money to others. Now, however, he is, and he’s building the culture within his real estate company, Bryant Real Estate Group, to do the same.

“That really changed our whole mindset on the way we look at our numbers,” Mitchell said of his family’s financials. “Why not carry those traits over to the brokerage?”

Mitchell started the firm in November 2014, and while considering the constants of West Michigan companies that have come and gone through the years, he realized he wanted his company to have a nucleus of giving.

When he founded the brokerage, he didn’t have any agents, so he was simply giving 10 percent of his commissions to causes about which he cared. As agents came aboard, they wanted to know what percentage of the commissions were being set aside for day-to-day costs, including marketing.

Many real estate firms invest in websites such as Zillow or Trulia to generate leads, and sometimes those investments can reach into the tens of thousands of dollars. But Mitchell would rather invest 10 percent of his company’s commissions into the community, hoping to see long-term relationships develop through those investments.

“Instead of depositing into the account of another company, how about we benefit Grand Rapids?” Mitchell said. “Why not benefit what you’re reaping from? It’s sowing and reaping. Eventually, the consumers will say they know me, love me, trust me.”

With the 70-30 model, 30 percent of an agent’s commission goes back to the brokerage, and a third of that amount gets put into the community. The giving model was implemented in July 2015, and that year the brokerage gave more than $11,000 to area organizations. This year, Mitchell is shooting for more than $40,000.

“There have been some agents this did not work for,” Mitchell said. “We’ve had to trim the tree for it to blossom properly. Some of them are very successful agents, but the culture we’re trying to develop here is more than selling a house.”

While the money going to the community normally wouldn’t go into the pocket of the agents anyway, Mitchell is more concerned with additional buy-ins from the agents.

The money also doesn’t come from homebuyers or sellers, but Mitchell does ask for their preferences when it comes to donating to organizations, for instance, the STAY program — Serving Teachers and Youth, which allows the sellers or buyers to choose from a list of Bryant Real Esate default organizations: Kentwood Public Schools, Red Cross, Veteran Affairs Program, ICCF, local churches, Ronald McDonald House and Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids.

He wants his six agents — with six more coming on within the next quarter — to donate money, knowledge or time to the community. On Mondays, for example, agent Darren Defever heads to Kids’ Food Basket to pack lunches. The other agents — Jennifer Sarda, Pam Afton, Patricia Purdum and Mark Bates — take part in similar initiatives.

As a graduate of Kentwood High School, Mitchell said the Kentwood school district is one of his main focuses. He hopes that giving back will foster the reputation of his work within the area.

In 2014, there were 778 homes sold in the Kentwood Public Schools area. With an average sale price of $140,000, Mitchell said that would mean giving more than $325,000 back to the community. He said he hopes his brokerage will eventually handle a quarter of those sales, which would net the community more than $80,000.

Those dollars could provide the school district money for the arts, class trips, teaching supplies, athletic programs or grounds upkeep. And eventually, when parents need a real estate agent, someone might say, “That agency sponsored the T-ball team,” establishing that “know me, love me, trust me,” relationship.

“Everything you do in life doesn’t have to give you a sale right now,” Mitchell said. “My agents should have personal initiatives that they see value in helping. It doesn’t have to be money. Once you start doing it, it opens your eyes to the rest of the world.”

Mitchell said he believes he was brought up by his parents to be well-rounded and to care about others, but he hopes his twin boys will be even more aware of other people’s needs. He said it’s important to him that his children are involved in the community from an early age.

He believes the large companies that call West Michigan home have done an exceptional job of giving back and that it’s time the smaller companies become part of that, as well.

“We don’t have to go to New Orleans or even Detroit,” he said. “There are 30,000 families in Grand Rapids that are homeless. Grand Rapids is doing incredible, the suburbs are incredible. Where’s the money going? Why aren’t we pouring it back into the community?”

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