Above: Mark Kotch filling his car with food to distribute to homeless shelters and seniors in need.
There is no question that Mark Kotch much prefers giving than receiving. A licensed REALTOR® since 2004, he’s with Alain Pinel/Compass Realtors, in Pleasanton, California. While his selling success is such that he has his own slogan, ‘Mark it Sold!’ it is his non-stop giving of time and effort to charitable work that truly sets him apart.
And for that even he is accepting of something in return–recognition. He has been selected as the 2022 recipient of the Seniors Real Estate Specialist® (SRES®) Outstanding Service Award.
The SRES® designation is offered through the Center for REALTOR® Development, a wholly owned subsidiary of the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR). The community of designees is comprised of REALTORS® who are dedicated to the real estate needs of maturing adults; whether they’re relocating, selling, buying or refinancing. Each year, the SRES® Council selects one or more outstanding senior-focused real estate professionals, highlighting their achievements by recognizing them with the Outstanding Service Award.
“I’m kind of wondering how I got picked, but okay,” he says with a shrug.
Actually it’s quite easy to understand how and why he was chosen. Kotch has been serving noble causes for over half a century, helping feed and clothe the homeless, administering comfort and other benefits to AIDS patients, and working with seniors and low-income single mothers, ensuring they and their children have enough food, shelter and health care to survive.
“I feel like I’m doing what I was called to do,” he says, but is insistent that he gets as much from his efforts as do the people he helps. And he has unique perspectives on every aspect of his charitable endeavors.
Kotch is involved in several community efforts around the tri-valley of the East Bay. For years he has gathered gently used coats from clients, friends and others for the Knights of Columbus and St. Vincent DePaul in Hayward, California, for distribution to the community.
Since 2018 he has worked on Friday mornings picking up food close to being out of date from a local Safeway store and delivering it to the Livermore Homeless refuge, Tri-valley interfaith food pantry, and several senior housing communities. So foods that would be composted now provide the hungry with weekly groceries.
Serving seniors in many ways
His latest project is to help seniors make doctor appointments, and working with a group to provide free rides. The worry among many underserved seniors regarding catching COVID-19 remains high, and a friendly face helps to calm them.
As a longtime REALTOR®, Kotch uses those skills interacting with around 25 seniors that he keeps in touch with.
“I have a group that SRES has helped me to build,” he says. “If someone needs anything… a lawyer or moving boxes and tape, whatever it is, I provide a lot of that to my seniors.”
Once a year he takes each one of them out to lunch, sometimes with other members of their family, to make sure they are updated on all aspects of their homeownership.
“I do a yearly review with them,” he explains. “You do a yearly review with your doctor, and with your financial planner, so I’ve instituted a yearly house-oriented review with my seniors. What’s your house worth, what have comps sold for, when’s the last time you had a house inspection, and is your house properly insured.
“The purpose is not to sell their house but to update them on the biggest asset they own.”
Of course Kotch is happy to be the listing agent should one of them decide to sell.
“It’s interesting that I never sold a house to two of them, but they have been my best referring people to other seniors,” he notes. “And I’m in their wills that I will sell their house when that time comes. One is not close with his kids and is afraid of what they would do with the house. So he wants the realtor to be Mark Kotch. That’s the ultimate compliment in my mind.”
Interacting with the homeless is especially rewarding for Kotch.
“I see too many homeless on the street that people just walk by,” he explains. “I try to engage them. They just want to talk, and are so thankful someone will talk to them. They’re not lepers, they don’t have disease. Some have mental illness. But a lot of them are in circumstances they can’t find their way out of.
“Some people, even charity workers, are scared of them and just want to drop off food and get out of there. But I think you have to take the extra step. Ask them how their day is going. How are they feeling… isn’t it a nice day? That means the world to them. They’re like, ‘Are you talking to me? Yes, it is a beautiful day.’ Then you can have a conversation.”
Becoming a real estate agent
Currently married for 43 years to wife Theresa, they raised three children and have several grandkids. Kotch’s first career was spent in the professional beauty industry. After 20 years he decided to make a change.
“I didn’t like being on a plane every week, missing football and basketball games my kids were playing in high school,” he recalls. “Theresa and I sat down one night and I told her I’m tired of it. She said, ‘You put food on the table for 20 years, and I was able to go back to school. I’m working full time so it’s time for you to go get happy. I don’t care what you do, just please go get happy.’
“I talked to some friends who said I’d be a really good real estate agent because I have a good way with people. So I told the world I was going to become a REALTOR®. I got my license and passed the exam. That was 2004. I haven’t looked back and have enjoyed every day. Now if I get on a plane it’s for me, which is kinda nice.”
For several years Kotch worked as a trainer for beginner real estate agents, teaching them about contracts, tools and marketing programs. He knew that interpersonal skills were a vital part of the job, and wasn’t surprised that many of his ‘students’ were receptive to getting involved with charity work.
“I told them if there was a cause they were involved in or that spoke to them, if they’re genuine about it then they could bring it to their clients,” he says. “I used to do coat drives. I’ve had agents take that idea and blow it out of the water more than I ever could have. They had to rent U-Haul trucks there were so many coats being given to nonprofits. REALTORS® have good hearts.”
After a few years as a trainer Kotch decided to become an agent full-time. Not surprisingly, he has excelled, with his local MLS board honoring him with membership in the President’s club. He has won sales awards for multiple years as well.
An early start on giving back
Charity work has been a lifetime endeavor for Kotch, beginning as a teenager in Atlanta, Georgia.
“When I was in high school me and two buddies would go into the inner city of Atlanta to work at a nonprofit that had a food pantry,” he says. “I enjoyed it. A bakery that made French bread was always testing their ovens. Every Wednesday we’d pick up their test bread and deliver it to homeless people through food pantries. That’s how I got started.”
Through the years Kotch has been involved with helping various people and groups in need.
“I helped run a nonprofit for a short time in the 1990s when AIDS was at its worst in San Francisco,” he explains. “It was when I was working in the beauty industry. We had a group of hair stylists that would go to an AIDS ward in the hospital and cut their hair and do their nails, giving them a personal touch. We did that for a couple of years when no one wanted to go near anyone with AIDS.”
Kotch makes it clear that while most of the people he helps are in some sort of life difficulty, the days are usually upbeat, as whatever he is doing brightens the lives of those affected.
“I have a soft heart for single moms, most of whom are a paycheck away from being evicted because rents are high and they have so many expenses for their kids,” he says. “I try to make sure when they come in that they’re taken care of. I put extra food and clothes in their bags.
“And right now so many seniors are afraid to go out because of COVID-19. They’re mentally paralyzed. We take them to their doctor appointments, and make sure they have enough food.”
Like any interactions with people there are humorous moments. Kotch loves relating this story…
“I was helping with a winter coat drive and we were at a church,” he says. “Homeless men came in and were going straight for the women’s coats. I finally said to one of them, ‘You know, those are women’s coats.’ He goes, ‘Yeah, they’re the best coats because they’re longer and they keep you warmer. I don’t want one of those short coats. These keep my body warm.’ So I started asking for more women’s coats for the men.”