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BUSINESS MONDAY: Spotlight on Berkshire Dream Home—a real estate firm built on relationships and community support

The Pittsfield-based business celebrated 10 years with a Give Back Gala benefiting Strong Little Souls.

“At Berkshire Dream Home, it’s not about us. It’s about the people we serve. We are committed to the professional and personal growth of our agents, client service that exceeds expectations, and giving back to the community. For us, it’s not just about the real estate transaction. It’s about the relationships we build along the way.”
— Andy and Sarah Perenick, owners.

Berkshire Dream Home is deeply committed to serving the community. Every year, the company—founded by Andy and Sarah Perenick—donates over $10,000 to local charities and contributes hands-on volunteer efforts. But the Give Back Gala was the first of its kind for BDH. The purpose? To celebrate 10 years of growth and success as a real estate company built first and foremost on relationships. The goal? To raise $50,000 for Strong Little Souls, a nonprofit that serves children and families struggling with pediatric cancer, started by BDH agent Jessica Rizzo’s daughter Madison Quinn around the same time the Perenicks launched Berkshire Dream Home. The result? The event far exceeded their expectations, raising over $100,000.

A return home opens a new career path and way of doing business

How did a former law enforcement officer and a school psychologist end up changing careers and running their own real estate company in Central Berkshire County? That’s a long story, the gist of which is that Sarah and Andy Perenick both have roots in the Berkshires. The pair met at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, married, and began their careers near Boston—Andy as a police officer and Sarah as a research assistant in pediatric psychology. After Sarah completed advanced studies at Tufts School of Psychology, they decided to leave the Boston area and move back to the Berkshires. “It was a quality of life decision,” Andy says, based on the desire for a quieter place and slower pace of living as they started their family.

“I come from a service family,” Andy states, adding that he and his brothers were altar boys in the Catholic Church, became Eagle Scouts, and went on to pursue military or law enforcement careers. “Putting things into action was always a priority in our family,” he explains. “We were always taught that we’re here to do something bigger.”

While Sarah found work as a school psychologist in the Pittsfield public schools, Andy turned to a new career in real estate, working for Sarah’s father, Al Gelinas, at RE/MAX Integrity in Berkshire County. After a severe stroke in 2010 caused Gelinas to step back from working full time, Andy took on a bigger role with the firm. When a key broker decided to leave and another agent to start a family, the firm was forced to sell.

This turn of events ultimately led Andy to start his own real estate firm. “We’re in the relationship business, first and foremost,” he explains. When Sarah noticed documents starting to pile up, she began helping with office administration, taking a leave of absence from her school position to keep the business growing. Ultimately, the couple decided it was best to “both be on the same page” and officially form the business partnership.

Andy Perenick leading a company training designed to help agents invest in themselves. Photo by Tricia McCormack Photography

Andy notes that he has always grounded his life in wise quotes and advice. Things like “Make a friend before you need one” (his grandmother’s advice), “High efficiency, low drama” (his own quote), and “Your business will only grow as much as you grow” (author and radio personality David Ramsey insight). He is also a voracious reader. “I wasn’t a great academic student growing up, but books have always had a great influence,” he notes. In particular, Derrick Kinney’s book “Good Money Revolution” formed the foundation for his “why and how” mindset as a business owner. “We’re helping people make the biggest purchase of their life, and we take that very seriously,” Andy says.

When asked about his principles, Andy cites four fundamental principles: “Work hard, be nice, have an attitude of gratitude, and never give up.” Like a good Zig Ziglar motivational podcast, his modus operandi is clearly defined and built on the shared wisdom of others. Ultimately, he believes that if you help other people get what they want, you’ll get what you want as well.

Sarah and Andy Perenick leading an in-house training for agents. Photo by Tricia McCormack Photography

Berkshire Dream Home builds its team and reputation

According to its website, Berkshire Dream Home has been voted Best of the Berkshires for five years running and has helped 1,500 families buy or sell homes with an average home price of $281,000. Boasting 319 sales in 2023 and 331 sales in 2022, the firm has sold the highest number of real estate transactions in the county, as reported in the MLS.

