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The $150k Frey Foundation grant addresses the grey area of poverty

Poverty is not always defined by homelessness or unemployment –– sometimes, poverty is defined by the mental and physical stress of living paycheck to paycheck, or living in constant fear that one outlier or an incident will send a family’s budget into financial turmoil. The non-profit organization Frey Foundation refers to this group of people as the ALICE population: Asset-Limited, Income Constrained, Employed.

“...our ALICE population, which makes up almost 30 percent of our population in Grand Rapids, are really our lowest paid workers,” says Frey Foundation President Holly Johnson. “So these are people who are employed, they’re working, they’re supporting their families –– they’re just not making enough money to really live well in our community. They’re above the poverty level, so that also means that they aren’t able to get a lot of public assistance. They’re above that national poverty level ratio, so they’re really the ones that are struggling.”

As a continuation of the foundation’s efforts to assist this population, they awarded the $150,000 Housing Innovation Award to the Inner City Christian Federation (ICCF) in late November to push forward the agenda of affordable housing. The ICCF will use a Community Homes Land Trust model, allowing qualified applicants to purchase homes sold to them at below-market prices, as opposed to buying directly from the open market. Additionally, the structure will preserve housing affordability for future years, rather than skyrocketing with the growth of the economy.

“I think we initially see it as a good thing when the cost of housing goes up because it indicates economic growth, but when wages don’t keep up with the cost of housing, we get a wider and wider gap of people who are unable to afford [housing],” Johnson says.

“We think that people shouldn’t pay more than 30 to 35 percent of their annual gross income in housing expenses, so when that starts creeping up to 40 or 50 or 60 percent of your gross pay, it starts to make every other aspect of your life go out of whack. You’re not able to pay for health care, pay for education, pay for transportation, and all those other things that we have to do.”
Johnson notes that “This is the long game,” that this is an issue requiring more than grant-making, and instead, requires all the moving parts of the city government implementing policy change and higher working wages, and philanthropists who support these causes.

As a result, the ICCF was the chosen as the recipient of the grant, based on the organization’s approach to this issue and, drawing from previous work they have carried out, their capacity to achieve what goals they have in store.

Images courtesy of the Frey Foundation.

Comcast leads a $2.8 million expansion of its fiber-based network in Kent County

A modern day riff on the old proverb, “it takes a village to raise a child,” could be, “it takes fast internet to build commercial development.”

 It wasn’t always the case, but, for the most part now, commercial and industrial developments need fast and reliable internet to service to attract and retain tenants, which in turn means jobs.

That’s one reason why the Comcast Business announcement of its $2.8 million expansion of its fiber-based network in Kent County that will add nearly 33 miles of fiber to 496 buildings housing 844 business tenants in a nearly six-square mile radius surrounding the Gerald R. Ford International Airport is a pretty big deal.

Rachel Sal Jansheski is real estate associate for Realvesco Properties. Her company is both a tenant and a property manager and agent for several of the businesses located in that area. She says there were limited options for companies when it came to speedy and reliable internet access in the area surrounding the airport. Which, if you had an industrial business such as a warehouse, was not a major problem, but for companies looking for affordable office space with access to the airport, not having reliable service could be a deal breaker. “The main complaints we had from 2011 to 2016 with companies looking for space in this area were the limited options and limited speed for internet access,” she says.

The proactive build approach will equip office spaces with high-speed broadband services that are capable of delivering up to 100 gigabits-per-second (gbps) of network capacity. The build-out will provide businesses access to a comprehensive portfolio of high-performance ethernet, internet and advanced voice solutions that will help meet the day-to-day demands of organizations requiring large amounts of bandwidth, looking to link multiple sites or branch locations, or planning to connect their offices to a third-party data center. The project marks the largest single concentrated fiber expansion Comcast has ever undertaken in West Michigan.

Comcast is one of the nation’s largest video, high-speed internet and phone providers. It maintains a strong presence in the West Michigan community. In 2015, the company invested nearly $925,000 in the form of grants and PSAs to nonprofits, scholarships to high school students, and community sponsorships.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Job News Editor

