Fall 2023 Connections Alumni Profile
Maybe not your typical high school senior, Ben VanderWoude ’06, would tuck himself into a corner every study hall of his senior year to study for his Residential Builders license. Which he obtained that spring.
He also purchased his first rental property that year.
The week after graduation, with both builder’s license and diploma in hand—while his classmates were off celebrating graduation at Beach Week—Ben took the 40-hour class needed to get his Real Estate Salespersons license as well.
A junior at Hope College a couple of years later, Ben completed the Real Estate broker, or top level of his real estate license, working it into his college classes as a for-credit independent study.
Then he graduated a semester early from Hope with his accounting degree.
“I always had an interest in real estate and building, and I think I recognized I had time on my side,” Ben explained. “Real estate is a ‘get rich slow plan.’ It takes time for real estate to go up in value for mortgages and debts to be paid down. So I was motivated to start.”
Ben is one of six VanderWoude children, all HC graduates, and one of the delightfully unexpected quadruplets the family were famous for back in the early 1990s. The rest of his multiples went off to prestigious universities like Tufts and Tulane, but he stayed close at Hope to continue managing the 50-some properties he was then in charge of, mostly property of family friends.
It helped that he had role models around him in the Holland Christian community, dads of friends: “I had a few different people in my life who worked in those areas that I admired and respected, saw as a mentor, and were role models,” Ben added. But also “I liked the challenge of it. Just because most kids don’t go get a real estate license their senior year of high school it doesn’t mean it’s not possible, right?”
”There were a lot of connections through HC—It speaks to the value of the culture and community at HC, and the support that followed us all.
Plus “my brain was still in that test taking mode,” he said. “I was in the student/study mode and it was much easier then than if I tried to take it now.”
But it wasn’t just that.
“My dad passed away when we were in the 6th grade, and probably like a lot of people with major life events, you kinda start focusing on adulting—because in some ways you’re forced to adult,” he added.
Once he purchased that first rental property his senior year, word of mouth got around to family and friends and he started managing a handful of properties for others who wanted real estate as investment, but didn’t want to deal with the landlord issues—the leaky toilets at 3am, or broken appliances on Sunday afternoons. Since then, Ben has grown his property management business, BVW, into managing nearly 9000 doors, with offices in both Holland and Muskegon. BVW has more than 60 full-time employees and over 100 seasonal employees, for long-term rental maintenance, and short-term rental cleaning, besides the necessary vendor partners.
Ben recognized early on from his dad’s career as a surgeon with a beeper calling him away often from family and dinner times, that if he wanted a family, working harder in his 20s seemed smarter than putting in those long hours in his 30s and 40s with little kids around the supper table.
Then during the recession of 2008 and 2009, while still at Hope College, Ben purchased as many local foreclosures as he could. “It was scary,” he said. “I was this ignorant 20-year-old who figured if it all goes belly up, I was at least no worse off than my peers are. I had little to lose at that point in my life.”
After graduating from Hope in December 2009 with his accounting degree, there weren’t a ton of jobs available due to the recession. When he was offered a job at a bank, he realized he wouldn’t be able to manage properties in the same way as a banker, getting calls to fix things in the middle of his 9-5 office hours. So he looked into handing off the properties that he managed to another company, but it felt like a betrayal to the friends and family who had helped him get started. Ben walked away from the bank job offer to stick with what was then VanderWoude Property Management—a watershed moment he realizes now.
Ben and his wife, Kellye, met their freshman year at Hope College, and were just friends the first several years. A nursing student and busy in her own right, Kellye finally realized that to see Ben, she’d have to join him. So there she would be on the ground of some rental property pulling out carpet staples on a Friday night, or cleaning out old crusty refrigerators, jamming to music til the wee hours, catching up and chatting away. Or she realized that watching a movie together on a Friday night meant Ben sat next to her on the couch with his laptop, still working property details, getting ready to go at 4am the next morning.
The only time that Ben has ever turned off his phone and walked away from all property management completely was the week of their honeymoon.
But they’re both quick to say how much easier it is now to have a better work/life balance thanks to the team they work with, especially now that they are running three different branches of property management: traditional long-term rentals, short-term rentals under the brand Unsalted Vacation Rentals, and home and condo associations management. BVW has acquired six other management companies over the years, and now covers Western Michigan north to Manistee, east to Lansing, and south to South Haven.
”There’s always a genuinely different feeling and a warmth of walking into Rose Park, and our son feels it too...
Ben credits the success of BVW to a variety of factors, including its ability to be technically advanced and agile, being one of the first management companies in the area to accept online payments. But another factor he says is the connections and friends he made through the Holland Christian community even as a student: “I’ve always accredited just having those connections and credibility, various role models, people watching, parents of friends,” he said. “There were a lot of connections through HC—It speaks to the value of the culture and community at HC, and the support that followed us all. There were countless numbers of men who stepped up to help our family [after my dad’s death],” he said, “doing things like taking the VanderWoude boys to the auto shows in Detroit with them, and people who “genuinely invested in me and my siblings.”
It’s partly this same genuine community that drew the VanderWoudes to put their own children at Rose Park.
“There’s always a genuinely different feeling and a warmth of walking into Rose Park, and [our son] feels it too,” Kellye said, commenting on the friendly school secretaries; the other teachers who know their children and greet them in the hallway; and how school principal, Miska Rynsburger, called her as a fellow mom, talking through earache treatments mom-to-mom.
”I can see the faith growth in Reid in just his kindergarten year. It’s amazing to have that for your kids.
But besides the genuine Christian community, Kellye, in particular, as a public school graduate appreciates the solid Biblical knowledge their kids are taking home: “I always have looked up to Ben and his faith, and it’s just so ingrained in him because of Holland Christian,” she said. “Genuinely hearing his knowledge of the Bible to another level—the things that he knew and how he knew the Bible and knew his faith was so different from mine. I would never have the confidence Ben did with his faith, and I think that came from Holland Christian for sure.”
All last school year, their kindergartner came home from Amanda Brouwer’s ’94 class rejoicing in and referencing Bible stories, prompted by simple everyday life, Kellye said. “I can see the faith growth in Reid in just his kindergarten year. It’s amazing to have that for your kids.”