Home Is Where the Heart Is: OutSmart Real-Estate Experts Give Back to their Community

By Marene Gustin

OutSmart’s real-estate pros understand more about our community than just location, location, location. They also understand what it means to give back to their communities through volunteering, and to their clients with appreciation gifts after their sale closes. We asked them about some of their favorite charities and gifts, and here’s what they had to say.

David Bowers

The House Company

409.763.2800 • [email protected]

1 DavidBowers
David Bowers

“I have been in the title insurance/real-estate brokerage business since 1976,” David Bowers says proudly. “I was with Stewart Title from 1978 until 1989 when I entered the Galveston real-estate market as a Realtor.”

His specialty is selling older Victorian- and Craftsman-style homes, which the island has thousands of.

He doesn’t have a standard closing gift for clients—he says it varies, depending on who they are—nor is he prone to celebrate or treat himself after a good closing. But he does love volunteering. “I served as a Galveston city councilmember from 1994 to 2000, and that was a total volunteer/no-compensation situation,” Bowers says. “It was exciting, and I got a lot of things accomplished, including helping bring the cruise business to the Port of Galveston.

“During that time, I also helped get the convention center on the seawall, in addition to getting a lot of corruption kicked out of City Hall.

“I always value my participation in Big Brothers Big Sisters. I have been a big brother to the same great kid for 12 years. I truly love volunteering for the Galveston Historical Foundation—I am a past president, and being a pooper-scooper in the Dickens on the Strand parade is fun.”

Eric Bradley

In The Loop Properties

713.252.7205 • [email protected]

2 EricBradley
Eric Bradley

Eric Bradley has been helping clients buy, sell, lease, and find tenants for choice inner-loop properties for 13 years. As a native Houstonian and theater buff, he is happy to bring his in-depth knowledge of the city’s amazing cultural, arts, and dining offerings to his clients—as well as new homes.

“Despite a sale or purchase being a business transaction, I usually know my clients fairly personally by the time we end a transaction, and I try to customize gifts to each,” he says. “Some recent clients were from New York City and were big theater fans, so I gave them season subscriptions to a couple of my favorite theater companies in Houston.” What a great way to say “welcome to Houston.”

As for giving to the community, he loves volunteering at Theatre Under the Stars. “I love volunteering with TUTS,” Bradley says. “They are Houston’s largest professional musical theater company, and I’ve been volunteering there for about seven years. I particularly love helping on show nights when patrons have questions about dining before or after the show, locating their seats, or general questions about the performance they’ll be seeing. It’s always exciting to see how many people are coming to a show or to the Hobby Center for the first time, and I couldn’t ask for a more energetic, friendly, or creative group of people to be around than the TUTS staff!”

Michael Caballero

Stewart Title

713.401.1850 • [email protected]

3 MichaelCaballero
Michael Caballero

Michael Caballero is an escrow officer with Stewart Title and has 14 years of experience in the industry.

He’s not really into client gift-giving, for a good reason: “Being in the title industry, we are very limited with the types of gifts we are legally allowed to give,” he says. “We do pride ourselves with providing excellent customer service throughout the transaction to make the process as smooth as possible.”

But he is very big on community service in his free time. “I was very fortunate to be able to get involved from the start with an organization that is working to assist the LGBT homeless youth in Houston,” Caballero says. “I attended the initial startup event, and then joined in fundraising efforts and clothing drives. My second passion is Best Friends Animal Society. I plan on visiting the main animal sanctuary in Utah to volunteer sometime soon.” Who wouldn’t want an escrow officer who loves animals? That’s a good sign.

Jay Clemente

Realty World Uptown

713.261.3111 • [email protected]

4 JayClemente
Jay Clemente

 “I’ve been selling real estate full-time since 1999, and my specialty has always been about relationships—my goal has always been to exceed all of my clients’ expectations,” says Jay Clemente, a Realtor with Realty World Uptown.

And he was born into it. His father handled foreclosures in the Philippines, and his grandfather was one of the longest-serving public officials in that country, helping many people during his tenure.