VanDyk Mortgage projects new jobs to accommodate quadrupled growth

Over the past few years, Grand Rapids-based VanDyk Mortgage Co. has nearly quadrupled in size, says Chief Financial Officer Justin McDowell. Licensed in over 36 states, VanDyk Mortgage has approximately 400 employees nationwide, but nearly 75 of are local, and McDowell says the growing company has plans to hire anywhere between 10-15 more employees in the Grand Rapids area to accommodate its expanding market over the next year or two.
McDowell says over the past two to three years of growth, VanDyk Mortgage has created approximately 20 full-time positions in the Grand Rapids area already, many of those new positions residing in the company’s 15,000-square-foot corporate headquarters in Grand Rapids.
“We’re always recruiting for loan originators and as our sales staff grows, they’re going to need those team members behind them,” McDowell says, adding that as production grows and each new loan officer is recruited, they come with another handful of hires that will build the supporting team around them. “Once you hire one, you will hire additional people to assist them.”
McDowell attributes some of this impressive growth to a business predicated by the market, but also to VanDyk Mortgage’s focus on the purchase business and service. 
“Our lifeline is not refinance,” McDowell says, adding that the purchase-focused business practices allow VanDyk Mortgage to maintain stability in a market with fluctuating interest rates. 
He says 80-90 percent of VanDyk Mortgage’s business is in the purchase business, and because of close relationships with area realtors, its staff knows how to close deals in a timely manner - an average of less than 18 business days or less for a process that can take around 30 for most banks. 
Most recently, VanDyk Mortgage released its first mobile application for customers, available for iPhone and Android devices, that provides updated statuses as they hit each milestone in the loan process, complete with contact information and GPS navigation for title companies, information on appraisals and access to supporting documents like pay statements and W-2 forms that can be scanned in using a device’s built-in camera.
Though the current Grand Rapids headquarters at 2449 Camelot Court SE has enough room to accommodate some growth, he says room to expand VanDyk Mortgage’s staff is one of the many things they’ll be re-evaluating in 2015.
“We’re going to continue to expand, and try to look within the company and continually improve in all aspects, continue to re-evaluate and improve in all areas,” McDowell says. “With rates being so low, it’s going to be a good year with a lot of opportunity out there to continue growth.”
Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of VanDyk Mortgage Co.

"Screaming fast" real estate market and training fuels Five Star Real Estate's growth

Business has never been better at Five Star Real Estate. The firm, which was founded in 1996, has endured several ups and downs in the housing market, but thanks to a rebranding exercise, an increased emphasis on training and a surging marketplace, the firm has been able to grow from 155 agents to 250 in the last two years and is expanding its Grand Rapids office and adding two additional offices in Muskegon and Kalamazoo.

"Last year and this spring we experienced a screaming fast market," says Paul Carlson of Five Star Real Estate. But, he says, the hot market is only one factor in their growth.  

Carlson says their firm's decision to focus on a comprehensive training and educational program for their agents has been key to creating a more stable team. By reducing turnover and investing in a rebranding effort that updated an "old school, 1996 look," the strategy has allowed Five Star to bounce back from the "horrible market" of 2009. "A decision to rebrand the firm two years ago has been a tremendous help, plus we now offer five to six educational sessions per week for our agents."

Carlson also says that there is no better time to look to real estate as a career and income option. "The key to a career is to understand the cost to get into business," says Carlson. "Interview a bunch of companies. Ask them what their training is. Get a map of the educational program." He says many times training is only given lip service and new agents find themselves without the tools needed to be successful.  

"It is an awesome time to get into the business," he says. "There is no limit on income and there is always an opportunity."

To learn more about Five Star Real Estate you can visit their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor.

Over 2000 downtown workers to get access to personal concierge services thanks to CWD

Beginning in September, clients and employees in 14 of CWD Real Estate Investment's downtown properties will have exclusive access to a personal concierge service.  

Lisa Young, CWD marketing manager, describes the CWD Concierge as a "virtual" service. "Clients will contact concierges that are dedicated specifically to our service via email, text, or phone to place requests," she says. The service will be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year and will coordinate a wide variety of client inquiries and requests, ranging from setting up golf tee times and dog walking to procuring event tickets and arranging preferred dinner reservations to local restaurants. The service also includes a "key-date" reminder service, wake-up calls, a comprehensive travel desk and much more, according to Young.

Young says that there are similar concierge programs in larger cities, and CWD Real Estate wanted to bring that to Grand Rapids. "Adding concierge services as an amenity at our properties might make them more attractive to prospects, but really, we wanted to add value to our existing client relations," she says. Young estimates that there are almost 2000 employees at the 14 CWD locations who will be able to access the concierge service after they register. "That is a pretty significant addition to the downtown scene," she adds.

