This Mother’s Day, author Martha Melendez reflects on her mom

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Martha Melendez wrote a book in January, just like her mother always knew she would. 

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Martha Melendez

You might know Melendez from her 2024 book, The Aspiring Agent: From Overworked Rookie to Real Estate Rockstar. Or you might recognize her from her appearances on HGTV’s My Lottery Dream Home, or from stage appearances at WomanUP! or Engel & Völkers’ EVX conference — she has been an agent at Engel & Völkers Melbourne for nearly six years. 

After meeting Melendez for the first time at WomanUP! in 2022, where she told her story of being a domestic abuse survivor, two things stood out clearly: She’s a fierce, authentic, successful woman, and she credits her mom for all of it. 

A mother’s love

“My mom has always been my base, my rock, my everything,” Melendez told Inman.  

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Martha Melendez and her mother, Maria Clementina Perdomo

“She was so ahead of her time. She wore jeans before anybody else did. She cut her hair off because back then, all the ladies had [long hair] … She was independent, like to a fault. She always felt that she could do things, and she didn’t need a man to tell her what to do, and she didn’t ever want to get married,” she said. And she didn’t.

When Melendez was a child growing up in Columbia, the teachers dictated all of their lessons, so students took copious notes. Melendez’s mother, Maria Clementina Perdomo, would take Melendez’s notebooks from school and have them bound into hardback, leather-bound books for every year in school, which she still has to this day.

“Because she had a vision: She wanted me to be an author. But she never told me that,” Melendez said. 

Living in Columbia in the ’80s, Perdomo saw the drug cartels taking over, Melendez said, so Perdomo sold everything and moved herself and Melendez to the U.S., despite neither of them being able to speak English.

Perdomo was already retired in Columbia, but in the States, she took a $3-an-hour factory job. Melendez would work side by side with her in the summers after she turned 14.

Realizing the need to acclimate to their new home, Melendez said she signed her mom up for English classes at the Hispanic Center in downtown Mount Holly, New Jersey, on Mondays and Wednesdays.

They’d walk two miles after work and school to take classes, and Melendez would sit in on the classes, telling the teachers she wasn’t sure that her mom would be able to find her way back. She absorbed everything because she recognized that her mom would need her to learn English in this new life. 

Then Melendez found out they were teaching English for adults at the high school on Tuesdays and Thursdays and signed up for that, too. Her mom didn’t pick up English, but Melendez did; she learned to write checks, handle doctors’ appointments and lease an apartment. 

“It was such a journey with my mom and I, and I think that’s why I always talk about her because it was always my mom and I,” Melendez said. 

Tough times

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Martha Melendez and mother, Maria Clementina Perdomo

Melendez married at 18. The marriage was abusive, and the young couple struggled to survive, renting a room that had no access to a bathroom while Melendez was six months pregnant and working two jobs to make ends meet. She often relied on a coffee can.

“Thank God, I was able to get out alive. Many people don’t,” Melendez told Inman. “It had to go that far for me to open my eyes. I think I would still be there with my Folgers can.”

A therapist once told her that when you can tell the story without crying, you’ve healed from it. She told the story for the first time on the WomanUP! stage, Folgers can in hand. 

“It took many years for me to heal from that. I didn’t want to be a victim. And I didn’t want to be a survivor because it meant that you had trauma that you survived, and I wanted to thrive. I didn’t want to be the girl that got hit. And so I said, How do I change that narrative?” Melendez told Inman. 

“I’m glad that I went through that because it made me a strong person. And I can recognize it, and I can help others,” she said. 

Making mom’s dreams come true

In 1998, Melendez reconnected with her 1992 prom date, Lucian Melendez. He wooed her hard, buying her a car and a home and relocating to Florida before they got married in 2000 and had two more kids.  

Melendez got her real estate license in 2005 while teaching English as a second language. Lucian Melendez is now an assistant principal at a high school in Viera, Florida.

Perdomo was by her daughter’s side for this happy chapter of new beginnings. But unfortunately, she passed away on Oct. 28, 2020. Melendez says it wasn’t until after she lost her mom that she truly recognized all the sacrifices she had made. 

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Martha Melendez and daughter, Alexandra Villa

In January of 2024, Melendez made her mom’s dream come true when she published her first book, The Aspiring Agent: From Overworked Rookie to Real Estate Rockstar. It’s the book she wishes she had when she first started out in real estate.

It’s the perfect how-to for Melendez’s 29-year-old daughter, Alexandra Villa, who started her own real estate career in November 2023. 

When they’d take long drives, Melendez would read her book to Villa, and they’d discuss it together, with Villa even quoting advice from the book back to her mom. Now, Villa is working in her mom’s office, part of the Engel & Völkers family. 

Melendez said it feels like she’s repeating the cycle. “I worked with my mom, and now [Alexandra] gets to work with me. I hope that now that she’s an adult, we can deepen our relationship. I’m proud of the mom that she is, and I hope that one day, she can do the same with her daughter, and we can have a third generation of real estate agents.”

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