Kyara Gray & Khalil Uqdah: “Trust your gut”

When it comes to relationships, trust your gut. Just as you shouldn’t let emotions get in the way when it comes to buying, you absolutely need to trust your intuition when it comes to who you are hiring or renting to. If you are trying to work with a new contractor and they show up […]

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When it comes to relationships, trust your gut. Just as you shouldn’t let emotions get in the way when it comes to buying, you absolutely need to trust your intuition when it comes to who you are hiring or renting to. If you are trying to work with a new contractor and they show up late and you start to see red flags,, chances are the quality of work will be low or they will miss deadlines. Same with tenants. If you get the feeling they won’t be reliable, trust that. Create a process to help weed unreliable people out and stick to it.

As a part of my series about the ‘Five Things You Need To Know To Succeed In The Real Estate Industry’, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kyara Gray and Khalil Uqdah.

After almost ten years of investing in real estate, Kyara & Khalil have not only been able to build a multi seven figure empire but most importantly, make a positive impact on their primary market — Baltimore City. Their focus has been to not only leverage real estate to close the wealth gap using real estate but also build the next chapter in Baltimore. Visit their website or connect with them on Instagram @charmcitybuyers.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Real Estate industry?

I grew up in a rural town in Pennsylvania with tons of history. At my family reunions, I would learn about how my ancestors had built their own town in the early 1800s called Hinsonville. Between that and watching farmland be converted to homes, I became interested in investing and set a goal to begin investing after college. Within a year of graduating, I also introduced Khalil to the opportunity and we decided to jump in!

Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occured to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

Our first property was full of lessons learned that we still carry with us today. One lesson was about how investing in real estate is truly an opportunity to positively impact the lives of others. After one of our tenants moved in, we happened to come across her Facebook page. On the page she had a picture of her keys and a caption that said she never dreamed of having keys to a three bedroom home for herself & her daughter. That experience set the foundation for how we chose to impact and interact with our tenants going forward. We’ve helped tenants get citizenship, update resumes, get jobs and learn how to balance checkbooks all from that photo planting a seed about our opportunity to make a difference.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We recently became owners of an established construction company that we had worked with for years. We knew that by becoming owners we could not only grow the business but provide quality construction to our NEXTGen Accelerator mentees who are doing amazing work in Baltimore real estate.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We’re very passionate and bold about our purpose to leverage our company to build wealth and build Baltimore. Whether we are investing in real estate or coaching and mentoring, building wealth through real estate is a critical component of closing the wealth gap. We know that through thoughtful development without displacement and sharing the resources, guidance & tools for more people to do the same, we can play a major role in how Baltimore progresses into its next chapter. That’s why our mentorship program focuses on Baltimore specifically. We want to galvanize our own efforts to make a larger impact.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Our very first deal was a 3-unit vacant shell that needed about 120k dollars worth of renovations. We were 22 and 23 years old and saw so much opportunity with this property but didn’t have mentors or guidance on how to get the deal to the finish line financially. We started to build relationships and share our vision for turning this vacant house into a home. We quickly connected with a nonprofit lender that was focused on developing real estate in the same neighborhood as our property. Our contact at the nonprofit saw the potential in two young kids who wanted to do the right thing, the right way for the community. That opportunity not only set the foundation for us to do these large renovations on vacant properties and use unconventional ways to access capital but also the opportunity to work within the community to add value from the inside out.

Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Real Estate industry? If you can please share a story or example.

  1. More access to information — Real estate is no longer only for those who are legacy developers. Everyday people have more access to information, resources and mentors than ever, even compared to when we started. YouTube University is also a great free resource for folks who are learning as they go, and can also help them get connected to mentors. It’s easier than ever to focus on making the right decisions to grow your business vs. only learning through personal mistakes.
  2. The ability to build wealth — All this accessibility to information means we are now able to better leverage real estate to close the wealth gap (real estate is one of the staples of wealth building). We have mentees from 20–75 and they’re all in position to make generational shifts in wealth building through real estate. Decisions made in real estate today will make waves for generations to come!
  3. A meaningful community impact– The social and community impact is a huge factor for current generations. With more information, we’re able to make more thoughtful decisions to create a positive impact while also building wealth. Mitigating the negative impacts of gentrification means more communities can benefit from progress without displacement.

Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest? Please share stories or examples if possible.

