Separated from his parents at a young age, Conforto was raised by his elderly grandparents. “By the time I turned 18,” says Conforto, “I was homeless, living in Seattle on the streets.” Conforto attributes his grandfather’s decision to kick him out of the house the day after graduation to his grandfather’s nineteenth century upbringing, an era where teenagers were considered more independent after graduation. “I didn’t have any notice. I just found out the day after I graduated that I had to leave and all my stuff was out on the front porch of the house,” says Conforto.
Although he had money, he didn’t have a driver’s license or know anything about how to rent his own place. Instead of procuring an apartment, Conforto lived underneath an evergreen tree surrounded by bushes.
His experience of homelessness made him paranoid that if he left the few things he owned they would be stolen. Conforto “ran every day, back and forth, to a little place to get a bite to eat at a gas station where [he] could take a bath in a sink with powdered soap.” The bathroom didn’t have a mirror, so for an entire year Conforto went without seeing his own reflection. It took running out of money for him to leave the security of the evergreen tree for a chance to beg that his grandparents to take him back.
On his way to see his grandparents, Conforto noticed a “Now Hiring” sign in a Herfy’s fast food restaurant and, after interviewing, was given the position of night manager. “I became the youngest manager in the chain running one of the fastest, largest volume fast food restaurants in the world,” says Conforto.
The Influence of Homelessness
“[By being homeless] you have this observation of yourself through the eyes of other people,” says Conforto. “It’s really difficult to feel like you’re somebody who’s viewed as nobody, who’s trying to go somewhere, who’s nowhere…I have thought about that all [of] my life.”
“Every day for a year I would say, ‘I am somebody. I will be somebody. I will do something with my life, and if I do something with my life and I see somebody who’s in harm’s way or like I was, I will do something about it,” Conforto says. His vow to “do something about it” has made an impulsive response for him to step into the middle of any tragedy become second nature to him.
“I have looked internally and have made the decision–having known a lot of homeless people, a lot of them mentally ill and a lot of them have drug issues–that I made the conscious decision that I was not going to judge them. I was going to judge me.” Rather than trying to manage a situation he enters by, for example, controlling a homeless person’s choice in how to spend money which he has given him or her, Conforto only makes a choice which he can live with, such as sharing money, and only judges the rightness of his own actions.
After experiencing the complete inability to protect his belongings, homes became an incredibly important and personal concept. “Because I had no walls, I had no doors, I had no windows; I had no way to protect my stuff.” With a greater appreciation for homes, Conforto went on to found HouseCheck with the mission of improving the quality of homes on the market.
Built on an Uber-like model, HouseCheck provides training programs, software, and laboratory services to improve the home inspection experience for both buyers and sellers. Conforto shares that while there are roughly 30,000 home inspectors in the United States, “there’s basically enough work for 10,000,” mainly due to the low barrier of entry to the field. For example, anyone over the age of 18 can become a home inspector in Idaho after spending around $1,200 for online certification.
For a standard fee of $399, HouseCheck provides an inspection and report within 38 hours. The same service can be completed in 24 hours for an additional $49 rush fee. “We don’t represent the buyer. We don’t represent the seller,” says Conforto. “We represent the house.”
“The purpose of HouseCheck is to improve the quality of the home. To tell people upfront, we certify this home.” With all certified homes, the organization provides a 90-day money back, buy back program. If it turns out that the buyer has purchased a “money pit,” HouseCheck will actually buy the home, make the repairs, and relist with the same agent.
Conforto’s organization has opened a national foundation which has 210 local chapters across the country. From every transaction, they donate to the HouseCheck Foundation for Battered Women and Children. The foundation was inspired by Conforto’s own family history of abuse against women and by women, including his grandmother, mother, sister, and daughter.
“I will go to GE and Home Depot and Lowe’s, and I will ask them to match what we hope will be our $8 million or $10 million with their $8 million or $10 million. I want to raise hundreds of millions of dollars to solve this curse,” says Conforto.
Relocating to Boise
Five years ago, Conforto was looking to move away from his beautiful community in Rancho Santa Fe, California in order to have the benefits of residing in a more business-friendly state. To his complete surprise, that state ended up being Idaho. “Every piece of technology, every person of influence, every right contact that I need is in Boise, the last place I would have expected it to be,” says Conforto. “The perfect people, the perfect match, the perfect temperament, the perfect place to create a perfect corporate culture is in Boise, Idaho.”
Learn more about Conforto’s life by watching the short video “Cursed Is the Ground” or from his memoir Life. Done Right. at https://dennisconforto.com/.
Listen to the full Idaho Speakeasy interview: idahospeakeasy.com/dennis-conforto