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  • DEI Initiative And Building Absolutely Amazing Community With Kelani Blackwell [EP113]
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August 9, 2022

DEI Initiative And Building Absolutely Amazing Community With Kelani Blackwell [EP113]

Kelani is on a mission to help you succeed in real estate through the DEI initiative! Kelani knows that real estate can be a great way to build wealth, which is why she’s focused on helping as many people as possible learn how to do it. She has years of experience in the industry and knows what it takes to make money – and keep it. Kelani and her partner have formed and built the WIRE (Women In Real Estate) community with over 65,000 members who are all working together to achieve success in real estate. With this kind of support, you can achieve anything you set your mind to. Listen and learn how to get started on your path to real estate success with Kelani Blackwell!

Table of Contents:

Five-Step Process For Passively Investing In Real Estate
Five-Step Process For Passively Investing In Real Estate

Focusing on the DEI Initiative in Real Estate

Focusing on the DEI Initiative in Real Estate
Photographer: Ronnie George | Source: Unsplash

Darin: Kelani Blackwell has been involved in hundreds of fix and flips. She also worked for CBRE, a national real estate company. But now, she's found her focus on the DEI initiative, which stands for diversity, equity, and inclusion. She and her partner formed the WIRE, Women in Real Estate. It’s a community that has organically grown to over 65,000 members. She believes in making money, and growing wealth, but also believes you can achieve this while still focusing on a cause.

This is the first time that we're talking with each other. I reached out to Kelani because I was at a recent multifamily conference. She was a speaker there. I didn't get to see her speak, but I've seen her on social media, and she's just been getting herself out there. So, I thought that she was an operator and that she had a ton of units.

Usually, the first question I ask people is how many properties and how many units? But it's come to my attention that she's just going after it now. We're going to get into that. She's just about to start a fund. With that, we're going to learn a lot about how she got here, and what she's planning on doing going forward. I guess the first question is, tell us about the fund, your passion, and why you're getting yourself out there.

Kelani: First, thank you for having me on your platform.

How to Get Started in Real Estate

Kelani: It's not often that women of color get asked to be on platforms, or in spaces where most people don't look like us. I saw who you've had on the platform, super impressed with your lineup. Veena Jetti is a good friend of mine, and so I was super excited to see that you had her on the show.

Darin: She's a lot of fun. I have a feeling we're going to have a lot of fun here too.

Kelani: We're going to have a blast. If you had fun with Veena, you'll have fun with me. That's my girl. So, you're doing good work, Darin. I don't even know if you know how important the type of work that you're doing but thank you for having me. I'll get straight to it, the fund. We got to reverse engineer this question a little bit. I think most people get started in the business, especially the people that I met at the conference that we were at, they're like, "You want to take down some real estate? Let's get people together and raise some money," and that's where it starts.

That was not my journey. My journey is much different because I was over here, minding my business, trying to figure out how to make a lane in commercial real estate as a broker. I was with the largest firm in the world for a time. My team's focus and emphasis were multifamily investment properties.

Darin: What's the name of the firm?

Kelani: I was at CBRE. Shout out to my friends over at CBRE. They're wonderful, have great relationships, and they're big supporters of Women in Real Estate.

A Cool Spot to Learn Multifamily and DEI Initiative

Kelani: During the pandemic, everyone initially freaked out. I didn't really realize at that time that I was in such a cool spot to learn about how multifamily the best asset class was to work with, and around, and those relationships that came with that. Initially, when everyone freaked out about the pandemic, nobody was moving. No one wanted to sell. Nobody was budging. I was navigating as a broker in that space.

Not only am I at one of the largest, but I am also at the largest corporate real estate firm, a commercial real estate firm. I'm also younger than most of those guys, and a lot less white. I had a good time, had to learn a whole bunch. But during that time in the pandemic, my business development efforts looked a lot different than I think most brokers. Those brokers have been around for decades.

Darin: In what way? Why was yours looking different? How did it look different?

Kelani: Two reasons. I came from the residential space. If you know residential investment strategies, you're pounding the pavement, you're direct to the seller. You're really getting after it. There's a grit about that, that doesn't really apply in corporate settings like that. I'm like, "Guys, why aren't we leveraging buyers? What do we do? How do we do this?" I was so eager to bring my energy, plus, I'm young. I'm a millennial. I got invited to an app called Clubhouse and I'm like, "What is this platform? I don't need another social media platform." But they're like, "Kelani, you have to get on here." I do. I'm an early adopter of the app.

Let's Make Deals in the Golf Course

Kelani: I search commercial real estate, and I find other young people of color. Developers, other brokers, and people in the space are all trying to figure out, "What do we do in this pandemic? What are you doing that's working for you and what does business development look like for you outside of this normal? Let's go make deals on the golf course." Maybe if I was my dad, it could work.