“Every client is special and unique—I cater to each and every one and their sense of style,” he says. “I make sure that our transactions never stop at the closing table, and our celebration has to be about sharing our lives way [after they receive] their keys. It’s certainly exciting to see how their lives transform after they’ve moved in.”

Clemente believes in old-fashioned customer service, and he believes in community charity just as much. “I’ve always believed in paying it forward, and what I’ve been heavily involved in for many years is Rebuild Together Houston, as well as Hartsfield Elementary Christmas Celebration. I’ve been a big supporter of Children’s Miracle Network for many years, and plan to continue doing so for many years ahead!” 

Edward Delgadillo

Realty World Uptown

713.417.0201 • [email protected] 

5 EdwardDelgadillo
Edward Delgadillo

For a while, Edward Delgadillo studied drafting, but the native Houstonian soon realized his true calling was helping people find their dream homes.

“I’ve been in business for 10 years and specialize in residential sales, land, and commercial properties as well,” says the vice president of Realty World Uptown.

Besides helping his clients find the right home or land purchase, he also likes to give them gifts: a bottle of wine or an edible arrangement. “And I’ll celebrate a closing by taking them out to a nice lunch or dinner, if possible.”

With what little downtime he has, he likes to volunteer for local charities. “My favorite volunteering thus far was helping raise money and walking at the Houston Zoo for the St. Jude Walk/Run to End Childhood Cancer,” Delgadillo adds.  

Karen Derr

Karen Derr Realtors

713.875.7050 • [email protected]

6 KarenDerr
Karen Derr

Karen Derr has been in the biz for 26 years. She sells homes in close-in Houston, but also sells all over the country and in Austin.

She’s also a fan of giving champagne to clients after a closing, but sometimes she’ll donate money in a client’s name to a favorite charity. As for giving herself a little perk, she says, “I celebrate a closing by treating my husband to a nice dinner out, and treating myself to new shoes.” Nicely done, Karen.

“Personally, just being able to budget part of my income to give to children’s charities like Camp for All makes me feel good,” she says. “However, I do a lot of auction items and sponsorships for neighborhood associations and groups who make neighborhoods better. It’s so appropriate for Realtors to do. I also love the nonprofit Houston Tomorrow. Improving [Houston’s] quality of life just helps me sell more! Our whole company is also planning to volunteer together, and several of us want to volunteer with Friends for Life.”

Derr’s company was one of the first to use the Internet for marketing homes and reaching buyers, and she’s still at the top of her game.

Jeremy Fain

Greenwood King Properties, Inc.

713.677.4337 • [email protected]

7 JeremyFain
Jeremy Fain

“Through all of my experiences, I feel like I’ve been in this business for decades!” says Greenwood King Properties, Inc.’s Jeremy Fain. “Whether you’ve been working for three months or 30 years, how much you contribute to your industry
is key.” 

Fain considers customer service to be his specialty, and he’s skilled in all markets—from investor/portfolio collection to both the “move-up” and luxury markets.

His closing gifts are specific to the client and to the transaction. He says he picks up on the little things throughout the time they work together. “Once we close and they see their gift, their reaction is priceless!” he adds.

How does he celebrate after a closing? “However that client decides to celebrate,” he says. “Sometimes it’s a cup of tea, and sometimes it’s a glass of wine. Other times they have to run out to pick up their child from soccer practice, so we celebrate with a hug. It’s up to the client—it’s their special day.

As for volunteering, he’s passionate about it. “I’m the president of the Houston Tennis Club, I’m the president of the Young Professionals Board of Bering Omega/HACS, I’m on the board of PRIDE Houston, and an active member of HRC, EPAH, and Krewe of Olympus, and I give consulting advice to numerous nonprofits in Houston as well. Volunteering is my life!”

Fine Living Group

281.646.1136 • finelivinggroup.com

8 FineLiving
Fine Living Group

The Fine Living Group has more than 25 years of combined experience in the real-estate market. “We work with buyers and sellers, and while we specialize in properties in the Katy/Fulshear area, we have sold properties all over Houston, including The Heights, Memorial, Kingwood, Missouri City, Cypress, The Woodlands, Sealy, Galveston, and Richmond, to name a few,” the group says.

