When Sara Alvarado and her husband, Carlos, came to Madison from Mexico in 2002, they had seven suitcases, their 18-month-old son Alex — and little else.
“We started from scratch,” said Alvarado, now president of Alvarado Real Estate Group, which has six agents and focuses on residential properties. “Having grown up here and with a background in real estate, I jumped into real estate as a Realtor for a large brokerage. I worked hard, learned a lot, and after five years, was ready to open our own unique model that fit our values and catered to our clients better.”
Along the way, Alvarado helped develop two unique schools in the community that reflected her values.
Q. Your background includes an interest in education and skill in real estate. First, how did you get into real estate?
A. I grew up in real estate, so you could say it is in my blood. My dad is a commercial broker and developer, Bruce Wunnicke, and co-owner of Delta Properties on West Main Street. He started in the residential market, and I would hang out at his office on Willy Street when I was growing up. In fact, we are using one of the conference tables he had in that first office.
In college, I worked as a leasing agent for a property management company in Minneapolis and was naturally good at connecting with people, fell in love with the art of negotiating, and learned early on the importance of creating strong relationships.
Having an adventurous soul, I traveled around and ended up in Mexico, where I met my husband, Carlos, who owned a restaurant. I taught English in Mexico for three years, and that is where I became passionate about the importance and power of education, not just for individuals but for our communities locally and globally. I believe that education is the key to a peaceful and sustainable world.
Q. Is there anything unique to your business model?
A. There are two very important factors in our model. Be yourself. If you are true to yourself and your core values, you will attract the right clients, and you are guaranteed success. When people feel like they connect and respect those they work with, then the opportunity for a win-win is very high. The agents we work with are handpicked because we all share the same values, and that makes for a trusting, fun, innovative work environment.
The second factor that makes our company unique is that we are built on a foundation of systems. As a young Realtor I did everything; I treated every transaction like it was different, and over time, I noticed that I wasn’t as efficient or effective as I could be. I began to create systems and checklists and tweaked them over time. I also believe in hiring experts in areas instead of trying to be everything to everyone. When we opened our company, we hired a transaction coordinator to partner with the agent to assist in the process of accepted offer to closing. It has completely changed how we serve the client. We’ve created more of a team environment for our agents and improved the process for our clients.
Q. The last few years have been challenging for those in the real estate business. Now homes seem to be selling again. How did you survive the worst times?
A. When we are doing the right thing, serving the community and our clients, good things happen. I operate from a place of abundance, not scarcity. We didn’t survive the worst times — we thrived, and we did it through mindset, a strong faith and trust. We trusted ourselves and our abilities.
Q. What was the best experience you had in developing Badger Rock Charter School and Nuestro Mundo?
A. Having my own real estate business fulfills a lot for me, but my passion for education always whispers — and sometimes yells — for me to get involved. Naturally with my desire to raise our children bilingual and — equally important, bi-literate — I got involved in with Nuestro Mundo Community School in 2003. Alex graduated fifth grade in 2012. The experience of watching a small group of people get together at coffee shops to talk about our dreams of a dual-immersion, community school and then fight to make it happen and watch it grow into what it is today has been an amazing experience.
My experience with Badger Rock was similar, yet different, and what I noticed most clearly was that when you have the right people working together, magic happens. There were many meetings and many partners and stakeholders involved, and watching it all come together was inspiring.
Q. You speak both Spanish and English. Do you see yourself as a leader in Madison’s growing Hispanic community?
A. Carlos and I are very involved in the Hispanic community, and we feel at home within the community we’ve created for our family. I believe that to fully enjoy all our blessings we must do our part and give back.
Q. You are also still a board member of Sustain Dane. How do you fit that into your life?
A. The story behind our passion for the environment is personal. Sustainability isn’t just about the environment, though. It is a thread in everything. It is about living thoughtfully in moderation, innovation and being proactive to create a sustainable lifestyle, community, economy and world. Being involved with Sustain Dane and their mission and vision is a natural fit for me.
Q. Where do you find the most satisfaction these days?
A. I’m happiest when I am growing and learning, personally and professionally. In the past year, Carlos and I became determined to fit exercise into our busy lives, and as a result, we’ve discovered all sorts of new adventures to jump into. We spend a lot of time outside, playing, biking, at soccer games, and overall having as much fun as we can. I love to write, to read, to connect with friends and spend as much time as I can with my family. I love our family.