Visalia Realtor Diego Espinoza-Martinez bought a chunk of land in Visalia last year with a pond, acres of trees and a nice house – his dream property. But, he’s never spent the night there.
He sleeps on a mattress in his Visalia real estate office where he works on deals buying, selling and flipping homes since he got into real estate at age 17. He can’t seem to shake off the work ethic ingrained into his blood by the farmworker parents he toiled alongside picking grapes, peaches, plums, and olives across the Central Valley.
“I worked in the fields and learned more there than in any college class about life and how to carry oneself,” said Espinoza-Martinez, now 26, “How an honest dollar is earned and to never, ever take a dollar for granted.”
The hard work paid off. Espinoza-Martinez this week was named one of Realtor Magazine’s annual 30 Under 30 honorees and the first from the central San Joaquin Valley to be picked as a finalist. The magazine, a publication of the National Association of Realtors, recognizes the industry’s rising young stars nationally who show success, skill, creativity and leadership in their careers.
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Espinoza-Martinez got into real estate out of desperation. His father, Alvaro, originally from Michoacán, Mexico, died four days after Espinoza-Martinez turned 18. The family, his mother and five other siblings, was broke.
“I needed something that would take and exploit everything I had to offer,” Espinoza-Martinez said. “There was no ceiling to how hard I could work and how many homes I could sell.”
When he started in real estate, home prices were low allowing first-time homebuyers and farmworker families to buy. He admits it wasn’t easy and his age posed a challenge. He cut his hair short to look presentable (it is now long), more serious and older.
Then he had to sell himself. The pitch went something like this: “I am willing to work harder than anyone else. Try me out, test me out and you can fire me if you’re not happy,” Espinoza-Martinez said. “Most people will give you a shot.”
He bought his first house at age 17, but couldn’t hold the title until he turned 18. A couple years later, he got his real estate license and sold 48 homes in his first eight months and 100 homes in a year at age 23 while attending Fresno State to earn a finance degree. Espinoza-Martinez opened a property investment company, VARO-Real Investments, in 2011. He is also a member of the Kevin Blain Real Estate Team for Keller Williams Realty.
“This is a young man who is the hardest worker I’ve ever met,” Blain said. “Not only that, he is honest. He is kind and he has integrity, which are equally as important as hard work.”
Espinoza-Martinez is especially proud of helping his siblings attend prestigious universities across the country and in London. Now, he’s giving back to the community at home and in Mexico. He started a $1,000 college scholarship this year at Mt. Whitney High School, his alma mater. Espinoza-Martinez owns a beef cattle operation in Michoacán where this past Christmas he had a calf butchered and the meat distributed to 17 of the poorest families.
Next on his list? Cutting back his work hours. He is taking flying lessons to earn his pilot’s license so he can one day fly from hill to hill in Mexico, a dream that his father had. He bought a small plane this year. And Espinoza-Martinez is playing soccer again.
He complained earlier this week of body aches from back-to-back soccer games the night before and told this reporter, who just turned 35, that he was feeling old – no longer the 22-year-old he remembered.
Mentally, he feels much older after years of hard work and caring for his family.
It’s really something to look back at where the family came from and how much everyone has done, Espinoza-Martinez said.
“It’s pretty darn insane.”