Meet The Owners of Houston Westside Home Buyers
As we noted on the About Houston Westside page, we are a family-owned and operated business. Our names are Mark and Svetlana, and we’ve been proud to call Houston home since 2008. Mark is originally from Washington State, and is a proud graduate of University of Washington (Go Huskies). Svetlana is from the Far East regions of Russia, where we met while Mark was working over there.
Let’s back up a little.
You might have also noted that Houston Westside Home Buyers is a veteran owned business. Mark served in the US Navy, from 1987 to 1994 as a Russian crypto-linguist. There isn’t really all that much that he can share about that experience, except that he got to attend a government school in Monterey California called the Defense Language Institute. This is where all branches of the armed forces send their soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines (a few) to learn foreign languages in a decidedly in-depth immersive setting. Imagine taking one college subject — just one — but you attend that class all day, Monday through Friday, for a full year. Then you did your homework in your off-time. You either get good at it, or you are washed out and reassigned – sent out to the fleet to chip paint on some ship somewhere. Fortunately for Mark, he was very good at it, and finished number one in his class.
Mark spent a year serving at a very small, and somewhat remote post in Turkey, located right on the Black Sea coast, and later in a Navy patrol squadron (that has since been decommissioned). Mark will tell you that he didn’t do much of anything, other than make coffee and write reports with little or nothing to report. And he also tell you that he forged friendships with shipmates that he holds dear to this day.
It is worth pointing out that this was obviously right at the tail end of the cold war period. And so during his time in the armed forces, the Soviet Union collapsed, the mission for which Mark and his colleagues were trained (at great expense by the taxpayers) essentially dissipated and the world became a very different place – but maybe in a good way.
In the mid nineties, Mark decided to take his language skills and return to college. Mark attended the University of Washington from 1994 to 1998, and completed two degrees: one in Russian language and the other in business administration. During this time, Mark had the opportunity to work (full-time) in Seattle for a Russian commercial fishing company, starting as a receptionist and translator and moving into purchasing, managing a supply warehouse and later accounting.
And right at the end of this, in 1998, with only 3 college classes remaining, Mark was given a chance to go on an exchange program to Vladivostok, in the Russian Far East. And he never looked back.
Working in Russia
The 6 month exchange program was challenging, but at the end of it, the credits transferred back to UW and Mark earned both degrees. However, rather than returning to Seattle to find suitable employment, Mark hit on a chance to work for some local foreign investors, mostly Brits and Aussies with equity stakes in dozens of regional companies around the Russian Far East, and so he stayed. The opportunity to move back home would always be there, but Mark recognized that the chance to do something this far out of the ordinary was too good to pass up — even though the job wasn’t a lot of money.
It wasn’t long before Mark and Svetlana met.
Svetlana was working at a local factory that produced ceramic home goods. Economic reality was harsh for her and her Mom. She was a talented seamstress that made her own outfits – partly because she enjoyed it but also because they simply didn’t have the money to buy anything she liked better.
Svetlana did not have an opportunity to attend college in Russia, at least not immediately out of high school. Later one she was able to get her undergrad work completed, but that was later after we were already married with a family.
Mark and Svetlana were married in 1999 in a small town in Primorksiy Krai (the Maritime Province) called Spassk-Dalniy, located right on the south end of Lake Khanka, right on the Chinese border. Not long after, Mark was able to find some finance project work related to coastal fisheries, funded by a grant from the US Trade Development Agency and sponsored by Caterpillar.
Soon after Mark found a job in Moscow, working in the corporate finance of a local investment firm and the two moved to Moscow in the summer of 2000. About a year later, in the summer of 2001, Mark went to work for the Caterpillar dealer out in the Russian Far East, so they moved to Khabarovsk. This was good because it was closer to home for Svetlana and it was a great career experience for Mark. And by now, the little one had arrived, Anastasia. For about 6 months, during this time, the three moved over to Sakhalin Island, while Mark was still part of the Cat dealer management team.