The firm likes to provide each client with a personalized gift catered to their individual personalities at closings.

And they do a lot of charity work, particularly with the Sunshine Kids and Triumph over Kid Cancer. “Our Katy office holds an event each year and has raised over $400,000! We love the kids and have attended events at the Sunshine Kids house downtown. They are both wonderful charities. This year we picked up a new charity, Rebuild Houston Together, which is like Habitat for Humanity. We have worked on one house so far and have another in the works for next month! One of our team members is a lifetime member and has volunteered at the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo, which provides scholarships to many deserving students.”

Ricardo Gonzalez

Realty World Uptown

713.775.2024[email protected]

9 RicardoGonzalez
Ricardo Gonzalez

Ricardo Gonzalez has been a Realtor for two years, but he’s been around the real-estate business for 13 years dealing with everything, including mortgages.

What’s his take on giving? “Each client is a little different, so I like to keep my ears open throughout the whole buying/selling process and get to know my client as I would a friend to understand what they like. I eventually make a decision based on that,” Gonzalez says. “Each gift is different and special for each client.

“As for charity giving, I’ve been involved with many different nonprofit organizations and have sat on several boards of directors. Giving back is something that I am very passionate about. In the past several years, I have helped raise well over $300,000 in my volunteer work. I truly believe that we serve God through serving others.”

Cody Grizzoffi

Academy Mortgage

832.541.1103 • [email protected]

10 Cody
Cody Grizzoffi

Cody Grizzoffi is a registered mortgage broker with Academy Mortgage. He says, “I have been consistently in the mortgage industry for the past 13 years. I specialize in all areas, from the first-time buyer to the seasoned investor.” That includes dealing with FHA, Conventional, VA, Jumbo, and other types of loans.

He likes to work with clients from the beginning to the final moments. “I try to [attend as many closings] as I can, [in case] the buyer has any last-minute questions while signing all of their documents,” says Grizzoffi. “Of course at this point, everything has been wrapped up, but I do like to be there for them beginning to end. Depending on the timing, a lot of my clients have become friends throughout the process, so we will generally go celebrate with a drink after closing.”

Grizzoffi and his partner have an eight-year-old son and a seven-year-old daughter, so they stay pretty busy with the kids. “I do, however, still participate in the AIDS walks each year, as well as being on the committee for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation,” he says. “As far as my favorite one, I think that anything I can do to help people when I can, and raise money or awareness for a good cause, would be my favorite thing.” Thank you, Grizzoffi!

Wade Knight

Martha Turner Sotheby’s International Realty

713.582.0264 • [email protected]

11 WadeKnight
Wade Knight

Houston native Wade Knight has been with Martha Turner Sotheby’s International Realty for 16 years.

And he loves giving. “For years I have given my clients a blue box from Tiffany’s,” Knight says.

“Plus I give back and volunteer with the Human Rights Campaign, The Mankind Project, AIDS Walk Houston, and St. Paul’s Church.” All this on top of being an award-winning Realtor associate who’s adept in helping clients choose building sites, find homes for renovation, and discover bold, contemporary living spaces in newer construction. 

Debbie Levine

Greenwood King Properties, Inc.

713.942.6857 • [email protected]

12 DebbieLevine
Debbie Levine

Debbie Levine has been with Greenwood King Properties for 17 years, and for the last 14 years has been named a top producer by the Houston Association of Realtors. As a native Houstonian, she tends to be knowledgeable about many areas of town.

“My specialty, though, is the Inner Loop,” she says, particularly West University, River Oaks, Tanglewood, Montrose, and the Heights. When she closes a deal, she likes to give buyers and sellers restaurant gift certificates, because people “love to go out and celebrate
after a transaction.” As for herself, “I don’t usually celebrate—I move on to the next transaction!” But after a really tough closing, she has been known to grab a massage.

As for charity work, she has volunteered with the Pets Are Wonderful Support (PAWS) organization. “It was amazing to see the face of a terminally ill patient when you bring their pet to visit them in the hospital,” she says.

