“The mechanism is real estate sales. The goal is community.”
- Mohamed Mansour
The truth is that real estate isn’t about property. It’s about people. Normal human beings who have braved the sometimes wonderful, ofttimes treacherous waters of this great, real estate adventure. Here are some of their stories.
The brown envelope.
We came to Canada as refugees in the late 1980s. We were escaping the civil war in Lebanon. I was five.
Every month at school, I’d be given a calendar and a brown envelope by my teacher. The calendar had the monthly schedule of elementary school program meals drawn on it in a cartoonish style. The brown envelope would be filled with whatever money other families could spare.
There weren’t many nights we went to bed hungry, but there were enough that I will never forget them.
My parents worked hard, and eventually food wasn’t a day-to-day concern. Our household grew by one more. Then, in addition to the four of us, my mom started taking in foster kids. At one point, she didn’t want to break a family apart, so four became seven overnight. Those years shaped the person I would become, even if they did unshape (destroy) the majority of our furniture.
We were doing well. Then, suddenly, we weren’t. My dad died in a car accident when I was 17. He was right in the middle of rapidly expanding his company when it happened, and I pretty quickly learned what “business is business” meant. Vendors and lenders pulled credit, demanded payments and seized assets. I spent much of the next four years in and out of court.
Up to that point, I would say that I was a massive nerd. I dreamed of being in a secure military bunker somewhere developing the next breakthrough in AI. But it soon became clear that my family couldn’t wait for me to start earning an income, so I dropped out of university.
I needed something that I could do with little to no real-life experience or education. One of my cousins mentioned real estate and I remember thinking to myself, “They all wear nice suits and drive nice cars - how hard could it be?”
The deep end.
I threw myself into it, passed my courses and became a realtor at the age of 19. I almost went broke within a year. I had my learner permit on the back of my Mazda 3 and would take it off before touring a buyer, just hoping I didn’t get pulled over.
Back then, I was far more comfortable working with computers than with people; algorithms made way more sense to me than humans. So I did the one thing that had worked for me in the past: I studied. There was no YouTube or podcasts, and the internet was very different than it is today. I took courses that had to do with working on myself. I started shadowing and asking questions of some of the best realtors at the time.
And I learned as much about what I did not want to do as what I should do.
Who do you want to be?
From the onset, I didn’t much care for the “Find em, fleece em, forget em.” attitude that was modelled for me. It was clear that the key to success, for me, was going to come through long-term clients that referred more great clients. I didn’t want to spend time, energy and money trying to acquire new clients every year. I landed on a mission for myself: serve my clients in a way that turned them into raving advocates for me and my business.
To do this, I seriously needed to up my EQ aptitude. To this day, when new or aspiring realtors ask me to share the key things they should know in order to be successful, my answers are almost always EQ related. We are, after all, creatures who generally make decisions emotionally, and justify them logically.
I had changed my life. Now I was determined to try to help change the lives of others.
I had developed a deep love of adventure, setting off across the globe with nothing more than a backpack and a sense of curiosity. I don’t remember where I first got the idea (it certainly wasn’t mine), but I began investing a percentage of both my time and trip budget into giving to others. It started at 2%, and has since moved to around 15%, and almost always involves helping children in need.
I handed out soccer balls in one of India’s poorest areas. I helped build a computer lab in Mexico for kids who lived in a dump collecting recyclables. I volunteered for a summer camp that took inner-city children from San Francisco and gave them a safe place to just be kids. Many of them would line up for 18 hours waiting for the bus just to ensure they got a spot.
One thing that really struck me about the kids at the camp was how strangely they behaved around food. They were assured three delicious meals a day and plenty of snacks while they were there, yet during the first few days they would always hide food. A lifetime of habit formed around not knowing when their next meal would be was hard to break.
Thought for food.
It made me start to think back to my own childhood and the brown envelopes. I started learning about the various programs and the needs that exist for kids in our own cities, and the enormous gap between the two.
Take the City of Surrey’s school lunch program (yup, the same one my siblings and I relied on). It’s been running pretty much the same way since I was using it: schools with more than 60 children in need get the program (assuming there is enough funding), and the kids get a cold lunch on school days. The program aims to keep the cost of a meal at $2.50. You don’t have to stretch your imagination far to come up with what kind of meal that would be.
They currently have just over 3,000 kids on the lunch program and a wait list of over 4,000 children going hungry every day. Other programs exist to fill some of the gaps, but they too are struggling to keep up with demand and the increased food costs.
My team and I started to focus on how we could help. We began working with several organizations, including the Starfish Pack Program, a fully volunteer-run operation, that aims to provide food for kids on the weekends when school lunches aren’t an option.
Real estate is community.
I don’t see why the same model that has served our real estate business couldn’t help feed hungry kids. Instead of spending enormous amounts of time, energy and money raising funds every year (much like hunting for new clients), why don’t we build a system where we continue to build on the successes of the previous years?
I envision something similar to an endowment fund where every year’s fundraising grows the base. The city of Surrey’s meal program cost them $1,000,000 in 2019. A fund of $12,000,000 would comfortably generate that in interest annually.
As I write this, we’re working on a structure that would allow donors to get 100% of their donations back after a period of time while still benefiting from the tax incentives. Why? Because to me, being a Realtor is about more than just real estate. It’s about impacting and improving the lives and businesses of those we serve. Whether that’s supporting a family with the purchase of their new home, creating lasting memories through our client events, or helping ensure a child doesn’t go hungry in our own community.
The mechanism is real estate sales. The goal is community.
I love Canada and I am incredibly grateful for the sacrifices my parents made to allow my siblings and I to grow and thrive here. Our story was truly only possible because of the generosity of hearts and spirits of all of you.
My hope is that, through real estate, I am able to pay that forward.