Darin: I'm older than you, and I like to do deals on the golf course.

Kelani: I have committed to taking golf lessons. I'm like, "I got to figure out how to do that." Anyway, it's been fun. I'm not good at it, but I'm going to get good at it. You can record me and hold me accountable for that. But anyway, so I'm like, "What does business development look like?" Unbeknownst to me, I had no idea that Clubhouse was going to completely change my life. I had been in the business, pretty seasoned, and in real estate, just in transacting.

Transacting is transacting. I heard some women just being mansplained to, asking questions to people on that app. They were just not getting good answers. Not good answers for women in the business, and arguably maybe just not good real estate advice. I had asked to respond to some people and join those conversations. It was just pretty evident; I knew what I was talking about. And so I got invited to everything. Now, this is all virtual. The clubhouse is a 24-hour audio chat.

Women in Real Estate Take on the DEI Initiative

Kelani: It's like Twitter Spaces before Twitter Spaces was Twitter Spaces. There's a Twitter Spaces because of Clubhouse. I went viral on that app and met my now business partner on that platform. We were the only two women really, who are a part of any conversation. Her name's Britney Rose. Shout out to my girl B-Rose (Brittany Rose).

She encouraged me. We need to make a club at Clubhouse. I'm like, "I don't do social media. No way." Anyway, she twisted my arm enough. We made a club called Women in Real Estate. In less than one year, that club had over 58,000 members on the platform. It's at 65 today.

We were awarded that club in January of 2021. Here we are, on Clubhouse alone, with over 65,000 members. This is why I said I had to reverse engineer that question. Why do we start a fund? Well, when I said most people get into this business, they want to raise capital to take down assets, that's cool. Their progression after that is, how do we teach courses? How do we gain some social equity and gain some influence? It was reversed for Brittany and me. We gained the influence, and now we're like, "We're responsible for this group of people."

I'm very intentional about who I put in front of our audience. How do we care for this group of people, and provide access to opportunities, resources, and education? The next obvious choice is a place to invest your money with like-minded individuals into projects that are actually going to enact change in the community, and support other women, and other minorities in the business. That is why we are launching a fund.

How Do We Care for These People Versus How Do We Monetize Them?

Darin: I love that you said, "How do we care for these people?" On social media, there are a lot of people out there that just want to get as many followers as possible and think about, "How do I monetize this?" But you looked at it a little differently. Like, "All these people are now looking to us to lead them. How can we care for them? What can we do to help them?"

Financial is a big piece of people's concerns in life. If you take your knowledge, and your influence, and then you decide, "All right, we're going to put our energy behind this, behind creating a fund so that other women can get involved." It sounds like you're going to pick investments that are going to benefit minorities and women.

Kelani: That's all accurate. You said something pretty profound. People want to get as many followers as possible and then monetize. I don't know how long I'm going to be able to say this, because obviously now there's a progression here. But we turned Women in Real Estate from a club on Clubhouse, into a for-profit business. The reason that we did that is that women were reaching out to Brittany and I left and right. How do we connect further?

The clubhouse is cool, but it's just Clubhouse. There's so much more to be done here than just having conversations on Clubhouse. We created the for-profit company, Women in Real Estate, and it has a few different arms currently. But we offer a membership platform and being a member with us gets you access to us, our entire network, the rest of the members, and all of their skills and connections.

A Great Community

A Great Community
Photographer: Kylie Lugo | Source: Unsplash

Kelani: Education, we're bringing in experts left and right to come and teach our community. It is truly a great community, where you have access to people that will pick up the phone when you need help. It's real. You can talk about what your experience is in the business, and what you actually go through while you're navigating this business. Some people don't have support.

A lot of women who are moms, caregivers, business owners, and people responsible for their households, don't have that in-home support because people don't understand what is required to make it in this business. People die out quickly. Real estate sounds sexy until you're in it, and you have to eat what you kill. It's like, "Okay, this is scary." So, we provide that system of support. That being said, it was very necessary for us to try to take our following off of the Clubhouse platform. We still do a lot on Clubhouse but provide more access.

Now, the question becomes, what opportunities are you affording them? Because we have a membership service, for lack of better terms that people can pay to be a part of, very affordable mind you. One of the most affordable communities I've ever seen in the market. But the point I wanted to make is every person that we have, that's a part of our membership base, in real life, came to us organically.

We have not paid a single penny in marketing for membership. I say I don't know how long I'm going to be able to say that, because now that we are a for-profit business, we're sitting on a lot of content. The natural thing to do would be to scale but it starts with the advocacy component.

Leveraging Social Media

Darin: On that piece, that's a great thing to be able to say. I have some other people that say similar things on the syndication side. They say, "Well I send out one email, and then I don't ever send out a second, or a third." They're comparing themselves to other syndicators that may be put out more.