Lynette Lew 

BHGRE Gary Greene & Gary Greene Commercial Properties

713.582.2202 • [email protected]

13 Lynette
Lynette Lew

“I have 11 years in real estate, plus more than 20 years in retail and wholesale,” says Lynette Lew. “I am a workaholic Realtor in both the residential and commercial sides. My specialties are listening and solving needs and investments. It is important to think of your exit strategy in real estate, because your home and business are usually your largest investments.”

She personalizes her client gifts after getting to know their personalities and needs.

As for giving to charity: “I am very fortunate that our brokerage, Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Gary Greene, believes in giving back to our community. We have established the Gary Greene Realtor Foundation, and many of our agents donate a portion of their commission towards supporting Triumph Over Kid Cancer, Souper Bowl of Caring, The Sunshine Kids, Rebuilding Together, and other local charities. We have over 20 offices and 850 agents in the Houston area, and in the past we have raised over $4,000,000 for The Sunshine Kids and Triumph Over Kid Cancer. I have been blessed to co-chair fundraisers benefitting both of these remarkable charities.”

Ashton Martini

Martha Turner Sotheby’s International Realty

832.878.7686 • [email protected]

14 AshtonMartini
Ashton Martini

Ashton Martini, with the prestigious Martha Turner Sotheby’s International Realty, has been in the business for 15 years, specializing in new inner-loop construction.

He’s very in to giving back to the community. “I make a donation to a charity for each closing,” he says. “This year I am supporting the Memorial Park Conservancy.” But he doesn’t really do much for himself after a successful closing, since he does about 50 to 75 a year! 

Besides his donations, he likes to volunteer his time as well. “I have volunteered and supported many different charities,” Martini says. “[In addition to] being the captain of my MS150 team for Chevron Houston Marathon’s “Run for a Reason,” I ran the full marathon to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Association. We support Toys for Tots, Houston Food Bank, Friends for Life Animal Shelter, Interfaith Ministries, and many more.” Now that’s a busy schedule. 

Julia Mickum


281.499.8181 • [email protected]

15 JuliaMickum
Julia Mickum

Julia Mickum is the owner of eHomeHouston and has been active in the local real-estate market for almost 20 years. “I think it will be 20 this year!” she says. “Yikes!

“Selecting closing gifts is the most fun!” Mickum explains. “I do try to think of each individual client, [but] most get my famous ‘blue box closing’ with something from Tiffany’s! Then there is pizza delivered on moving day, and their housewarming party which we will help with by bringing a beverage of choice.”

Her greatest satisfaction is continuing a real friendship with the people she gets to know during this major life event, so they will remember it as a joyful time.

She’s also generous with donating her time to local groups. “I volunteer with many civic groups through the Chamber, the Heritage Foundation, committees for land development, and youth mentoring,” Mickum says. “Personally, I am committed to restoration, redevelopment, and re-purposing. My personal priorities fully incorporate all those principals. And I am a perennial animal lover—I have my puppies, including an endearing, exasperating rescue, and have just started raising my own backyard chickens!”

James Morgan

Brokers Only

713.302.7036 • [email protected]

16 JimMorgan
James Morgan

James P. Morgan joined Brokers Only as their broker-in-charge last year, after extensive work as a broker with other agencies. His Brokers Only page on Facebook boasts wonderful photos of homes that could be yours.

“I have been in the residential real-estate business for about 15 years,” Morgan says. He describes himself as an inner-loop specialist—the Meyerland, Heights, and Upper Kirby areas—although he knows plenty of other neighborhoods.

“I’d like to be a part of the Houston Food Bank,” he says. “Or maybe Meals on Wheels.”

When it comes to giving gifts to his clientele, he’s got his bases covered. “I like to give gift cards, because I know the client has many needs, and gift cards can cover all needs.” Sounds very practical, James!

Jerek Navratil

Realm Real Estate Professionals

832.712.0079 • jerek.navrati[email protected]

17 JerekNavratil
Jerek Navratil

Jerek Navratil has been with Realm Real Estate Professionals for four years, after starting in real estate about 10 years ago in California. He went from there to the East Coast before coming home to Texas.