To learn more about the new service, you can visit their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor


Sun Title's 30 percent growth spurs hiring of 15; three more positions left to fill

Continued double-digit growth and client demand for regional services propelled Sun Title to open four new office locations and hire 15 employees in 2013, says company co-owner Lawrence Duthler. And the company looks to fill three more positions as soon as it can.

Sun Title, headquartered at 1410 Plainfield Ave. NE, now has offices in Ionia, Grand Haven, Grandville, Cedar Springs, and Rockford plus services clients by bringing its Mobile Closing Unit vans to their homes or places of business.

The company seeks two more escrow assistants and one title examiner.

"In 2012, sales were up 40 percent, in 2013 it was 30 percent, and we're projecting 40 percent this 2014," Duthler says. "We are always interested in interviewing great people, especially people that are in title and looking to make a move. What we've found is it requires a balance between the technical side -- examining is a very unique skill set and we need someone with several years' experience searching purchase agreements -- and having a strong team worker. We've created an environment where people look forward to going to work here. It's one thing to have clients who rave about you, but it's another thing to have employees who rave about you."

Duthler goes on to say that the escrow assistants don't necessarily need title experience, but need to be detail-oriented with the ability to meet deadlines, have good communications skills, and have some experience in real estate.

"When we look at title, one of the things we ingrain is that the number one product we sell is communication -- about the process, how it's going, how a transaction flows through the office," Duthler says. "The last four years, we spent time on the processes and the technology. We needed the foundation first, then reached out to the people we needed to do the work, and that's why we're growing now."

To inquire or apply, click here.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Sun Title

Related Articles
Plainfield Avenue title firm adds new jobs and expands headquarters
90-year-old building in Grand Rapids' Creston district renovated for Sun Title expansion

Online appraisal services looks to expand, receives Start Garden investment

Scott Packer's big idea is really just a simple one. Make the process for homeowners to purchase a non-lending home appraisal cheaper (as much as 50%)  and easier. "The idea came from the real estate meltdown. For non-lending appraisals, I've created a process that is much easier than through banks."

Packer and his partner, George Laidlaw, have been building the online business, Appraisal150.com for three years. Relying on sweat equity, hustle and personal funds, Packer had enough success to pursue additional investment and mentorship from Start Garden, where the staff deemed the venture worthy of a $5,000 investment.

Appraisal150 is a network of home appraisers, accessed via Packer's website, who perform non-lending appraisals for Appraisal150 customers. "At first glance, it looks like I am undercutting the market. The going rate for appraisals is $350. But once you get into it, we just simplified the process for appraisers. Everything is automated and taking less time." Packer explains that the paperwork on typical appraisal can be daunting and time-consuming.

Parker says that non-lending appraisals are used in a variety of circumstances, such as divorces and bankruptcies, where a fair value of the house is needed. He also says a non-lending appraisal can help a homeowner get more value from their house during the sales process, sharing an anecdote about a time when one of his appraisals came in substantially higher than a real estate agent's recommendation. Subsequently, the house sold at the higher appraised amount and both the homeowner and real estate agent benefited.

With the Start Garden funds, Packer says he will upgrade his site, add better search engine optimization strategy and test his concept in the Lansing market. He says the results are already very positive and he'll share the final numbers at his update night.

To learn more about Appraisal150, you can visit the site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Urban living drives growth for local property management firm

Brent Fisher, who recently joined Green Property Management as the senior portfolio manager, says it's a good time to be in the property management business in Grand Rapids, especially in and around the downtown area where college students and young professionals are interested in living, working and playing. "It's a very exciting time to be an investor."

The firm, which was founded by Marty Green in 2008, specializes in managing properties with 30-150 units. It also recently began managing office space, such as the Midtown Executive Offices, which Fisher describes as something akin to a co-working space.

Fisher says a typical housing for their College Hill property is a younger demographic. "They are looking for value relative to living downtown and a good location. They don't want to spend a ton of money. Access to public transit is important as are walkability and biking options." Several of the properties managed by his firm are just on the outskirts of the central downtown area.

The firm currently employs 13 people, and they anticipate quite a bit of growth in the near future, especially as the downtown living resurgence continues. "Our model is, we come into a property and make an investment. We work with owners that want to add value in the community by making the building more sustainable to increase the value of the property.  Everything we do -- construction, maintenance -- is done in house. As we grow, we want to raise the bar on property management." 

To learn more about Green Property Management, you can visit their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Third Coast Real Estate launches new venture, adds staff

Third Coast Real Estate, a self-described "boutique real estate brokerage," is embarking on a new venture. Builder's Advantage Group will offer sales and marketing support specifically for builders.