But I'm in between that because I believe that social media, whether it be advertising or just posting on social media, could put you in front of people that don't know you yet. They're looking for the training, for the services, for somebody to be inspired by, for a leader. They are looking for somebody that believes in their space and believes in them, that they can achieve more.

You could be an example for them. I would say just don't necessarily knock the advertising. Look, there are some people that will see advertising and be like, "They're just advertising for money." But part of it is also reaching more people than you normally would reach. If you're providing something that has value to them, I just don't see a problem with that. I think it's good to get in front of people that don't know you yet.

Kelani: I think it's good too. We just hadn't gotten there. We're still so new, that I wanted to make sure we worked through a lot of the bottlenecks before we went hard in scaling. We've done that.

Darin: 65,000 members is crazy.

Kelani: That's just on one platform. Now, we're on more platforms. We've got probably close to 75,000 total across all platforms.

Which Route the Syndicators Would Go

Darin: The other thing that you've been doing differently, is most syndicators that I talk to, maybe they were investing on their own, then they go the syndication route. If they're successful, some of them will go the fund route. But I've talked to a lot of syndicators, that have a lot of units. I could tell they were scared because when you go the fund route, it's different than just showing, "I've got this deal. Do you want to invest in this one deal?"

They have been conditioned that, "I can raise the money for one large property, or two large properties. But can I raise a fund where people don't know the properties? Don't know the investments that are going to come in." Talk about the fund. Is it a blind fund? Will you invest in any kind of asset class?

Kelani: I don't think I'm going to operate it as a blind fund. Britney and I have had some conversation around this, but you bring up a really good point. I think what makes our fund so special is that we're offering it to our members. If we wanted to make it a blind fund, we could, and it would be successful. I'll tell you why. It’s because people are buying into the cause and the platform. These are our dedicated members.

I don't have to solicit investors blindly. People are already buying into the cause here and that's because we're leading with value. Everything that we do for our members, they ask us to do. We didn't create a membership service because I got up one day. I said, "I want to monetize."

Investment Opportunities for DEI Initiative

Kelani: We created something that made sense, to help as many people as possible, based on what they were asking for. They wanted in-person events. We gave them in-person events. So, we went on a national pop-up tour last year. Now, we're launching local chapters in most major markets that are hosting and facilitating events all over the country. They asked for that, for investment opportunities. "How do we do it in a way that makes sense?"

That's because we fully embody the core values that we have. It's not a joke to us. I've been played with enough in this business as a young professional. I refuse to let that happen on my watch, on my dime, on the company's dime for our people. Based on that alone, and how we really created a community where we're helping our members elevate.

If I said I wanted to invest in Q-tips, they'd be like, "Cool, we're doing it," because anything has the value that you give it. We're better together. That's my first response. We could do it blindly if we wanted to, but I also want to make sure that people, our members, see in full transparency what the process looks like.

How do we set up the fund, choose which regulation, or choose the project and how did we underwrite the project? What helped us make this decision? Who were the key players in the team that we had to execute this so they can go and do the same thing? We don't gatekeep any information here. So, that being said, what kind of assets do we want to go over? I've learned so much about multifamily, in love with multifamily.

Factors for Housing Prices

Kelani: I also think that there's a lot of green space in single family, and it in it becoming an asset class of its own with how much it's getting bought up by institutions. There's a socioeconomic factor in making that decision, which is how housing prices are inflated, how rents are inflated, the need for housing, and the demand for housing.

There's a lot that goes into that, and we can enact a lot of change before single family becomes a crazy asset class for institutions. I have a soft spot for that, have a knack for that. Depending on the strategy, I'm really here for the land play. With the clear demand for housing, there are going to be development opportunities that we would want to get behind and support.

Darin: You come at it from a combo perspective. You've got emotional, and a passionate side of wanting to help and go after it. But then you also have the knowledge of the fix and flip space. You did hundreds of transactions there. You know that fix and flip, that single family space very well. Then, being at CBRE, and seeing the multifamily and other commercial real estate deals being transacted. You learned a ton there. You've got the knowledge, plus the emotional, passionate side. You're blending those two to build a community.

Kelani: I feel like I'm living in my purpose, finally.

Darin: Living in your purpose, how did you decide to leave your job? You're doing this full-time now. How did you do that?

Kelani: Faith.

Sometimes I don't have any answers, but it's really faith. You can't have fear and have faith.

The Invigorating Energy of Real Estate

Kelani: There's a lot of trailblazing that needs to happen in commercial real estate, and I’m happy to do it. I still maintain those relationships. But when you taste entrepreneurship, and I have the energy, I'm invigorated. This type of stuff excites me. There wasn't much selling that needed to happen. It was like, you know what? It's time. Women in Real Estate or WIRE has me busy, and if I had to pick where I felt like I was doing my best work, it was there. But I'm also not one of those people, and mind you, I think some people consider me an influencer now, and that's weird to me.