“Our goal is to raise the bar of professionalism in real estate, helping us better serve and protect consumers and clients,” Andy explains. “We believe we can do that best through training because knowledge builds power, and that goes beyond teaching how to be a good real estate agent to include investing in yourself, gaining financial freedom, and getting advice from our leadership playbook. But we can only show people the way—it’s up to each individual what they do with it.”

Agent José Larios eliminated his debt through BDH’s training and now offers training to his potential home buyers. Photo courtesy BDH

One of the agents who took full advantage of the opportunity to learn and improve his financial reality (paying off his debt in just one year) is José Larios, who grew up in Guatemala and came to the U.S. in 1997 as a recipient of a Georgetown University scholarship. Since then, he’s won awards at Berkshire Community College for academic achievement, community service, and leadership and served as chair of the Fair Housing Committee. In addition to real estate, he has helped individuals with autism and physical and mental disabilities lead richer, more meaningful lives.

“I’m so happy to help first-time buyers make their dreams come true. It’s a very challenging time to buy a house, so it’s important to give them financial advice, guide them to see if it is really the best home for them, and advocate for them throughout the buying process,” Larios states. Beyond that, his goal is to educate people through his “Pathway to Home Ownership” seminars and be there to support them long after—as the Perenicks have done for him. Keeping with the BDH culture of giving back, Larios donates 10 percent of his compensation to his giving project. “A lot of people helped me along the way, so I want to pay it forward,” he says.

For Andy, serving his agents led to becoming a non-competing broker a few years ago so he could focus on training and recruiting the right people and being available full-time to respond to their calls. “I’m trying to help my agents build a business of their own under our structure,” he says. The rewards?

“Taking care of our people in-house as best we can, passing on valuable lessons—especially investing in people like José, where gaining financial freedom has changed not only one person’s life, but the whole family tree,” Andy replies. “And making charitable giving actionable, helping us all be part of something bigger for our community.”

Beyond clients and agents, serving the local and international community

That charitable giving started with something as simple as restocking the food pantry across the street once a week. As Sarah describes, “It took a lot of organizing, but we built a system with very specific requests. When we needed agents to unload a truckload on a Tuesday afternoon, we were able to find them.”

That giving impulse extended beyond their own community following a trip to a resort in the Dominican Republic that Andy made with a group of top agents as part of their President’s Club rewards. There, he met Louise Zobel and the grassroots Dominican Starfish organization, both intent on creating awareness of the vast economic disparity between the resort and the surrounding region. Looking at the lack of homes, schools, and community resources, Andy asked, “What do you need?” Zobel’s answer: “Everything.”

Supporting the Dominican Starfish Foundation helps build new homes for families living in extreme poverty. Photo courtesy BDH

Zobel began with a goal to build one $10,000 house annually, a safe shelter that would change the trajectory for one family tree. “Ten years later, Starfish built their 200th home,” Andy shares, adding that the people they’ve helped in the past are now the people employed to build the homes. “We’ve been involved in building multifamily houses, shelters, and schools, as well as assisting with food distributions,” he notes, “and I’m a godfather to a local family’s firstborn child.”

The idea of a Give Back Gala emerges

When it came time to figure out how to mark their 10-year milestone, the idea of a Give Back Gala naturally emerged. “We’re taking our blessings and using them for another organization—what a perfect way to highlight and celebrate our success,” Andy Perenick says. The event, held on May 25th at The Country Club of Pittsfield, was a testament to the deep relationships they have formed—both within the real estate community (eight other real estate companies were significantly represented) and with their business partners. Many of those businesses were gold sponsors (including JS Megal Roofing & Gutters, Unistress, David Bonomi (Northwestern Mutual), Bloom Brothers, and Guild Mortgage); silver sponsors (including Martin Hochberg Cianflone, Rumbolt Law, Mativ, Berkshire Money Management, Club Wyndham, and Hashim & Spinola attorneys at law); or affiliate partners (including Trout and Coffee, Millennium Music, RSI Signs, Haddad Subaru, and Berkshire Photo Booth).

