Steven Kaufman knows real estate, finance, and philanthropy.
by Marene Gustin
Steven Kaufman knows real estate and financing. And philanthropy. As a CPA who was doing consulting work for mortgage companies, he pondered opening his own mortgage firm in 2004. “I felt like there was a need, a niche, for a company that operated for the client, not for [just a money-making] opportunity,” Kaufman says.
At the time he decided to start his own company, he happened to be on his honeymoon in Greece. “I knew from a marketing standpoint that I needed a name people would remember,” he says. And thus Zeus Mortgage was formed.
Today it is one of the fastest-growing mortgage providers and home-equity lenders in the state, with offices in Houston, Austin, San Antonio, and Dallas.
And business is better than ever, as the Houston real-estate market hasn’t been this healthy in a decade. February home sales peaked 15.5 percent higher than the same time last year, according to the Houston Association of Realtors.
“Houston real estate is just very healthy,” Kaufman says. “We’re really lucky.”
Kaufman is a graduate of the Strategic Marketing Management Program at Harvard Business School and has a master’s degree in economic development and entrepreneurship from the University of Houston. He’s an expert speaker and author on real estate and finance, has more civic and business awards than you can shake a stick at, and yes, he’s even a champion bench press record holder.
“A couple of years ago, I wanted to do something for myself—something fun and exciting with no drama. I had a growing company, a wife and two daughters, and I just needed something for me, so I went to the gym and started bench pressing,” Kaufman says. He won his very first competition and then went on to win five state championships and three world championships.
About the same time as he took up weight lifting as something to do for himself, he also decided to do something for others. But what, and how? “Should I give money to the windshield washer at 59 and 610?” he muses. “Give money to an international nonprofit? I was skeptical about those. I didn’t want my money to go to administrative costs, I wanted it to go directly to people in need.”
The answer, for someone like Kaufman, was easy: start your own nonprofit with zero overhead that gives one hundred percent of the funds raised to people in crisis.
In 2008, he founded The Fanatical Change Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charity organization that throws lavish parties (think cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, and Cirque du Soleil performers). Every dime of the ticket price is given to a family in need, chosen from news stories about personal tragedies within the past twenty-four hours. The donations, in the form of gift cards and paid expenses, are delivered in person, videotaped, and posted on the foundation’s website so the donors can see exactly how their money has been spent.
To date, the foundation has raised more than $400,000 that has gone to sixty area families. In 2011, it paid for the funerals of three teens from Porter High School in Montgomery County who were killed in a car accident. “We choose people in need,” Kaufman says. “Mostly poor people, no one with million-dollar insurance policies. These are people that no one else is helping.”
Kaufman pays most of the administrative costs himself, although the foundation did receive a grant from the UPS Foundation for administrative costs last year.
Much like the booming Houston real-estate market, Kaufman’s life is flourishing as he enjoys making the most of these high times to help those in need.
Marene Gustin also writes about food bloggers and Houston’s hot new brunches in this issue of OutSmart.