Liz Lee and Mark McConnell give 50 percent of their commissions to charity

Mark McConnell and Liz Lee, the founders and agents before Heart to Heart Real Estate. Photo by Heather Young
Mark McConnell and Liz Lee, the founders and agents before Heart to Heart Real Estate. Photo by Heather Young

Liz Lee and Mark McConnell of Paso Robles have both been real estate agents since 1998, and in August 2013, they started their own company – Heart to Heart Real Estate. It’s just not any real estate company – Lee and McConnell donate half of their commissions to charity.

“It’s people helping people helping people,” McConnell said. “They get to feel good, but we write the check.”

“I think people inherently want to give back,” Liz added. “It’s a win-win. We wanted to creative massive change within the community. We’re just the vehicle.

Not only do they donate half of the commission, but the client gets to choose where the money goes.

“Our clients always choose,” McConnell said. “We had a client who chose a no-kill animal shelter in Texas because that’s where she lived.”

Lee said that the amount they give from a single sale aren’t small, but could be up to $25,000, which is the biggest single donation they’ve given to date. However, they donated a total of $30,000 in December 2015 to nonprofits around the county.

“It’s a consuming business – it takes all of your time,” Lee said.

“The harder we work, the more we give,” McConnell added.

Lee became a real estate agent in her family’s commercial real estate business in Chicago while she earned her law degree from Loyola Law School in Chicago in 2000. She got her bachelor’s degree from Whittier College in Southern California.

“When I moved out here to Atascadero, my family told me ‘you’re good at it, so keep doing it,’” Lee said. She moved to the area with family 11 years ago.

McConnell got into real estate after he bought his first home in Paso Robles.

“It was a very painful process with lots of problems,” McConnell said. “I’m a very hands-on person so I took over the reins.”

At the time he was waiting tables in Paso Robles, so with a little encouragement from the agent handling the sale of the home he bought, he got his real estate license.

While working at ReMax in Paso Robles, Lee and McConnell met and have been together as a couple for the last seven years and are now engaged. They now live in Paso Robles with McConnell’s 15-year-old daughter.

Their joint venture began several years before they actually took the leap and started Heart to Heart.

“One day Mark was reading ‘The Peace Pilgrim’ and turned around said, ‘we’re going to give away 50 percent of our income, and then turned around,” Lee said.

“I want to do something meaningful for the rest of my life,” McConnell added, saying the story of Mildred Lisette Norman, the Peace Pilgrim and a non-denominational spiritual teacher spoke to McConnell. “Late in her life, she gave up all her possessions and spent all of her life spreading a message of peace. That struck a cord in me to have such a conviction in something.”

Lee added that for her, she felt particularly moved to give so much a way after visiting her father in Philippines and seeing how the people there live.

“She’s the one who said we were going to start,” McConnell said.

So they did. And they have no plans of stopping any time soon.

“I really believe this is something that will be duplicated and emulated,” McConnell said, adding that while most businesses have a giving component to the business, he’d like to see this model, where giving is a central part of the business, take off. “Just doing good, being respectful, being kind – that’s how the world is meant to be done.”

“We’d like to see more people doing this,” Lee said. “In America, there really shouldn’t be suffering. Why do we have so many issues? If we don’t work together, we aren’t fixing anything. People want to help other people.”

Some of the nonprofits that Heart to Heart has benefitted include Paso Robles Youth Arts Foundation, The Wellness Kitchen, Boys and Girls Club, Camp Natoma, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo County, Woods Humane Society, Second Chance at Love, Transitional Food and Shelter, Cancer Support Community, Meade Canine Humane Society, the Templeton High School Marching Band Boosters and Jack’s Helping Hands.

Heart to Heart Real Estate is located at 1226 Park St. in downtown Paso Robles. Lee and McConnell can be reached at 805-674-0297 or 805-464-1007 or go to www.hearttoheartrealestate.com.

This story was first published in Journal Plus in April 2016.