Alissa Custer and Jess Waggoner, partners at the MAJ Realtors team, had a ridiculously successful year in 2020.
There was just one catch — they were miserable.
Like millions of others across the country in the wake of the pandemic, they took a long, hard look at what work meant to them and how they spent their time.
And in 2021, they decided to switch things up. Their new business goal: Be happy.
It paid off. This year, they’re not only getting more enjoyment out of the business, but they’re on track to surpass last year’s production levels. They’ve even managed to turn their pact to prioritize happiness into a charitable effort that’s supporting families in need.
We caught up with Alissa and Jess for more details on this radical mindset shift.
You decided at the start of this year that your new goal was to be happier in your days and to only work with people you really liked. One “happy-making” aspect of your business is the annual fundraiser you run for UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital. Can you talk a bit about how that got started?
Alissa: About two and a half years ago, right when Jess was about to join our team, her daughter had a brain aneurysm.
Jess: Alissa was taking a gigantic risk to bring me on. I was a brand-new agent — it was like she was taking on a baby! For her to have the grace to give me the space I needed so I could support my daughter through that is something I will never forget.
Alissa: It’s kind of strange how life works: A few years earlier, my then 6-year-old son had open-heart surgery to correct a congenital heart defect. Both our kids, who are the exact same age, had medical issues come up that altered our lives.
Jess: And both their lives were saved by the same hospital, UCSF Benioff. So that was the impetus for our first fundraiser two years ago, where we raised $28k. Last year, we raised $44k.
Alissa: UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital cares for children regardless of their ability to pay. So fundraisers like ours contribute toward treatment costs for families who can’t afford the care. We just launched this year’s fundraiser, and we’re hoping to raise $60k! We will be matching the first $25k raised.
You chose to really tie your professional identities to this fundraiser. What effect has that had on your business?
Jess: It all ties into one of our goals this year being that we wanted to work with the people we really like — and those people tend to be giving-minded. So for instance, when we close escrow, we give our clients a chance to forgo a closing gift and have us donate on their behalf to the charity of their choice. And we’ve noticed the vast majority of our clients now are choosing to donate their escrow gift.
That probably starts at the beginning, when they’re looking for an agent who’s mission-aligned.
Alissa: We helped a client with a sale recently, and he donated all the proceeds to charity — the bulk of it to UCSF, because he was a doctor there. It was just kind of meant to be that we met with him and were aligned in how much we care about giving back.
Jess: We don’t know for sure if that’s the reason he chose to work with us, but there was this instant trust there.
What’s your advice for agents trying to incorporate charitable giving into their businesses?
Jess: If you’re doing it because you think it’s going to bring in more clients, there’s no authenticity behind it. Trying to raise money for charities is going to feel arduous, and you’re not going to reap quick rewards.
This work is a joy to us, but it does take time. Alissa and I have to be very much in lock-step that we’re going to focus on this fundraiser as a meaningful tenet of our business.
Alissa: This is something we would do regardless of how it impacted our business. And when it’s something you’re really compelled to do, it doesn’t feel like work.
What prompted the goal to be happier in your business?
Alissa: Last year was brutal. We did a ton of business, but it just wasn’t worth it. I would rather do less business, but with the right people.
So this year, we’re focusing on people we really want to spend time with, and we’re referring out people who aren’t the right fit. We just want to be happy in our days.
Jess: We’re actually on track for even more volume this year. The key is that we’re not replacing the rigor of running the business. We see this as an enterprise, and we take it seriously. Integrating the goal to be happier in our days was really central to us being more successful agents.
What other changes did you make in pursuit of being happier in your days?
Alissa: We wanted to work somewhere that made us happy, and I can’t say that was true of our last brokerage.
When it came to deciding our next step, I thought it was going to be a money decision. But we wound up going with the one that felt right, that felt like a place we would want to show up to every day.
Jess: We’re only as good as our team. And in our case, we can expand that notion of team to our new community at District Homes and our community at Side.
Learn more about Alissa and Jess’ 2021 fundraiser for UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals here, which launched on September 1, 2021.