“My specialty tends to favor the residential-listing side of a real-estate transaction,” says Navratil. “My strongest attributes tend to be in advertising and marketing. I can rock the heck out of photography, digital marketing, videos—those types of services. I also pride myself on being able to accurately establish and convey the value of a home to potential buyers, appraisers, and the clients themselves.”

He likes to treat clients to a bottle of wine or restaurant gift cards at a closing, but he warns that you need to pay attention to the client. “Imagine giving a bottle of wine to someone who doesn’t drink for personal or religious reasons,” he says. “That’s a huge fail.”

Then he treats himself—twice. “Typically, it’s a bottle of Moët & Chandon Nectar Impérial and a great dinner out at an Italian restaurant. On day two following a closing (yes, I celebrate twice), I spend a few hours with my puppies, Finnegan and Echo. It’s selfish, but it’s because they need attention and give me a perfect outlet to chill and relax for a little while.”

He likes to volunteer with sports, health, and education organizations, including the Houston Tennis Club.

Richard Ray

John Daugherty Realtors

713.351.4674 • [email protected]

18 RichardRay
Richard Ray

Richard Ray of John Daugherty Realtors is in his 12th year as a Realtor, and he casts a wide net in terms of skill sets. “I have buyers and sellers who are located all over the Houston area, so I know a lot about many neighborhoods,” Ray says.

When it comes to celebrating a good closing, he says it depends on his relationship with the buyer/seller. “Perhaps we have had many deep conversations, and so my gift would probably be somehow associated with their hopes and dreams for the future,” Ray says. “As for myself, I celebrate a successful closing by getting right back on the horse and back out to the track. No time to waste!”

Despite being busy, he finds plenty of time to give back to the community. “I have been honored to be the board chair for AIDS Foundation Houston for the past three years, so that has been my primary focus,” he says. “AFH provides prevention, support, and housing services to people who have the highest risk of being infected or affected by HIV/AIDS. AFH is the only community-based organization in Houston whose sole focus is to prevent HIV and to serve the HIV community. We just had a very successful AIDS Walk and are looking forward to our next event, Dining Out for Life, on April 28.”

Marcus Ruiz

Re/Max Metro

346.234.1001 • [email protected]

19 MarcRuiz
Marc Ruiz

Marcus Ruiz of Re/Max Metro has been a licensed Realtor for four years, and even though he works hard, he still likes to take off for a relaxing weekend trip after a big closing.

As for clients, they get a nice gift. “A nice bottle of champagne is always a great closing gift for such a memorable event,” admits Ruiz.

As for giving back to Houston, he is a fan of Bering Omega and plans to volunteer there. “Bering Omega Community Services provides many different great services and programs to the City of Houston, and I would love to show my appreciation by getting involved in their volunteer work,” he says.

Ruiz specializes in single-family homes, condominiums, and townhouses in Houston’s inner loop.

Alexander Song

Keller Williams Realty

832.533. 5308 • [email protected]

20 AlexanderSong
Alexander Song

Alex Song has been a sales agent for about six years. He specializes in first-time buyers and income-producing properties, rental homes, mostly inside the loop but also in Sugar Land. He knows that buying a home is more than just real estate—it’s about realizing your dreams.

That’s why he likes to celebrate a transaction with a gift for the client, something personal. “It’s an excuse for me to buy something nice,” he says. “Usually houseware items, or if they like wine, maybe a wine cooler. Once I bought a tool belt for a handyman!” But he doesn’t get a gift for himself—he considers the finished job his reward.

“As for giving to the community,” says Song, “I do a lot of alumni work. I went to Cornell and Harvard, and they recruit a lot from Houston, so I work with the applicants from here. I’ve done that for years.”

Robert Spiegel

Republic State Mortgage

713.961.5363 • [email protected]

21 RobertSpiegel
Robert Spiegel

Robert Spiegel of Republic State Mortgage says he loves to play Monopoly…in real life! He’s been in real estate since 1998 and specializes in purchasing, refinancing, and building homes.