Among the many gala attendees were representatives of eight real estate companies—a testament to the importance of industry relationships. Photo courtesy BDH

The decision to support Strong Little Souls was equally natural. Jessica Rizzo’s daughter, Madison Quinn, was well-known to the BDH family and the Pittsfield community. She founded Strong Little Souls in 2014 as a 13-year-old after being moved by a social media post to send a care package to brighten a leukemia patient’s day. That first care package included a Batman action figure, and the recipient (a young boy named Abel) carried the wings of that action figure to every chemotherapy session, lab draw, and procedure.

During the evening program, Madison presented some startling statistics related to childhood cancer. According to the American Childhood Cancer Organization (ACCO), an estimated 15,780 children from birth to 19 years (or 1 in every 285 children) are diagnosed with cancer annually in the U.S. Childhood cancer diagnoses are more common today than 15 years ago across all ages, ethnic groups, and socio-economic groups. Over the past 40 years, while survival rates for many types of cancer have improved, childhood cancer rates are continuing to rise (in fact, the number of children diagnosed with leukemia has increased by nearly 35 percent), and cancer remains the most common cause of death by disease for children in America. One in six does not survive five years in our country, and more than 300,000 children are diagnosed each year globally—a rate of one child every three minutes.

Despite these statistics, Madison pointed out that less than 4 percent (or $250 million) of the $64.4 billion the National Cancer Institute receives is directed to research for all childhood cancers combined. And although treatment efficacy has improved, only six drugs for childhood cancer have been approved in the past three decades. As a result, many children are treated with medications designed for adults, and two-thirds of pediatric patients pay a high price in toxic side effects—”including secondary cancers, heart and lung damage, infections, chronic hepatitis, alterations in growth and development, impaired cognitive ability, and psycho-social impact,” she explained.

Madison with Celia (left), who was diagnosed with Leukemia when she was three and is now cancer-free. Photo by Angela Dimock/Lens of Love

Over the past 10 years, Strong Little Souls has sent thousands of care packages across the U.S., granted hundreds of wishes, provided over $100,000 in financial support to families, and much more. Most importantly, Madison has been physically and emotionally present for the children and families throughout their journey, visiting them in the hospital, taking them on outings, and remaining active in their lives long after. Her latest mission was funding a Book Vending Machine on the pediatric floor at Baystate Medical—a dream she realized this spring.

“We far exceeded our goal of raising over $100,000 for Strong Little Souls,” Madison beams. “The support we received from our community was heartwarming, and the funds will help to continue to run SLS programs, including care packages, wishes, and financial assistance.” She is also planning some exciting events this summer, including her second Family Fun Day and an overnight experience with Our Amazing Fighters, where they will welcome over 50 families affected by pediatric cancer to an overnight stay at Great Wolf Lodge. “The funds from this gala will impact so many families. I am forever grateful to everyone who helped create this event!” she acknowledges.

John Economou, who agreed at the last minute to lead the live auction, explains: “Sometimes things just happen. Andy came into Precious Metals early last week and mentioned the gala and auction. When he learned that I was a Hall of Fame auctioneer and I learned that their auctioneer had canceled suddenly, it took him a second to ask me to fill in and me a second to say yes.” He continues, “It was a very memorable night. I’ve done auctions here and abroad, and I never choke up, but hearing about how Madison showed up on Christmas Eve to make a child’s Christmas special—well, if that doesn’t touch you, what will? We were able to raise a lot of money (roughly $21,000 from $6,000 in live items) during the live auction, and far more from the final appeal—all of which will help many children and families dealing with cancer.”

Is this year’s gala going to become an annual event? Andy grins. “My first response would be exactly what I asked my wife after the birth of our first son: ‘After experiencing one of these, why would anyone ever want to go through it again?'” Then, getting serious, he admits, “This inaugural event was more emotionally overwhelming than I anticipated—real, raw, and so inspiring. It would be hard not to think about doing it again.”

Sarah adds, “Ask me in three months. I learned a ton and kept a binder full of notes—that will make the next one easier.” (Sigh)


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