Bothers Sawyer and Sullivan Smith, founders of Blue Haven Homes, assured that they will bring dignity back to Joplin’s historical Olivia building, but who are these brothers behind the redevelopment and beginning business?
Originally from Colorado and sons of a father in construction, Sawyer moved to Joplin in 2010 for college at Ozark Christian College (OCC) and Sullivan followed suit later in 2013. Years later the two created a real estate investment company from the ground-up based on family roots, starting with the company name that ties to their childhood.
“… We are a family company, our dad and us are all owners of this company and partnering in on that, and so we wanted to keep it kind of tied to those family roots,” Sawyer said. “And my mom had a thing where she would name all the houses that we lived in, and we were actually—I was born in southern California, and Sully was born in southern California as well—and the first house that all of use lived in together when Sully was born and kind of completed our family because he’s the youngest of the family, my mom named Blue Haven. That was our Blue Haven House. And so, we were thinking of a name for the company and we were like, ‘why don’t we just name it Blue Haven? That was the first house we all lived in together and we’re working on houses.’ So, that’s kind of where the name for that came from, it’s just where it all began really.”
For Sawyer, after graduating OCC he married, went to Kansas ministry for a while, and tried moving back to Colorado for a few months, until realizing he and his wife missed Joplin. He said they missed the community, and after returning Sawyer worked in local construction before beginning Blue Haven Homes.
After following both Sawyer and one of their sisters to OCC, Sullivan graduated and went on to work almost three years in Christ In Youth’s customer development center. From there, Sullivan went on to coach OCC’s soccer team and during that season is when he started with Sawyer at Blue Haven Homes. Sullivan started in August 2019, about three months after Sawyer had gotten the business going, as Sullivan said that’s when they officially became a business.
From there, their business took flight. Sawyer became Blue Haven Homes’ business development, business manager, and acquisitions man and focuses more on the big-picture. Sullivan became the financial and operations director for the business and is the more detail-orientated focus.
“… I think you could sum up both of ours in Sully is business management and I’m business development,” Sawyer said. “So, I come up with the really cool ideas and Sully tells me if they’re worth pursuing or not and curbs my enthusiasm at times. But yeah, he has to deal with a lot of the stuff that I’m not very good at. …”
The two bought their first house for the business in July 2019 and had their first tenant living in it by August 2019. As of now, Blue Haven Homes owns 35 units, one of which is in Arkansas and the rest are in Joplin. 10 of the 35 are under construction, while the rest are either finishing up or already rented out.
“Basically, like the model for our company is to find distressed homes in neighborhoods and revitalize and bring dignity back to those homes,” Sullivan said. “And another thing is, when people ask what our specific thing is, we’re a real estate investment company that is focusing on single-family homes and other forms of like rental units.”
After the Smith brothers began their work with Blue Havens Home, they quickly found the community reacted positively to it. From there their business began to grow.
“So, the first year was primarily Sully and I, and then Nick came on last January as project manager, and we just were hitting a few homes at a time—single-family homes, primarily, of buying homes that were distressed, needed work, and had good potential to be great rental homes for the community,” Sawyer said. “We would buy them, fix them up, and then get them rented. And very quickly realized a need for rentals in the area, I mean we don’t have anything sitting open for very long. There’s a need for housing for sure. …”
Sawyer and Sullivan also have a team of individuals by their side, helping their business expand. Included in this team is the brothers’ father, owner of Bykota REI LLC in Colorado, who is Blue Haven Homes’ business partner, as Sawyer and Sullivan call him the “main investor” for their venture.
“… So that’s when we really started accelerating in growth was when we brought a lot of more people on and really started to try to scale our business quite a bit,” Sawyer said.
Before the two brothers got their business up and running, they worked to gain support from their father in order to move forward, as his business provided insight for what would become Blue Haven Homes.
“We grew up doing a lot of construction with my dad, he was doing a lot of homes and then he eventually did a couple large complex programs in our hometown Pagosa,” Sullivan said. “… But a while ago he kind of got out of the construction business for a while and started a senior home care agency and he grew that really fast to where he has multiple franchises in Colorado and Arizona, and that’s when he started Bykota because he would purchase the offices that his franchises were in. And then from that Sawyer had talked to him about doing that with rental homes as well …”
But before the idea for Blue Haven Homes came about, Sawyer said he started by looking into different business ideas. In that time, he was influenced by a website called “Bigger Pockets Podcast,” which from there he learned more into real estate investment.
“… I already had a background in construction, had been working on homes in Joplin for quite a while, and kind of thought this is a good thing to take on,” Sawyer said. “And then approached my dad with a business-like proposal, like can we try one house out and see how it goes. We did one, it was actually a great deal that first one we did, and that’s when we were like let’s start an LLC and start doing this for real, like as an investment company.”
From there their company began to grow from rental homes to larger buildings, as last year they found the opportunity to purchase the Joplin’s historic YMCA building. At that point the two brothers decided to start looking into larger, historical-type buildings similar to the YMCA, thus leading them to Joplin’s Olivia building.