To support the new venture and Third Coast Real Estate, owner and broker Brad Blackport says the firm has brought on Jeff Hill to handle the sales and marketing role. 

Hill has over six years of residential and commercial real estate experience and also has a background in the construction industry, which Blackport feels will be a key to their success. "Jeff has worked for builders, so he knows the industry," he says.

Blackport says this new service is a better way for builders to connect in the market place. "It is pretty unique for the Grand Rapids area. Many builders used their own sales force and sold out of model homes, but with the housing downturn, builders outsourced their sales and marketing."

Blackport explains that the outsourcing was often done to marketing firms outside of the real estate industry, which he says is where the opportunity is for his new venture. "We are different because we understand the industry. We work and have experience in the construction industry."

Besides working with Third Coast Real Estate, Hill is also publisher of Rapid Growth Media.

To learn more about Third Coast Real Estate, you can click here. To learn more about Builder's Advantage, you can visit their site here.

Source: Brad Blackport, Third Coast Real Estate
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Internships begin the career process at Colliers

With offices all throughout the world, Colliers International works within the global real estate industry with clients, offering services to investors, property owners, tenants, and developers.

The West Michigan office is located at 300 Ottawa Ave. NW. According to Derek Hunderman, VP and managing partner, the firm is in growth mode and works closely with area colleges and universities to carefully select and train individuals interested in a career at Colliers. A driving force for this opportunity is through their internship program.

Hunderman says the West Michigan team is a mix of independent brokers and support staff. Currently, Colliers employs 20 brokers working as independent contractors. "(Brokers) need to be very enterprising and very entrepreneurial. That sets the tone for the culture. Last year, we added a few new brokers; three came out of an internship role. We prefer to home-grow our guys and build them through the internship program."

Hunderman invites intern to come in and get a feel for the firm, and "then we can set up the process for a long-term plan."

Besides the brokers, the firm also has a support team for the brokers with positions in marketing and market research. As the company grows, they will add more administrative support. In the past year, this team added new positions in marketing and research roles.

To learn more about the work of the West Michigan Colliers office, you can visit their site here.

Source: Derek Hunderman, Colliers, International
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor.

Positive real estate market prompts Grand Rapids realty company to seek office staff, 30 agents

Positive real estate trends in West Michigan mean growth for one Grand Rapids-based real estate firm, prompting the company to add two new office locations and to seek administrators for those offices and new real estate agents for all its locations.

Five Star Real Estate now has some 170 agents and expects to hire and train 30 new agents in 2013, says owner and broker Greg Carlson. In addition to the firm's four Grand Rapids locations, the company added its first Detroit-area office in 2012 and plans to add another location this year near Knapp St. NE and East Beltline Avenue NE, Grand Rapids.

In anticipation of the influx of salespeople, Carlson says the company hired a director of career development to facilitate the training the agents will need. He still seeks to fill office manager positions for the two new locations.

"For the last five years, real estate has been collapsing throughout the country," Carlson says. "Now it appears there's been a turn in the industry, and as I look at the trends, I'm confident in thinking that we hit bottom in about 2009. We began building our infrastructure in 2012 so we could grow in 2013."

Carlson says real estate is a way for young entrepreneurs to launch businesses for little money. "An online class is about $250 and the state test is about $70. Someone can take the class and get their real estate license for under $400. But they have to be licensed under a broker. They can choose a broker before taking the test, and if they pass, they are automatically licensed under that broker."

Five Star Real Estate recently revamped its signage and visual branding with a cleaner look that Carlson says reflects the company's vision for growth.

To contact Five Star Real Estate about the jobs or becoming an agent, click here.

Source: Greg Carlson, Five Star Real Estate; Kim Bode, 834 Design & Marketing
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Plainfield Avenue title firm adds new jobs and expands headquarters

Sun Title is  expanding. With eight new hires in the last six months and and an expanded and renovated headquarters at 1410 Plainfield Ave NE, the title agency is well prepared for 2013 and beyond.

According toTom Cronkright, co-founder, the expansion has been driven by business growth. He says that including the recent hires, his team now had 32 people on board. With 10 more jobs  anticipated in 2013, space was getting tight. "We needed more space from a practical standpoint. A place to have staff meetings and afterhours events.  All connected, our offices now occupy about 10,000 sqare feet."

Cronkright says the renovation also resulted in the creation of a 1500 square foot conference center that will be used for a variety of purposes, including being available for community meetings.

