At the beginning of his career, Jed Nilson asked his dad, a homebuilder, what he needed to do to grow and succeed in the field. Get to know the “the REALTORS® down the road,” his father told him. Nilson took this advice and ran with it, getting his license and joining the Northern Wasatch Association of REALTORS® in Ogden, Utah.
Within a few years, he became sales and marketing director for Nilson Homes and later took over the family business. Meanwhile, he joined NWAOR’s Community Outreach Committee, which leads the Have a Heart Home, a program responsible for purchasing and refurbishing homes and then selling them at discounted rates to local families in need.
A Mission for Do-Gooders
At his company, he posed the idea of partnering with the community service effort. His staff and crew—a group of “vigilante do-gooders,” he says—responded with a resounding yes. Almost 25 years later, Nilson Homes has provided 15 families with homes to call their own, donating the labor and materials. The recipients, including many former military service members, benefit from the generosity of Nilson Homes, the North Wasatch association, and the entire Ogden community.
“It’s never convenient to do something like this for free, but I have watched Jed step up time and time again. He is always willing and always gracious.” –Mike Ostermiller, CEO, NWAOR
The process starts with a plot of land, which Nilson usually scouts himself. After the land is purchased, Jed uses his connections and his team at Nilson homes to source donations. Appraisal, title, contractors, subcontractors, building team, electrician, painters and plumbers—all services are donated via free labor and waived fees. Have a Heart holds fundraisers, too, but 100% of the funds go to lowering the final purchase price. The result: a steeply discounted, new home for a family who otherwise could not afford homeownership.
As the builder, Nilson usually isn’t there when families tour the Have a Heart homes. However, one day he was checking in on an unfinished home, as an agent was giving a tour. Nilson and his team had added a pantry, and when the family saw this, they burst into tears. Their son had Prader-Willi syndrome, a rare genetic disorder in which one suffers from constant hunger. There’s no medication effective at treating PWS; it requires constant supervision to prevent life-threatening overeating. To this family, a pantry with a locked door was not just a bonus feature, it was a safety measure they’d never been able to afford. “It was magic” says Nilson, “and you see that magic with every Have a Heart Home.”
Honoring a Community Giant
In 2018, Nilson and Mike Ostermiller, CEO of NWAOR and executive director of Have a Heart, were at the NAR annual convention (now NAR NXT) when their phones simultaneously went off. They learned that their friend, beloved community member and the mayor of North Ogden, Maj. Brent Taylor, had been killed in active duty in Afghanistan. Maj. Taylor left behind a wife and seven children. The family was living in a starter house on a plot of land where they’d planned to build their dream home. That shared dream now seemed impossible.
“They have [built a Have a Heart Home] in years when they are drowning in paying customers and years when the market has been so lean, they were worried about getting food on the table.” –Mike Ostermiller, on Nilson and his company’s dedication to Have a Heart
Ostermiller and Nilson vowed to make the Taylor family’s home a reality. Nilson volunteered his company for the project and even reengineered the land to match the vision. “He walked us through every step of the process with kindness and compassion,” says Jennie Taylor, who moved into her new home in July 2022. Inspired by the project and the local military community, Nilson Homes has now committed to hiring several veterans, even those with no prior construction experience.
A Place to Call Home, Even for an Afternoon
Nilson’s latest community service project is a different kind of home—a welcoming place for the LGBTQ+ community.
Encircle is an organization in Utah that provides affirming mental health and other services and activities to LGBTQ+ youth, young adults and families—including free therapy for those who can’t afford the fees. “Over the years, we have saved lives,” says Ostermiller, who serves on the board of Encircle. He initiated a Have a Heart project to build a new Encircle branch in Ogden and called on Nilson for help. Ostermiller says he was hesitant but knew that, no matter how busy Nilson was, he wouldn’t say no. He says he could barely get out the request before Nilson agreed to be the builder.
“Our new home has been such a game-changer and a welcoming space as we adjust to life without my husband by our sides.” –New homeowner Jennie Taylor
The Encircle branch has become a much larger project than Nilson expected. Still, he’s thrilled that “when someone needs a home, I guess they think of me.”
Local associations that don’t have a charity relationship should consider partnering with the local homebuilders’ association, Nilson says, and make the American dream a reality for someone in need.
Jed Nilson of Ogden, Utah, is broker-owner of Nilson Homes and volunteer builder of Have a Heart Home.