I didn't do social media before this. But it's important to me to not just be an influencer. I don't want to sell WIRE membership and say, "I'm a woman in real estate," and I'm not actively practicing anything. It's important for me to always be a student, and continue to learn. I'm not too good to learn. I do not know anything half the time. If there is a skill set that I bring that's of value to our members, that I think stands out more than anything, it's my ability to be resourceful. Find them the answers and the connections that they need. I’m willing to use whatever weight I carry in whatever room. Say, "I'm the founder of this organization. We lead over 70,000 women. I need some of your time." Happy to do it.

Darin: For the listeners' perspective, I've heard this saying, "If not now, when?" There are so many people who have a gut feeling.

The Excitement of Being in the Real Estate Space and Doing the DEI Initiative

The Excitement of Being in the Real Estate Space and Doing the DEI Initiative
Photographer: Zac Gudakov | Source: Unsplash

Darin: They want to do something. Whether it's investing in real estate, starting your own business, or doing something entrepreneurial, fear stops most people from taking that chance. Every time I'm going after something new, there's excitement, but then there's also, it's scary. You don't have all the answers, and you don't know for sure it's going to work out. But that's part of the adrenaline, the excitement of being in that space. Talk a little bit about that when you went off on your own.

Kelani: I don't know if it's fear. It was maybe rooted in some fear, but I realized I literally cannot lead this group of women, Women in Real Estate, Britney and I, and not practice what we preach. If I've done all the foundational work that I preach, as far as really understanding my purpose, why I exist, how I live out that purpose, how I utilize my tools, and the things that I'm good at to do those things. Why would I encourage someone else to do something that I'm scared to do myself? I had to acknowledge that, and I think everyone's path looks different. Not everyone's meant to be an entrepreneur.

Darin: Do you see yourself ever going back to corporate?

Kelani: Absolutely not. Even still, I do other work. One of my other partners is Padi Goodspeed. We're getting into a venture together. She's been in the mortgage business for over 20 years. I'm helping, doing business development with her, I'm diversified.

The Disciplined Required to Be a Real Estate Investor

Kelani: As far as not having complete control over my time, and where I spend my energy, that's not something I'm willing to sacrifice again. But I can also understand how someone who's not there can have a hard time staying disciplined to be in an entrepreneurial role.

Darin: You have to be self-disciplined for sure. This might be too blanket of a statement, but I don't know anybody that's gone off on their own and has gone back. I know people that have gone out, and then it didn't work, and they pivoted to something different. You do know people that have gone back to corporate?

Kelani: Yes, I have, but in a way that it's synergistic to the goal. I think if I worked for Tesla, and I have some sort of engineering background, and I said I wanted to take a leap of faith to get into real estate. Then I said, "This doesn't work. Let me go back to Tesla." I've never worked at Tesla." But I'm just saying, a completely different field and space. I've seen one person do that, and it was all fear-based because they came out, and hit the ground running. Got really risky in their investments, and everything didn't pan out the way it did.

So, they went back to that. Then I had a person take a position at a commercial firm, and that was still progression for them in that right direction. That's the cool thing about Women in Real Estate, there's not ever any judgment. It's like, "Whatever your path is, let's figure out what works for you."

Short Term Rentals

Kelani: But the point I wanted to make in that is the synergy. The person that went back to that comfortable space got into short-term rentals. What's really funny about being in the influencing space is you know all the other people or folks that are considered gurus and stuff. They all sell products on everything. There are products out there that sell you on cash grab things. Short-term rentals, or arbitrage, or even the people that went haywire over crypto, and NFTs, and whatever is getting me that profit, or that cash flow the quickest. Those types of things, especially when the market does what it's doing now, and it cycles, do not sustain.

And those are the people that I'm having to take back to the drawing board and say, "What made you do that? You said you wanted to be in real estate, to become a developer or a syndicator. Why did you get distracted? That wasn't serving your purpose? What is your purpose? Why are you doing this?" Having those introspective questions. We've seen some really deep revelation happen for people, and getting them focused, and staying consistent has created some beasts that come out of our Women in Real Estate community.

Darin: I say that you have to decide, and then commit. You did that, you made the decision to leave, and start leading this group. It sure sounds like you're committed to making it happen. Time will tell. You brought it up a number of times multifamily. This show, most of the people I bring on this show are focused on multifamily syndication. Why do you like multifamily? You were in the single family fix and flip space for a long time. Why do you like multifamily so much?

Why It's Worth Investing in the DEI Initiative in Multifamily

Kelani: I like multifamily for a lot of reasons. If I had to give you my top reason, outside of the obvious, we know having multiple doors, consolidating costs, and understanding overhead, and expenses. Cash flow, returns, all of that good stuff. I'm a fan of it because it actually impacts the community. I don't want to sound like a broken record. But I think that there's this misconception that anything community based is also charitable, which is not true.

