Buy a House From One of These Realtors, and You'll Help Build a House for Someone in Need

A former Toms employee is tweaking the one-for-one model and applying it to real estate.

Giveback Homes Brand Manager Caroline Pinal (in blue) stands with the Canales family in front of their new home in Estelí, Nicaragua. (Photo: Caroline Pinal)  

Dec 16, 2014· 2 MIN READ
TakePart fellow Jessica Dollin studied journalism at the University of Arizona. She has written for the Phoenix New Times and HerCampus.

The one-for-one model has been popularized through shoes, glasses, and even soap—but what about homes?

Former Toms Shoes employee Blake Andrews decided to apply a version of the model to real estate when he founded Giveback Homes. The effort brings together a network of people in the real estate industry who are committed to donating part of their commission to building homes for those in need through a local and international partnership with Habitat for Humanity. Last week, a group of five realtors finished building a home in Nicaragua for a single mother of three with $5,000 they raised through property sales.

“We want to make it easy for everyone to be a humanitarian, receive tangible results, and make social good the social norm,” said Brand Manager Caroline Pinal, who traveled with the team last week. “[You can] work with a realtor that will change lives with the transaction from your home."

In the 16 months since Giveback Homes was founded, more than 300 real estate industry professionals have joined from 14 different states. Members pay a $50 monthly fee, which publicizes to clients that they’re part of the network; they can also make direct cash donations to Habitat for Humanity. Real estate agents, mortgage brokers, interior designers, home builders, and relocation specialists have donated more than $100,000 to date for Giveback Homes to build 23 homes in Nicaragua. So far, 17 homes have been built in Estelí, 13 of which are complete. Ten agents are also planning to travel to Nicaragua and build more homes in 2015.

Children from the community play with Giveback Homes volunteers. (Photo: Caroline Pinal) 

Local residents Cenia and Ernesto Canales received a house from Giveback Homes last week. Pinal said the family of six was previously living in a structure with dirt floors, rotting wood panels, and a metal sheet roof with holes.

"Now that we have a home, my dreams are even bigger," Cenia said. "Ernesto and I are going to save more money so we can continue to build onto this home. My hopes are to give my children a room and a porch to safely play on."

Pinal added that as a security guard, Ernesto always has keys on him, but "for the first time in his life, he has a set of keys to his own home," she said.

Giveback Homes also focuses on building houses for women in Estelí who applied for microfinancing home improvements but did not qualify because of their low income.

One of these women was Yahaira, a volunteer firefighter who made a living selling food out of her home—until the house burned down earlier this year because of a short circuit. Her family lost everything.

Yahaira's new home, slated for construction on Jan. 17, will be 193 square feet with concrete floors, two windows, and reinforced masonry. It is built with an open floor plan so that residents can add more rooms if necessary; Habitat for Humanity provides them with workshops, blueprints, and future technical assistance.

A family from Estelí in front of their finished home. (Photo: Caroline Pinal) 

The organization is also making an effort to reduce the carbon footprint of homes by installing eco-toilets, which prevent waste from contaminating water streams. Habitat for Humanity also has a partnership with the National University of Engineering to develop a new toilet that further prevents wastewater from mixing with fresh water.

Andrews chose Nicaragua as the first international location to build homes because that’s where he first traveled with Toms. It's also the second-poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere—shelter and adequate housing conditions are hard to come by, and 80 percent of the people live on less than $2 per day.

"More and more people want to work with people who are making an impact on society, and we're finding it's helping realtors to align themselves with Giveback Homes," Pinal said.