“A home can be more than just another monthly payment,” he says. “I can help you reach your financial goals, plus I give really good advice.”

Spiegel also says he has little time to celebrate a closing, but if you’re a client of his, you’re in luck: his favorite gifts are “anything from Tiffany’s” and champagne. As for volunteering, he loves animals. “I have always worked with animal-rescue organizations, whether it was the SPCA in high school or recently fostering dogs to get them ready for their forever home. I’m just a dog person, period.”

Tim Surratt

Greenwood King Properties, Inc.

713.320.5881 • [email protected]

22 TimSurratt
Tim Surratt

Tim Surratt has more than 30 years in the business, making him well-versed in the twists and turns of Houston real estate. “I handle all types of Houston properties,” Surratt says, “plus ranches and waterfront homes on the lakes near Houston.”

And he enjoys giving back to both clients and charities. “It varies by client, but my favorite thing is to bring them dinner on their move-in date,” he says.

“I volunteer at multiple charities, but my favorite two are DePelchin Children’s Center helping Houston’s foster children, and SEARCH Homeless Services assisting Houston’s homeless population find jobs, housing, and dignity.”

V.J. Tramonte

Joe Tramonte Realty, Inc.

409.771.0931 • [email protected]

VJ Tramonte
VJ Tramonte

When it’s island time, it’s time to call V.J. at Joe Tramonte Realty. As a broker/owner, he knows his way around Galveston real estate. “I started in 1982,” Tramonte says. “I specialize in residential, commercial, condominiums, land, and more on Galveston Island.”

What can you expect if you buy your dream vacation home from Tramonte? “I usually take the client out to dinner at a nice local restaurant,” he explains. “Sometimes I give gift baskets of liquor, coffee, and pictures of Galveston landmarks.” Which sounds like a great housewarming gift.

Galveston has plenty of special events all year long, and Tramonte enjoys being involved. “I love working my various Galveston Rotary Club events!” he says. Those include a chili supper, crawfish boil, beach cleanup, and ringing the bells for the Salvation Army Christmas kettles. 

Jeff Walters

Virginia Malone & Associates LLC

281.928.5422 • [email protected]

Jeff Walters
Jeff Walters

Jeff Walters, with Virginia Malone & Associates LLC, received his license in 1991 and will celebrate 25 years in real estate come June. Based in Baytown, the company handles commercial and residential real estate.

And he’s all about giving. “I will always send a Pappa’s gift card to my buyers and sellers, so that they can enjoy a nice dinner out on the town,” Walters says. “I also drop off a housewarming gift, depending on my clients’ taste.”

And as for giving to the community, he has his favorite charities, too. “I always loved donating time with the Battered Women’s Center, The Food Bank, and my church’s youth group. The Kiwanis Club is my favorite organization.” Now that’s a giver.

Andy Weber

John Daugherty Realtors

713.724.4306 • [email protected]

Andy Weber
Andy Weber

Andy Weber joined John Daugherty Realtors after a 15-year career in public health with a local nonprofit.

“I’ve been in real estate here inside the loop for 10 years now,” Weber says. And he does pretty well, consistently ranking as a top producer. He’s a high-energy person who loves dealing with the public.

“I do like to get to know my clients,” Weber says, “and maybe give them a personal gift at the end of a transaction.”

Weber is a big animal fan, using his own corgi, Betty Jean, in promotional pictures. And he gives money to the Houston SPCA for pets less fortunate than Betty Jean.

Marene Gustin is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.


Marene Gustin

Marene Gustin has written about Texas culture, food, fashion, the arts, and Lone Star politics and crime for television, magazines, the web and newspapers nationwide, and worked in Houston politics for six years. Her freelance work has appeared in the Austin Chronicle, Austin-American Statesman, Houston Chronicle, Houston Press, Texas Monthly, Dance International, Dance Magazine, the Advocate, Prime Living, InTown magazine, OutSmart magazine and web sites CultureMap Houston and Austin, Eater Houston and Gayot.com, among others.
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