Community projects can be profitable. Impact projects can be profitable. There's nothing that grinds my gears more than operators and owners that don't understand the community that they're serving and don't understand the community that their residents are from. At this point, everyone's going after class B value add. The '90s, 2000s, vintage, class B value add. Well, where are a lot of those assets located? Who are those residents? Are we displacing people? How we deploy CapEx to revitalize, impacts people. That is the part that doesn't get thought of all the time.

Darin: I could say that I'm guilty of that. I look at it from more of a numbers perspective. Some syndicators are heavy on the community, and the community definitely has a return because even to the numbers guys like myself. So, if you build a strong community, then the people in those apartment complexes are not going to leave. They're going to stay. All of a sudden, when the lease renewal comes up, you have much higher retention rates, and then you have much less expenses because those units aren't turning as much.

The Passion to Pursue the DEI Initiative

Darin: And so, you don't have to renovate them, repaint them, resurface the countertops, or put in new flooring, and all of that. I'm guilty of being more the numbers guy, looking at it from a business perspective. But I do see the benefit of not just the touchy-feely, which you have. You have that passion, that you want to serve that community. But even for just the pure numbers folks, if you have strong retention, your expenses are going to be substantially less. Your retention is going to be substantially higher.

Kelani: You've heard it probably several times. People are like, "There was a change in management, and the whole community went to shit." Like, "How do we prevent that? Avoid that? Care for the people in the community. What's most important for the people in that community? I love that you just said that because now there's some enlightenment there. So, the next project you take down, or if you're evaluating what your current portfolio looks like, are just things to think about.

When you do good, and you put that good out there, I'm telling you, it comes back tenfold every time.

Darin: I think of it more in terms of the investors and growing the wealth. That's why I like syndication because you have all these investors. You're going to build a fund, have all these investors in the fund, and you guys are going to bring great projects that are going to help the community of those projects and help build the wealth of all those individual investors. I think of it more from the investor perspective.

Looking From an Investor's Return Perspective

Darin: I’ve known a number of people, and I would put you in that camp, that look at it from the people living in that community perspective. Don't get me wrong. I love when I walk across the parking lot, and somebody knows I'm part of the ownership group, and someone comes by and says, "I love all the money you guys are putting into the property. My kids love the new playground," or "We love the new paint scheme," or whatever. But probably not my number one thought on my mind. I'm looking at it from a return perspective. But I love people that are passionate about that, so congratulations to you.

Kelani: It's got to make sense though. Don't get me wrong. My analytical background won't let me, I just don't have it in my bones to buy bad. I've learned enough of those lessons. So, it's got to make sense.

Darin: What's the toughest thing now going out of corporate, and now being an entrepreneur, and trying to build this community, give back, develop this fund? You got a lot on your plate. What's the most difficult part?

Kelani: The most difficult part was learning how to relinquish control, because to your point, we have a lot going on. I had to learn how to delegate, we haven't even touched on half of it. We have a national real estate team through EXP because a lot of our members hold active licenses. We've got that. So really, it's just bringing in key partners and people.

Being a Woman Leader in the DEI Initiative

Being a Woman Leader in the DEI Initiative
Photographer: LinkedIn Sales Solutions | Source: Unsplash

Kelani: What's really cool about it is that our members are so invested in this community, that they're like, "Hey, how can I help? What can I take on? Can I hang my license here? How do I take on more? How do I become more of a leader? Can I be a chapter leader? I want to throw this event and I want to do that." It's really just providing the support for them. Again, this is not about Kelani and Brittany.

This is all about them. Recently, what's bubbled to the top for me is that I probably need to speak more. Brittany and I typically aren't the ones to speak. We use our platform to highlight everybody else. So, doing this podcast, or speaking at the conference in Charlotte that we were at, was pretty strategic. It's afforded us because we use our platform so selflessly. The members know that it's theirs. They want to use it. In order for me to support everybody in every way possible, I use discernment. Not every way but in most ways.

I had to bring on people. We had to grow our team. My mom was our first person. I'm like, "Mom, I need you to work for me. I can't do this. This is too much." Delegated to her, brought her on. We have a program manager, and chapter leaders, and brought all of them on. We've got circle leaders, brought those people on. It's a lot of that.

Darin: You brought up that in most businesses, the person at the top is the bottleneck. Bringing in other people that can manage different parts of the business is critical.

Selling Support

Darin: So, you're doing that. What would you say is the number one thing you're trying to provide your members? Is it financial freedom, is it the community, is it education? What's the biggest value that you think that your members are going to get out of being part of that community?

