By MARTA HEPLER DRAHOS
TRAVERSE CITY — firstname.lastname@example.org
Christine and Larry Stalsonburg have dedicated their lives to helping people.
Now they're dedicating their business to other first responders.
"Basically our main goal is to help those that are helping others," said Larry Stalsonburg, co-owner of Cherry Wings Realty, a Traverse City real estate brokerage that specializes in serving active and retired police, fire, emergency medical services and military personnel. "It's kind of unique."
The couple opened the business Oct. 1 and named it after the 2011 award Christine received from the U.S. Coast Guard Station in Traverse City for her outstanding support.
"It just kind of stuck with me," said Christine, 50, a retired fire chief and the Blue Star Mother of two sons that served in the U.S. Army. "I was incredibly honored to receive the first ever Cherry Wings award so I decided that should be the name of the business."
Besides helping first responders and their spouses find affordable housing in the area, the company helps those in transition with real estate careers.
"Because we're a brokerage and not a national franchise, we're able to bring them in, mentor them and train them in a new profession without a lot of overhead," said Christine, a broker with one full-time licensed agent — the wife of a Vietnam War veteran — and three agents-in-training. "Real estate training is incredibly expensive. It's not the schooling, it's all the associated costs: the office fees they have to pay, expensive franchise fees for advertising, large commission splits.
"We're trying to make it so they can make a good living from the get-go when they come out."
Christine said the agents, including a retired Army recruiting sergeant, an active-duty Coast Guardsman whose tour is nearly up, and an emergency room nurse looking for a new profession, will have expert knowledge in "heroes" benefits such as VA loans and modification options, the Doctors Only program and HUD's Good Neighbor Next Door.
In addition they'll give back 25 percent of their commissions to clients to use toward closing costs or Realtor commissions.
"It works on either end, whether selling or buying a house," she said, adding that the realty discount program is based on the Heroes Home Advantage program in Rochester, N.Y.
Christine said the couple's alliance with first responders comes from years of being first responders themselves.
"We have strong connections to all those groups and I know how challenging it is for them to find affordable housing," Christine said. "They don't make a lot of money, and a lot are volunteers. A lot of the new medical people that are coming out are riddled with student loans."
In addition to working as a part-time Realtor, Larry, 63, is the medical director for the Grand Traverse Metro Fire Department, a volunteer position. He is a 24-year veteran of the Kent County (Grand Rapids) Traffic Squad, a retired emergency room and flight physician, and a former first response teacher.
He said today's first responders tend to be in the younger age group, just starting out.
"They do not have a lot of disposable income but want to enjoy some of the benefits of home ownership," he said. "It's tough to get into home ownership, so it's nice to have someone who understands your needs."
For more information, call (231) 409-4140 or visit www.cherrywingsrealty.com.