What began as a successful real estate broker’s desire to help American heroes on a local scale after 9/11 has blossomed into the nationwide Homes for Heroes organization, which includes more than 2,200 real estate agent and mortgage lender affiliates in 49 states.

It’s a concept that allows real estate professionals to grow professionally, while giving back.

Homes for Heroes’ President, CEO and broker of record Ruth Johnson has 38 years’ experience in real estate, including in real estate sales and management. Johnson spent 15 years as owner of a successful Coldwell Banker franchise with 78 agents when 9/11 happened.

Ruth Johnson

“Watching the massive recovery effort, we wanted to find a way to say thank you to all who serve our nation and its communities, making them better and safer places to live,” Johnson said.

“My sister, son and daughter were all licensed agents in my real estate company at the time. Since we were in the business of real estate, we structured our thank you around the real estate transaction and decided that we would give back a portion of our commission to firefighters, EMS, law enforcement, military (past and currently serving), healthcare workers and teachers when they buy, sell or refinance a home,” she said. “We also worked with our local mortgage lenders who reduced their fees for heroes.”

The local effort rapidly grew, and, in 2009, Johnson said they decided to take the program nationwide. In the last nearly eight years more than 12,500 hero real estate transactions have closed using the Homes for Heroes program; heroes have received more than $19 million in savings on their real estate transactions; more than $1 billion dollars in hero real estate transaction volume has closed; more than 375 needy heroes received a grant from the Homes for Heroes Foundation, the organization’s nonprofit arm; and heroes continue to receive additional rewards from other business affiliates that want to say thank you.

“Today, Homes for Heroes is the nation’s largest hero savings program,” Johnson said. “We began our affiliate program for real estate agents and mortgage lenders. Our affiliated real estate professionals can grow their business by giving back to those who serve. We have the tools necessary for them to grow and prosper in this unique, niche market while thanking – in a big way – those who serve.”

Heroes save an average of $1,500 when they work with Homes for Heroes’ affiliated real estate agents and lenders. Current and former firefighters, law enforcement, military (active, reserves and veterans), healthcare workers, emergency medical services personnel and teachers qualify. Heroes who use the service agree to use a Homes for Heroes affiliated real estate agent to receive a Hero Reward check after closing, according to the organization’s website.

Impact on agents and lenders

For agents and lenders, the concept works like this:

When heroes buy a home, after closing, affiliate real estate agents send Homes for Heroes 30% of their gross commission, as a referral fee. Homes for Heroes mails a Hero Rewards check to the hero to spend on things they may need for their new home. The amount of the Hero Rewards check is based on the purchase price of the home. Hero Rewards are not available in all states, however. These offers are limited or restricted in Alaska, Kansas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

When heroes sell a home, affiliate real estate agents provide 25% of their gross commission as a credit for the hero at closing (in most states), and send Homes for Heroes 5% of their gross commission, as a referral fee following the closing.

“It’s about supporting them, always, not just when they need real estate services. It is about becoming that real estate professional, who is known in their community as the one who cares and who is connected to heroes.”Ruth Johnson

When a hero opens a new mortgage or refinances, affiliate lenders provide reduced lending fees, and those reduced fees are determined by their financial institution, according to information provided by Homes for Heroes.

Rowena Patton

Johnson said real estate professionals typically contact Homes for Heroes for information about the program or are referred by program affiliates.

“If they decide to join our team, there is a contract and annual fee and they pay a referral fee on their hero transactions post-closing. Once they become affiliated, they have access to all the tools we have available,” Johnson said.

Those tools include webinars by Homes for Heroes’ successful affiliates; access to the organization’s affiliate closed group on Facebook, where affiliates share successes, ideas and great hero stories; connections to heroes who register on the website, looking for the real estate savings; a promotional area for marketing; a personalized web page with a unique URL; and coaching.

“Thousands of heroes register on our website every month,” Johnson said

According to Johnson, Homes for Heroes is about building relationships with local hero groups.

“It’s about supporting them, always, not just when they need real estate services. It is about becoming that real estate professional, who is known in their community as the one who cares and who is connected to heroes,” she said.

Being a Homes for Heroes affiliate sets agents and lenders apart from their competition, according to Johnson.

“It’s good for their heart and great for their business,” she said.

Affiliates weigh in

Rowena Patton joined Keller Williams in 2007 and was the No. 1 Rookie of the Year. In 2011, she built a team volume of $16 million and, and in 2012, a team volume of $45 million, which has increased each year since. Since 2012, Patton’s team All-Star Powerhouse has been among Keller Williams’ top 100 teams.

Patton said her affiliation with Homes for Heroes has been a blessing.

“Years ago, I was planning a foundation for my company, to give away a set percentage of money to local community servers. Along the way, I stumbled over Homes for Heroes and realized that someone had already done it,” Patton said.

Today, Patton is the No. 1 Homes for Heroes’ U.S. affiliate.

“It is something that will appeal to agents who are consistent and who treat real estate as a business,” she said. “Just like any other business, the trick is to draw up a marketing strategy and stick with it for a least 12 weeks — identify what has worked and, then, amend it for the next 12 weeks or stick with it … if it worked.”

A commitment to marketing is key.

“Homes for Heroes will work for you if you are prepared to get the news out about how excited you are to give back,” Patton said.

Travis Newton

Lender Travis Newton, a Homes for Heroes Oregon affiliate, is branch sales manager at Guild Mortgage in Salem. Homes for Heroes recognized Travis Newton and Guild Mortgage as its No. 3 lender affiliate nationwide in 2013 based on number of heroes served.

Newton said Homes for Heroes has changed the way he approaches the mortgage business.

“I no longer view myself as a mortgage lender, but as a lender affiliate with Homes for Heroes,” he said. “In turn, my referral partners view me as the guy who ‘helps heroes’ and not just another loan officer trying to get their business.”

“…my referral partners view me as the guy who ‘helps heroes’ and not just another loan officer trying to get their business.” – Travis Newton

Newton chose to get involved because he wanted to give back in some way to those who give so much to our communities.

“… what better way than to play a small part in helping them obtain home ownership,” he said.

From a business perspective, Newton’s affiliation with Home for Heroes helped him grow his production to more than $40 million in volume.

“Not only that but it has helped double the number of families I serve each year,” he said. “One of my favorite quotes by William A. Ward would sum this up extremely well: ‘Do more than belong: participate. Do more than care: help. Do more than believe: practice. Do more than be fair: be kind. Do more than forgive: forget. Do more than dream: work.’”

“I know if a newer affiliate wants to make a difference in their own lives, and community, there is no better way to do so than service,” he said. “Put in the work, join the program and you will be blessed beyond your hopes and dreams.”

To get involved, go to HomesForHeroes.com and register, or, for more information, call 866-4-heroes (866-443-7637).