Kelani: Everything you just said is completely accurate. All those things, but it is the support. I said this one time, and somebody laughed at it. Someone was like, "Women in Real Estate, what do you sell?" I'm like, "Support."

That sounds crazy to some people, but support can look like a lot of different things, depending on what your need is at the time. Someone would be really busy if they came to every WIRE event, every Zoom call, every meeting. If they saw every message in our Slack channel, they'd be busy. The goal isn't to have something, it isn't to keep someone busy with all our things. It gives you enough options to figure out how we can support you for where you are right now.

The beautiful thing about the community is that the need changes for each person over time. Today, it might be a connection. Tomorrow, it might be education. The next day, it might be a shoulder to cry on, a babysitter, help to negotiate an employment contract, any of those things. It's really just the support. Knowing where to get the support that you need for that moment in your life.

Darin: The other thing that I think you guys are doing that's cool is some people, they don't want to go out and tell anybody what they're doing until after they've accomplished it.

A Companion in the Different Stages of the Real Estate Journey

Darin: So, "I want to build a fund or do a syndication, and then maybe I'll go out and post about it, or tell people about it," or whatever. But just like you said, there are people at all different stages of their journey. Each person is different, which is so great about life.

Somebody may really connect with somebody that is just learning the space but can't really relate to somebody that's been super successful. Somebody wants to get their first deal. They might really like watching somebody go through all the steps and learn from that. Versus learning from a syndicator that has 5000 units. They feel like, "Well, I just can't relate." You guys are providing different services and education at different levels for different groups. They can grow into different areas as they go on.

Kelani: When you say that, it sounds vague. Like, "Well, what exactly is the thing?" What's really cool about the makeup of Women in Real Estate? I've got some demographics I can share with you later. But who is the makeup of Women in Real Estate?

Darin: Who is it?

Kelani: First of all, let me just say, we've got men that are members of WIRE, and I love it. We are inclusive.

Darin: What's the percentage, men versus women?

Kelani: 4%.

Darin: So, 96% women?

Kelani: Absolutely. But our guys that are a part of our community, they show up and support. Not only are they using their voices to support us, they realize you can learn something here too. You don't just have to go learn from whoever you think is the authority.

Soft Skills and Other Intangible Things

Kelani: They're like, "You can learn other things, learn a lot from women." Those include the intangible things, the soft skills that most men don't ever have to worry about, ever.

There's that, but our members consist of real estate agents. New real estate agents, seasoned real estate agents, commercial brokers, mortgage professionals, syndicators, developers, and everything in between. Anything that you can think of. I've got a title rep that's a part of Women in Real Estate. I've got a couple of attorneys that are members of Women in Real Estate. Everything in between, and then they're all at different stages.

I think what's really cool about the community, is depending on what you're looking to get out of it, folks that are new in the space are like, "How do I get educated? How do align myself with the right people?" Folks that are seasoned in the space are like, "What's the next thing? I need to keep my ear to the ground. How can I help some people, bring them up? What are you guys seeing that I'm not seeing? I've been doing the same thing for the last 20 years." They get something out of that too. There are a lot of mentor-mentee relationships that come out of WIRE.

Darin: Let me ask you about the fund again. What's the target rollout for the fund, and when do you think that you'll purchase your first investment? Will you purchase multiple investments in the same fund, or will you create funds two, three, four, or five?

Kelani: It'll be a two, three, four, five things, in my opinion. The goal, originally, was to roll the fund out in October.

The Power of Networking

Kelani: I made some wonderful connections at the conference that we were at in Charlotte. This might turn out to look like a joint effort. I can't talk about it yet, but there is someone with a much larger platform than what we have, that is really supporting our cause. That might change the trajectory of things just a little bit. I think it'll be a very beneficial partnership if things shake out the way that I think that they can.

Darin: That's the power of networking. One contact can all of a sudden change, "I've got this platform over here. You've got this platform. If we come together, we're stronger." That if you don't put yourself out there, you'll never meet that person. You guys are putting yourself out there, so that's a good thing.

Kelani: You said something earlier too, and I didn't want to gloss over that. You have to accomplish something before you put yourself out there. I'm not an expert at all things. I know what I know, but I'm not an expert at all things, and I don't ever claim to be. And I think there's a lot of imposter syndrome, but I also think that that's why I resonated so well with people online, and on Clubhouse. It’s because I never claimed to be something that I'm not.

If there's something I don't know, I will tell you, "I don't know, but let me figure out who we need to tap on to find out how we can learn this, what course we need to take to learn." A lot of people struggle with that imposter syndrome. Especially women who are navigating spaces, where it's like, "We're supposed to just be grateful for the opportunity to be there."

Being an Influencer and Operator of the DEI Initiative

Kelani: Or you have to prove yourself in a certain way. It's like, "That just is absolutely not the truth. I prided myself in operating in truth. I’ve realized people just resonated with me. If you ask me something I don't know, I'm not going to pretend to know. I have no clue. I'm learning.