A couple years later, Mark and Svetlana were seriously contemplating moving back to the states. And the two had just started making plans to do exactly this, when Moscow called again, this time with the offer of project work with Ernst & Young in the aviation sector. So together they decided that the U.S. would wait.
And again, it meant another move across the massive country of Russia – which of course fell largely on the strong Russian shoulders of Svetlana, who had to deal with the logistics of rail transportation of our household goods (again). Svetlana might look like a sleek Italian sportscar, but you should know that she has the grit and determination of a 50-ton Cat D10 bulldozer.
Russia is the land of the unexpected, and not surprisingly, in 2004, political issues started to raise their ugly heads and the funding for the project work in the aviation sector went away. Sitting at a desk at one of the big accounting/consulting firms is not a pleasant experience when there is no client or project to which you can bill your hours. So then, in late 2004, opportunity rang again. Mark had an inside shot at a territory manager position at Caterpillar Financial – again, located out in the Far East. It meant another, move but a chance to go back to Vladivostok. Caterpillar Financial needed a replacement out there, and having been part of management at the local dealership, Mark was able to step right into the role.
These were really good years, a chance for all three to learn and grow and just enjoy being where they were. Mark and Svetlana had plenty of opportunity to travel (see below) and the little one, Anastasia, got to be a regular Russian kid, with grandma and other relatives nearby.
This job came with the agreement that Mark would serve 3 or 4 years and then would be transferred to another role with Caterpillar Financial in the United States. That is exactly what happened in the summer of 2008.
Opportunities To Travel
Mark and Sveta were fortunate during these years that we were able to travel from time to time, not just in Russia, but also to a number of other countries.
They were able to visit Australia, as well as make several trips to Korea. They also were able to visit Japan, China, and Hong Kong, as well as several other great vacations to warmer places like Thailand, Egypt and Turkey.
They spent close to a month living in Mongolia (while Mark was working with the local Cat dealer there), with Anastasia, renting an apartment and getting to know the local culture and community there in Ulaan Bataar.
As a result of his frequent cross-country travel from the Russian Far East to Moscow and back, Mark had so many Aeroflot Bonus air miles accumulated that the two of them were able to go to Paris, in December, for Svetlana’s birthday. During this visit to Paris, they were able to make a day trip to Frankfurt, Germany by train, to visit the Christmas markets there with some friends.
There are way too many photographs to share, and probably that would be better done on social media – that’s a project for later. One of these days
Moving To Houston
Finally the time came to move back to the U.S. Mark was able to get the same territory manager job he had in Russia (which he found incredibly rewarding) right here in Houston Texas, working with the local Cat dealer. This happened in 2008. Svetlana was able to get her immigration paperwork in about 5 months. During that time, Mark began a major effort to purchase their first home. While visiting houses, he picked out the better ones, photographed them in detail, and uploaded and shared them online for Svetlana. She of course held the power of veto. Ultimately, they bought the first house that Mark visited, and they still live there today.
The girls booked flights from Russia to Houston via Seattle for the first weekend in September 2008. Then Hurricane Ike blew in. Mark had only moved into the house in West Houston two weeks prior. That was an interesting time. Mark flew up to Seattle to meet the family on arrival, but there would be no flying back to Houston as originally planned – at least not for some time. The three of them ended up driving a used car (that they had been planning to sell) from Washington State all the way down to Houston.
Anastasia started pre-K ESL (‘English as a second language’) classes that fall. Her first language was Russian still at that point, but little kids pick up a new language so fast.
Our Real Estate Investing Journey
You might want to sell quickly, without costly repairs. That is what we are able to deliver.
You probably want to save on fees, closing costs and commissions. We pay all of that, and we close a local title company, using standard Texas real estate contracts. No need for a realtor in most cases.
We find that many sellers want some freedom and flexibility in when they close. All of this can create upheaval with jobs and school and family. We can work with you to set up a closing date that works best.
If you have any questions about Houston Westside Home Buyers, how we work, what the process of selling a house really looks like, or just want to learn more about us… don’t hesitate to contact us anytime!