Marsha Kotlyar on how real estate and philanthropy go hand in hand

Santa Barbara, California can be an advantageous place to ply your trade as a real estate professional. With multiple locations benefiting from ample space, lush landscapes and first-rate facilities, homes regularly sell for north of the $10 million mark.

That doesn’t mean that brokers and agents have it easy in this stunning part of the West Coast, mind. Not only is there a lot of competition, but homebuyers and sellers expect the highest possible standards of service.

Marsha Kotlyar, estates director at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties, and heading up the team at Marsha Kotlyar Estate Group, has been providing the demanded top-quality service in the industry for nearly 20 years. 

Above, a property represented by Marsha Kotlyar appears on Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Global Open House.

Her passion for real estate has helped fuel her second passion—that of goodwill and giving back. The two often go hand in hand—especially here at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, where giving back to the community is such an integral part of the network. But in general, this line of work offers the opportunity to meet a wide array of people; as such, you learn about different causes, and discover new reasons to lean into your benevolent side.

Cultivating a passion for property

Before becoming one of the network’s top-performing agents and brokers, Marsha sunk her teeth into an adjacent industry. “I have a degree in city and regional planning with a minor in real estate development,” she explained. “I was always very passionate about architecture and housing—I wanted to be an architect my whole life. So I went to university specifically for architecture, but I pivoted to a broader scope.”

“I have always been really passionate about homes,” Marsha added. “And for many years, I thought I could solve the housing crisis in California. What I really loved about that industry was the results-oriented aspect of it—seeing projects from design to completion, so I got my degree and had all these various internships and jobs in city planning, working for developers, etc., but ultimately, I realized it was just a little too much— at the time, the idea of being a developer felt like a very stressful job.”

While interest in city planning work was waning, upon graduation, Marsha was introduced to the idea of sales, and saw an ad in the paper from a local real estate professional. “I had never thought about selling homes, ever,” said Marsha. “The agent hired me right out the gates. He was a great mentor and, because of him, I had such a good start and it really clicked right away for me. I felt I was exactly where I needed to be almost immediately and never looked back.  

“I feel it was a little bit of luck that I was able to work with someone who was so great at their job, with a strong reputation, and the same strong work ethic that I also had. I dove into a busy, active, vibrant career which provided the baseline of my excitement and passion for the business. To this day, I have great respect for that agent who first hired me.” 

“After seven years in my first real estate role I broke off on my own, and that’s been going for a little over 12 years now. We’re now in year 19 in real estate.”

The importance of being nurtured and constantly educated in the early stages of a profession is particularly highlighted by Marsha’s impressive career path. “I feel really fortunate,” she mused. “I got lucky and was able to work with someone who is so good at their job, such a good rep and also had such a passion for it—the same strong work ethic that I also had. I dove into a busy, active, vibrant career which provided the baseline of my excitement and passion for the business.”

Exploring the importance of philanthropy

The work of a real estate professional literally involves shaping communities and who resides in them, so it’s fair to say that being involved in one’s community is a must for agents to show that they care about the neighborhoods they are operating in. 

“Being involved in your community is a responsibility that we should all take seriously. When you live and work in a community, everyone should get involved in some way,” Marsha agreed.

The Marsha Kotlyar Estate Group team certainly take their philanthropic work seriously—in line with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties and the wider Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices global network. While there are many ways in which Marsha and her colleagues give back, there is one cause in particular that is close to the broker’s heart. 

“We donate a great deal of our net profits to various causes, but I am especially passionate about Angels Foster Care,” Marsha explained. “I’m on the advisory board. A friend of mine told me she was starting this organization about 14-15 years ago—rescuing babies on a local level. I wanted to get involved and help right away; it’s just a very touching organization and a touching mission. So, I’m really proud to give back to that group. 

“The committee are so great there; it’s really a grassroots effort and people know to leave their egos at the door. It’s important, super impactful work centered on rescuing and helping neglected children and babies in Santa Barbara County. The kids are our future, and it’s super important to invest in the future of our community.” 

Diving into the philosophy of philanthropy, Marsha offered her views as to why giving back is so important to her—and others. “Ultimately, the reason people give back is that it makes you feel really good,” she said.

“Whatever you have time for—any opportunity to give back is a fantastic commitment. Whether it’s volunteering your time, introducing an organization to someone, or purchasing a ticket to an event and inviting people to learn about a cause. I was taught by my parents to do something for somebody else every day. My mom would ask me, what have you done today to enrich yourself, and what did you do for somebody else? The goal is to make somebody else feel good.” 

There are also great learning and personal development opportunities to be gained from charity work—as well as the fun and satisfaction that is often experienced concurrently.

“Going to an event where you’re learning about an organization is always fun and impactful,” Marsha said. “For example, the CEC [Community Environmental Council] puts on a yearly fundraiser with speakers offering tips to reduce your carbon footprint. You get a great learning opportunity that is fun and exciting.” 

“Being on a committee to help plan an event is always really fun as well,” Marsha added. “You get to see a project from start to finish. Designing, creating, and seeing it come to life and seeing the ticket sales and being able to say, ‘Wow I helped raise $250,000 for this cause,’ and not to mention the amount of fun you have at these events and the satisfaction of doing something impactful—seeing people laughing and smiling and enjoying themselves.”

Opportunities for community-based altruism

Helped by its affluent inhabitants, Santa Barbara has a particularly active philanthropy scene. “There are so many ways to get involved, very much in line with a larger metropolis like New York City or Dallas—it’s the social fabric of our community,” explained Marsha. 

Alongside Angels Foster Care and The Sunshine Kids, the latter being Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices’ official charitable benefactor, there are many other organizations that are close to Marsha’s heart.

Girls Inc. is very important to me,” she said. “It was part of my childhood and provided a great opportunity to me when I was a child. There, I made many strong friendships, and so I have always wanted to give back to this organization in some meaningful way.” 

Then there’s Lotusland, one of the world’s premier botanical gardens located in Montecito. “It’s a beautiful public space, with over 3,000 types of plants,” Marsha explained. “It’s a former estate with lots of history, owned by a woman named Ganna Walska, and it was her life dream to turn the estate into a horticultural program so everyone understood the importance of plants. It’s an amazing place and it attracts visitors from all over the world.

“They have a membership program which offers docent-led history tours. There are amazing docents working there who know a ton about plants and wildlife.” 

Closing out her thoughts on her natural pull towards benevolence, Marsha said, “When I started out in fundraising, some of the friendships I formed led to some amazing partnerships, and it helped me get to where I am today. Volunteer work demonstrates an element of trust at that core level. We’re just there volunteering our time together, nobody is getting paid, but years later those people have called me and say they want to work with me. We went from volunteering together, to friends, and some of those people have become longtime clients of mine—because those people could see my work ethic, how I worked and trusted me to work with them on a professional level. 

“You meet so many interesting people. So many people who have become dentists, doctors, managers who I lean on and recommend to my friends and clients as well. It’s a nice place to meet people who care and work hard and who are also just wanting to make a difference.”