The work done on Sun Title's first office on Plainfield won the Neighborhood Business Award for the 2012 Best Reuse of a Building. Their current expansion is following a similar blueprint by restoring the facade to its original brick and window openings and following the same philosophy on its interior.

Cronkright is cautiously optimistic regarding the real estate market. "It is not going down, but there is not a big uptick in values," he says. "The challenges are lack of inventory. There is a slight shortage in $125,000- $200,000 range. If you have a good clean house in that range, it will sell quickly."

To learn more about Sun Title, you can view their website here. 

Source: Tom Cronkright, Sun Title
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

New real estate firm prepares for growth

Adding staff and opening in a new location in downtown Grand Rapids are two moves Paramount Realty Partners is making in anticipation of a rejuvenated real estate market in the new year.

Paramount, founded by Chad Koster, recently added Nick Vander Wal as director of operations. Vander Wal says he brings a unique perspective to his new position and says he feels perfectly suited to a small real estate firm that focuses on customer service. "I have a lot of experience in new product development from my time at Steelcase," Vander Wal says. "I found the best results always came from small teams and collaboration." Vander Wal also says that his experience working with entrepreneurial startups has given him insight into new ways of connecting with buyers and sellers.

From a timing perspective, starting a new career couldn't be any better says Vander Wal. "I am very optimistic about the real estate market. It is a good time to sell and buy. The market is moving up. We still have a long way to go, but it is a great time to come into the market with interest rates at historic lows and additional programs in place for first-time buyers."

Vander Wal says the the small size of their firm is actually a competitive advantage. "We provide a concierge level of service, similar to what you receive if you stay at a nice hotel. If you need us to take care of something, we take care of it."

To learn about Paramount Realty Partners, you can visit their website here and their Facebook page here.

Source: Nick Vander Wal, Paramount Realty Partners
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Commercial real estate and property management firm adds two new jobs

As the commercial real estate market continues to rebound from the last downturn, Grand Rapids-based CWD Real Estate Investment recently added a new CFO and accounting manager to its team, preparing for future growth.

The new hires are industry veterans Terri Springstead, CFO and Sue Palmitier, accounting manager.

According to Scott Wierda, managing partner, the additional team members were both needed due to the firm's growth and an uptick in the commercial real estate markets. "We are very enthusiastic about longterm projects. The state is moving  in the right direction, especially on retail side of the equation."

Although there are no immediate plans to add more staff to their team, Wierda is extremely positive about the commercial real estate industry, especially on the sales side. "There is a lost generation in real estate careers because of the downturn. Many individuals working primarily on commission could not make it. Now there is a gap on the sales side that could be an opportunity, although it is not something you jump right into," he says. Wierda goes on to advise that internships remain the best way for graduates to enter the profession.

CWD Real Estate Investment, which started with 14 employees in 2008, now has 33 employees. Its focus is real estate investment and property management. To learn more about this firm, you can visit their site here.

Source:  Scott Wierda, CWD
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Job News Editor

New realty firm launches in Holland, adds jobs to West Michigan landscape

Holland realtor Tom Smolinski discovered he had a knack for negotiating short sales for homeowners struggling to avoid foreclosure. He decided to formalize that knack into a niche market with a new agency he launched in January, Tom Smolinski Realty, and brought a few realty team members along with him.

In addition to a team of two realtors and two mortgage negotiators, Smolinski says he's hired a full-time administrative support person and filled a new realtor position.

Short sales happen when a lender agrees to forgive the debt owed for a home and accepts the sale of the property for less than the mortgaged amount. The housing market crash reduced home values and, coupled with situations where there's a loss of income, some homeowners find themselves in desperate need to sell their home to avoid foreclosure. But the new lower value of their home falls far short of the amount they owe.

"We help them sell the home for what it's worth in today's market, and we negotiate the remaining debt with the bank to get that debt forgiven," Smolinski says. "We've seen people take money out of their 401k [to make the mortgage payments], advances from their credit card, take money out of savings, and after a year and half they're completely out of money and they still end up doing the short sale."

Smolinski says the national average of successful short sales is 24 percent. "We're averaging a 95 percent success rate dealing with the banks and mortgage companies," Smolinski says. "We've helped about 50 clients with short sales and negotiated an average of $75,000 in completely forgiven debt."

Smolinski just opened a new office at 305 Hoover in Holland. By the end of 2012, he hopes to add two more mortgage negotiators and two more buyers' agents.

Source: Tom Smolinski, Tom Smolinski Realty
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
19 real estate Articles | Page: | Show All
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