The Art in a Deal

Applying social entrepreneurship to real estate transactions,
Earmark looks to expand its reach and influence

Photo: Marla Marnoch, sales representative at StreetCity Realty and founder of Earmark

WHEN RACHEL AND Andy Berdan settle into their new home in London’s Woodfield neighbourhood this July, they know their move will mean more than just a change of address. Socially conscious, the Berdan’s are among the first to embrace a new social impact real estate concept, which sees agents donating 20 per cent of their commission to a local changemaker, charity or community association of the client’s choice.

Called Earmark (earmark.ca), the initiative is the brainchild of long-time community developer turned realtor, Marla Marnoch, sales representative at StreetCity Realty Brokerage Inc.

With their deal just closed, the Berdan’s are still deciding where to direct the funds earmarked from their home sale and purchase. But the couple is thrilled that the largest financial transaction of their lives will also make a positive impact in the wider community.

“I’m excited by social enterprise,” says Rachel. “Whether I’m buying clothes or buying a house, I look to see if there is potential for our money to make a difference.”

Pairing real estate with community good was a natural fit for Marnoch, who worked in employment and economic development with First Nations communities across Canada before her husband’s job brought their family to London almost six years ago.

“I don’t expect agents to partner with me on every transaction. But I did ask if they would partner with me for five or six transactions a year to help me expand the number of homes bought and sold using the Earmark model” —Marla Marnoch

Ready for a career change, Marnoch earned her real estate license and began exploring her new hometown. “I discovered a lot of community projects and city initiatives around building neighbourhoods,” she says. “The London Plan was just being launched, and that brought me right back to my urban planning roots and my interest in community development.”

After spending a year developing a solid business plan for her new social enterprise, Marnoch launched Earmark this March. She has two key goals for the business. “One is to build a successful real estate practice. The other is to make a significant and measurable impact in creating a city that is exciting and vibrant,” she says.

Eventually, Marnoch would like to donate $100,000 annually to support local changemakers and community associations working in three key areas of community development—building great neighbourhoods, supporting local entrepreneurship and fostering a vibrant, caring city.

With a home selling for $500,000 resulting in a potential donation of $2,500, those earmarked commissions could add up quickly.

And the idea of social impact real estate is already resonating with potential homebuyers and fellow agents.

“I don’t expect agents to partner with me on every transaction,” Marnoch notes. “But I did ask if they would partner with me for five or six transactions a year to help me expand the number of homes bought and sold using the Earmark model.”

So far, three agents have agreed to give back 20 per cent of their fees, with charitable donations made in their client’s name. “I’ve also been approached by other realtors who are interested in learning more, both from StreetCity and other brokerages,” Marnoch says. “I think there is a genuine interest in wanting to give back.”

Once the model is established here in London, Marnoch hopes Earmark will expand into other cities. “It really is a community-driven, community-based initiative. It looks at the unique assets of a city or neighbourhood and targets dollars towards those changemakers who are making a difference.”  Nicole Laidler