Monday, June 11, 2012

Program Aims to Assist Firefighters with Home Buying, Selling

From the Austin American-Statesman, June 8, 2012:

The State Firemen's & Fire Marshals' Association of Texas and Austin-based Goldwasser Real Estate say they have teamed up on a new program to help firefighters buy or sell a home. The program also benefits the Texas Wildfire Relief Fund, which helps fire departments across the state, mostly volunteer ones, buy needed equipment and gear, officials said.

Here's how it works: Goldwasser Real Estate agents contribute 20 percent of their commission for every firefighter who buys or sells a home through their firm, said David Schneider, a sales manager and partner with Goldwasser Real Estate. Schneider said 15 percent of that amount then goes to the individual firefighter buying or selling a home, and 5 percent is earmarked for the Texas Wildfire Relief Fund.

Real estate agents typically make a 3 percent commission on a home sale.

On the sale of a $250,000 home, for example, that would amount to a $7,500 commission. Goldwasser would contribute 20 percent — $1,500 — of its commission, rebating $1,200 to the firefighter buying or selling a home, with the remaining $300 going to the Texas Wildfire Relief Fund.

Dallas-based Proficio Mortgage Ventures LLC, a subsidiary of Proficio Bank, also is participating in the program through its State Heroes program, in which the company waives or discounts closing costs on home loan purchases or refinances nationwide for firefighters, as well as law enforcement and emergency medical personnel, Goldwasser and Proficio officials said.

In addition, Austin-based Capital Title Co. has agreed to donate $500 for each closing to the Wildfire Relief Fund, "so it makes it even more significant," Schneider said.

Schneider said he expects the program to benefit roughly 20 firefighters in the Austin area this year and many more as word of the program travels around the state. He hopes to eventually expand the program to help police officers, corrections officers and veterans who buy or sell a house through Goldwasser.

The idea to help firefighters become homeowners originated in 2006 with Sue Shearer, a local real estate agent who was working on her own at the time. When Goldwasser hired her in 2011, Shearer said she finally had the resources to make her goal of helping firefighters get into a home a reality.

Shearer is fond of firefighters, in part because she is friends with Chris Barron. Barron is executive director of the State Firemen's & Fire Marshals' Association of Texas, which represents 22,000 firefighters statewide — mostly volunteers — who generally have to buy their own equipment and gear. Barron also is fire chief at the Manchaca Volunteer Fire Department.

"I've been an underdog and have a passion about helping people," Shearer said. And firefighters, who put their lives on the line for others, topped the list of people Shearer said she wanted to help.

Shearer and Barron are spreading the word about the program at the association's annual convention this weekend in Houston.

The group had about $1 million worth of requests for equipment and gear, before raising more than $500,000 during the past year in private funding, Barron said.

"Now we've got about half a million (dollars' worth) of outstanding requests for clothing or gear from departments all over the state, both volunteer and paid, but primarily volunteer," Barron said. Volunteer firefighters make up 78 percent of all the fire service in Texas, he said.

It costs about $200 for a set of lightweight gear such as the type used in fighting grass and brush fires, he said. "We hope the program has a great impact to get firefighters in the much-needed gear they lack," Barron said.

Shearer and Schneider said they aren't aware of any similar programs in other states where a real estate firm rebates a partial commission to homebuyers or sellers who are firefighters.

Schneider said Goldwasser as a company shares his passion to help others. He said he's teaching his 4-year-old twins about giving.

"I tell them it's the essence of life: The more you give, the more you get."