When you hear the words “conscious capitalism,” you might think of footwear or eyeglasses, companies that have popularized the “buy a pair, give a pair” model. Nick, left, and Chad Engle would like you to think of real estate. The brothers behind CASA Real Estate donate funds to build a house in Guatemala every time a client buys or sells a home.
You are brothers who started a business together earlier this year. How’s that working for you?
NICK I think we had some trepidation going into it. We wanted to understand all the expectations before we started. But I have to say that it’s pretty amazing to spend 40, 50 hours a week with my best friend and brother. We work really well with each other.
CHAD If there is something bothering us, we don’t let it fester. We’re pretty levelheaded and are able to work through it.
How did CASA Real Estate come together?
CHAD We had very different paths. When I was 18, I knew I wanted to get into real estate. When I graduated (from college), it was 2008, and the market was pretty much the worst it has ever been; but eventually (in 2011), I got in. Nick had a path of working on his MBA and his Juris Doctorate and then went into luxury retail. He worked his way up with high titles and good pay, but eventually an opportunity presented itself, and we decided to give it a go.
NICK I’d read a lot about conscious capitalism and giving back, and I always had kind of kicked myself that I didn’t do more. I thought there might be a possibility that I could use my business background and help build something and incorporate other people, clients, into it.
CHAD We did research. I found this one organization (New Jersey-based From Houses to Homes, which has been building houses in Guatemala since 2004) and thought, “This could actually work.” We didn’t just want to give someone a home. We wanted to have an opportunity to help them grow their life. We decided to go there (to Antigua, a city in the central highlands of Guatemala) last October and discovered that From Houses to Homes did a lot to support the families. They help with education and health care. That was a big part of it for us.
What else made you want to work with them?
NICK We could see they run a very lean organization. Whatever we donate, 95 to 100 percent of that amount goes toward the house. They are employing local labor and using local materials. They are benefiting the local economy. They’ve been in existence for several years, and they’ve donated about 1,200 homes. It wasn’t a start-up.
CHAD Once we got there, we met Oscar Mejia, the project manager. He was an orphan, and hearing his story and his passion—why he’s doing this and what it means to him—was, not to sound too cliché, life-changing.
Your clients must be thrilled.
CHAD It’s pretty remarkable. One of the things that is so cool for our clients and our prospects is that they can make a difference.
NICK I could go door to door and get donations and build a house, but as soon as I stop doing that, our houses will stop being built. (CASA) is a continuing business where not only do we continue to build, but people are excited to come aboard. Clients can (buy or sell) and do good at the same time.
Is there a certain amount of money you donate to pay for each home?
CHAD It’s usually about 10 to 15 percent of our commission.
NICK It’s one for one. For every home we sell—regardless of the price—we build a home for a family.
There are photos of you building a house in Guatemala on the CASA website. Did you know anything about construction before you started?
NICK We didn’t! In the beginning it was, “Here’s a 100-pound bag of sand and concrete.” Then you carry that a quarter mile over the hill on day one.
CHAD Antigua is about a mile high, and you’d walk up a hill and think, “Why am I out of breath?” I’m incredibly not handy, but they make it difficult to mess up. Everyone is on board to help. There was a kid named Walter who lived in the next town. He would walk 45 minutes to come help, and he was the happiest kid you could ever meet.
You just returned from your second trip to Guatemala. How was it?
CHAD It was similar to our first trip in that we went there to build a home, and we had an incredible experience connecting with the family. But this time was different in certain ways. We got to go to different villages and towns to visit with several families who had already moved into their (CASA‑funded) homes. They talked about the impact the houses have had, and it is really motivating us to keep going.
NICK We knew what to expect, but it was emotional. This family had so much need. The husband had left the mother after the second child was born. She’s a single mother raising two kids, and it’s difficult to work. And there was another child with them … a cousin. So there are three kids under the age of 7 living on one woman’s part-time income.
How many homes has CASA donated in Guatemala?
CHAD Seventeen. Our goal is to get to 30 by the end of the year.
When you talk about this project with other people, what’s the reaction?
CHAD The most common thing is disbelief. “What do you mean you’re going to build a home?” Then we show them the video, and people want to know how they can help, too.
Do you envision something more, something on a larger scale?
NICK Yes. Right now, we have our work cut out for us, but it would be great to build an entire community in a region. We’d love to bring something back here—to California and Orange County.