Darin: That's huge, being an influencer, being a syndicator, being whatever. Some people are going to resonate with Kelani, and some people are going to resonate with the guy down the road. That's the beauty of it all. The more people you can help, it comes back to you. I don't know you that well, but I could tell in your heart, that's not the reason you're doing it. You just want to help other people. But it does come back to you.

Somebody once told me, that it's almost like anything in life. Do you want more energy? Go burn energy. Do you want more money? Give money away. It somehow comes back. It's weird, but that's the way it is. If you want to hoard everything, you're probably not going to have a lot of stuff just show up on your lap.

Kelani: It's that abundance mindset.

Darin: Talk about mindset. Where's your vision from here? You've already got 70,000 followers on all your platforms. Where are you guys going?

Kelani: One of the things that make our tribe so special is that we're so nimble. I also have a huge appreciation for the fact that the brand is so strong, that those 70,000 combined followers, that's just WIRE. That's not me.

What's Cool About WIRE and the DEI Initiative

What's Cool About WIRE and the DEI Initiative
Photographer: Jason Goodman | Source: Unsplash

Kelani: I could care less if I never got a single follower ever. If the brand is doing well, and our members are doing well, I'm happy with that. What's next for WIRE? We need to actually execute on these things and do them, and do them well. It's proof of concept. What's really cool about WIRE is that we are really that bridge between corporate and community. Not only are we really helping our members, but we also have the target demographic of the century.

Everybody cares about diversity, equity, and inclusion right now. Since George Floyd, it's been the buzzword, and it should have been the thing a long time ago, but everyone wants to diversify their workforce. Women in Real Estate hold the target demographic for most corporations. I think that the next thing for Women in Real Estate is going to be some really large and important corporate relationships with the really big companies of the world, who care to invest in women. Invest in women-led projects, care about their own company cultures, and really tap into the gold mine that we have here, which is our people. Women make the world go around.

Darin: You are sitting on something special. I'm going to be interested to watch how it plays out. When you talk about large corporate relationships, I think there are some that truly do care. There are probably some that know they need to do it and want to do it because they're supposed to do it, and so they could say they did it. I'm not saying that one's right or wrong.

Living in Interesting Times

Darin: You could end up working with somebody that maybe they didn't necessarily care, but you could end up having a positive influence on them. That sways them after the fact, or work with another big corporate relationship that just genuinely wants to dive into that space. It'll be interesting to watch, no real question about that. It's an interesting time, and in life, people say, "Wow, it's so much tougher today than it was 20, or 30 years ago, or 40 years ago," or whatever.

At the end of the day, we all battle the same kinds of things. If you read the Bible, it's still applicable in today's world, even though we have social media. A lot of it comes down to what's going on in our head, and our mindset. I like that you're helping people, not just with a goal, but also, you're getting underneath and trying to help them have a little different mindset. Until you believe that you could achieve something, it's not going to happen.

Kelani: That's a fact, absolutely. Is there a sound effect with the message?

Darin: You obviously believe, and I think that's fantastic. What do you like to do outside of work, outside of this passion of yours, of growing this team? What do you like to do outside for fun?

Kelani: I am a foodie. I love to travel.

Darin: Domestic, international?

Kelani: Both, all. Everything, everywhere.

Darin: International, where do you like to go?

Kelani: International. I’ve spent a significant amount of time in Portugal. That was fun. I have a lot of places I still need to go.

Making an International, Digital Footprint

Kelani: My goal is to get freed up enough to be able to explore some things. I feel I'm in grow mode right now. Fortunately, I travel a lot because of work. WIRE has an international, digital footprint.

Darin: So, it's not just domestic?

Kelani: It's a much smaller audience, but we've got a recent community in Africa forming. That's a Brittany thing. Don't ask me too many questions, because that's her thing. Brittany's actually in Dubai right now. She went to go on vacation, and she is there working. She's met several people that she's connected with online that know of WIRE. I'm like, "Okay, cool." So that's just a thing. Inherently, we've got a lot of travel opportunities. But I like to travel, love to eat, and love live music. I have a Great Dane, me and my girl. Dog lover, 1000%. I'm really into basketball.

Darin: We've talked about WIRE a lot. How do people reach out and get to know you guys better, and get to know more about your organization?

Kelani: Sure, joinwomeninrealestate.com. That's our official website. If you're a woman in real estate or not, you like anything we've talked about today, you want to be a part of our community, come check us out. Or if you lead an organization or a company where you think that there are some collaborative efforts, it makes sense to get in front of your audience. Tap in with us, shoot me an email. Kelani@joinwomeninrealestate.com, shoot me an email. On Instagram, my name is KelaniB. I don't check my DMs, I have too many, but I'll do my best to keep up. Darin, I got a question for you.