  1. The rising cost of construction. At this point in the market, it’s hard not to think about construction costs. There are so many people looking to purchase beautiful homes — the cost of construction is quickly making providing those homes a challenge. The cost of lumber has increased 4x over the past two years. Our projects primarily transform homes that have been vacant for decades so we use a LOT of lumber. Hopefully the government will take a second look at how we’re taxing imports used for construction to help with the increasing costs of construction.
  2. A contractor shortage. Investors are also always looking for strong contractors for their team. Sharing resources with our NEXTGen Accelerator mentees is a big focus for this reason. A big opportunity is skills and trades training. Working in the trades is a great opportunity to earn a strong income — it’s not rare to earn over 6 figures per year as a plumber, electrician, etc. I think we’ll see more trades training programs opening across the country. We have quite a few already in Baltimore who are not only providing the education but also focusing on training longtime Baltimore residents. We love to see it!
  3. The negative effects of gentrification. Safe, quality housing is a foundational need when we look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. We and our mentees tend to focus on neighborhoods that have been disinvested and lack a strong supply of that strong housing inventory. It’s an amazing feeling to turn a vacant house into a home. However we want to make sure that we & our mentees are not causing the negative impacts of gentrification in the process. Therefore, we focus on incorporating the needs of longstanding community members into the process. Development without displacement is the goal and is a key component to changing the narrative on how we develop these neighborhoods. Legacy residents deserve to not only stay but feel comfortable in their own neighborhoods as new families & resources like grocery stores, dog parks and coffee shops join them.

What advice would you give to other real estate leaders to help their teams to thrive and to create a really fantastic work culture?

Make sure you are prioritizing your team’s focus on making an impact. We invest with a purpose. We’ve learned the power of making sure we make decisions that hit our 2 main purposes — to build wealth through real estate and adding value to the communities in which we invest (Baltimore). Not all deals/projects can fulfil both requirements. This clear line helps to make sure our entire team can move in step and are passionate about what we’re doing. Chasing a dollar is where most people start in this industry but once you figure out how to make the money consistently — it’s the impact that truly matters.

Ok, here is the main question of our interview. You are a “Real Estate Insider”. If you had to advise someone about 5 non intuitive things one should know to succeed in the Real Estate industry, what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each?

  1. Have resilience. With real estate, you are in it for the longterm. So stay focused on the end game. We started without a trust fund and without a mentor. Our business was built 100% through the school of hard knocks. What made us successful when others failed is that we didn’t quit. When things got hard, we figured it out. You have to see it through the ups and downs.
  2. Let numbers make your decisions, not your emotions. A lot of people think about HGTV and cute homes when they think about buying or rehabbing real estate. But instead of daydreaming, you need to let the data make your decisions, not your emotions. Know your market, know what you are purchasing. Don’t get so caught up in wanting to post on social media or wanting to make the deal that you don’t pay attention to what you are actually investing in.
  3. Ask for what you want. With real estate, you can literally ask for anything and are only limited by your own ability to be creative. But remember, you can’t get what you don’t ask for. People who are really successful and make a lot of deals are willing to ask the right questions to get what they want.
  4. When it comes to relationships, trust your gut. Just as you shouldn’t let emotions get in the way when it comes to buying, you absolutely need to trust your intuition when it comes to who you are hiring or renting to. If you are trying to work with a new contractor and they show up late and you start to see red flags,, chances are the quality of work will be low or they will miss deadlines. Same with tenants. If you get the feeling they won’t be reliable, trust that. Create a process to help weed unreliable people out and stick to it.
  5. Shortcuts can cut you short. Rushing the process or taking the easy way out tends to come back to bite you in the end. Instead of trying to find hacks for how the work can be done quickly, instead focus on how to do things the right way the first time. It will pay off in the long run.

Because of your position, you are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Development without displacement is a huge opportunity to do great work and make a positive impact in the real estate industry. Gentrification is a triggering buzz word but the truth is, the neighborhoods we focus on can truly benefit from property development. The issue is when legacy residents are unable to participate in that change or growth by not only sharing in the vision but also sharing in the benefit. We aim to work within the communities in Baltimore to make sure everyone wins and those who want to stay are able to do so affordably. One of the ways we make that happen is by partnering with non-profit real estate developers and/or community land trusts in the same neighborhoods we create market rate housing. That way we are developing opportunities for fully integrated, mixed race communities.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

They can visit the Charm City Buyers Website, or connect with us on Instagram @charmcitybuyers.

Thank you for your time, and your excellent insights! We wish you continued success.

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