Dealing With the Market Cycling

Darin: This is over 100 episodes, and I have never been asked a question from somebody. Bring it on.

Kelani: It's about real estate. With the economy, with the market cycling the way that it is, how are you hedging right now? How are you pivoting? What adjustments have you had to make?

Darin: As you said earlier, your background plays into where you come into the mix. I've been in the loan portfolio trading industry since 2002. I was with a large bank from 2002 to 2006, ABN AMRO. Then I started my own company in 2007. I know that this next recession will be different than the last. But where I saw a lot of, whether it be multifamily or commercial deals get hurt in the last great recession, 2008, 2010, and 11 were when the loan comes due in a terrible economy. I'm not on the sidelines.

I know some syndicators that are like, "I'm out, we're at the top of the market." I've also seen where markets can run a lot longer than you think. So, I don't know if we're in a recession, the recession's coming in six months, or two years, I'm continuing to buy deals. But I am particular about wanting a loan, ideally, that has a five-year term or greater. Because I just don't want to be caught two years from now. A lot of people have been doing bridge loans, and that's completely fine. If you can execute the business plan in that timeframe, and then refi into another loan or sell it.

Where People Got Hurt

Darin: But if the loan comes due in a terrible economy, cash flow's down, cap rates are up, valuations are down, and all of a sudden the lender's like, "I'm not refinancing the loan." Or "I'm not extending the loan." I've seen that happen to people, and that's when people have gotten hurt. That's what I'm doing to hedge in this marketplace. I think that real estate can still be a great inflation hedge, but it's just important to me to have a longer term so I can come out the other side.

Kelani: Thank you for sharing. There was an article, I think that came out today. Blackstone's still dumping billions, with a B.

Darin: On real estate.

Kelani: Yes.

Darin: I don't know where it's going to go. I do know that if all those big corporations keep buying up the smaller ones. Well, I don't know if you can buy a $100,000 house anywhere now. But $100,000 to $300,000 homes are getting gobbled up by big corporations. Where are people going to live? Interest rates go from 3% to 6%, they can't afford a $400,000 or $500,000 home. They're going to be renters. So rents could conceivably keep going up. I don't know the answer, but time will tell. The best we can do, I think as investors try to protect ourselves as much as we can, knowing what we know.

Kelani: Are you prepared? Are you positioned to deploy more? You said you were continuing to buy, but you're positioned to deploy more capital upon opportunities for folks that are going to incur the problem that you just suggested when the debt comes due.

Should You Put All Your Eggs in One Basket?

Darin: That's one avenue. People could say, "I'm just going to hoard all my cash, and just wait for these deals to come to fruition. All these bridge loans are going to go bad." But we just also went through COVID, and people thought there was going to be all these great deals that were going to come to market. People were going to have to sell, and it didn't really happen.

I'm continuing to buy, and I'm also leaving some money on the side if there is an opportunity. But I'm not putting all my eggs. I'm not going all in right now. We are at a frothy part of the market, real estate market, but I'm also not stopping, and just hoarding, and just waiting to have calamity happen. I don't know if it's going to happen.

Kelani: Cautiously optimistic. I like it.

Darin: Of all the asset classes, multifamily, people need a place to live. In COVID I saw people, deals that we had, and the government saying, "You don't have to pay your rent." We still were positive cash flow every month. People want to pay their rent, and they want to pay for food. Food first, then where they live.

Kelani: That's the interesting thing to me.

The Earlier You Invest in the DEI Initiative, the Better

Kelani: When we actually talk about spending, or inflation at that rate, I don't know that I've seen spending. I haven't seen enough reports. Maybe haven't read enough, but I don't know. Personally, am I spending less? Should I be spending less?

Darin: I think people are still spending, and there are certain people that are complaining that prices are up. Look, I don't like paying for more stuff either. But what I would tell listeners is, that the earlier that you buy assets that appreciate, you might be paying more at the pump, or you may be paying more at the grocery store. If you have assets that are appreciating at the same time, then it can help balance things out. But the people that really get hurt are the ones that don't own assets, and they're having to pay those higher prices?

Kelani: Absolutely, buy real estate and wait. Don't wait and buy real estate.

Darin: Well, Kelani. I really appreciate you coming on. I look forward to meeting you face-to-face at some point. Listeners, I hope that you enjoyed that one. Definitely look up, joinwomeninrealestate.com. She's got a lot of passion, and I think that she's doing a great thing for her members, and also the community at large. So until next week, signing off.

How to Reach Kelani Blackwell

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Darin Batchelder


Wealth creation through real estate provided me with a new passion to get the word out and let others know that they have an alternative to investing in the stock market.

If I can inspire and educate just one person to take action that results in life changing wealth creation then the work to launch and grow this podcast is well worth the effort.

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