By Nicole S. Daniel
The Birmingham Times
Building community wealth and educating African Americans about homeownership have become passions for Justin Williams, President of the Birmingham Realtist Association.
“The main generator of wealth creation in the United States is homeownership,” he said. “So when Black people don’t participate in homeownership and become a homeowner, they lose the opportunity to use the main source of wealth creation. Studies show that a homeowner, has a 40 times greater net worth than renting.”
Birmingham Realtist, which has 125 members from the metro area and as far as Tuscaloosa and Anniston, is an organization that serves as the premiere network of Black real estate professionals, said Williams, Chief Executive Officer of the Just-In-Time Realty Group/Keller Williams Realty.
The association is a local chapter of National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB) which will host its Black Housing Summit in Birmingham from November 8 through 11. NAREB is the oldest minority trade association in the country with over 115 chapters.
He was elected president of the local group earlier this year and said he felt good about taking the responsibility but also “the gratitude that people see enough in you to allow you to be a leader.”
The group is centered around “housing and advocating to increase Black homeownership,” he said.
In order to build community wealth, it’s important to educate Black people on what all it takes to become a homeowner or what the process looks like, Williams said.
“Once we get those individuals educated, and get them in a position to move forward, we make sure that they are aware of all the options that are available whether that means single family home, townhome, a condo, maybe this is their second or third home, or a vacation home.”
He added, “The sacrifice of maintaining that home and upkeep means that you can take advantage of all the financial benefits that are available through homeownership, whether it be tax reductions, the equity that you receive in the home versus being able to call that maintenance man. You pay your rent every month. There’s no financial benefit from that at all.”
Coming From A Small City
Williams, 35, grew up in rural Burnt Corn, AL in Monroe County with his parents and younger sister.
Asked how the city got its name, Williams said “when the settlers came and took over the Indians land, they burned all the corn to kill their food supply.”
“It’s like two paved roads, a couple of stop signs no traffic lights, a bunch of dirt roads and cow pastures.”
Growing up, he can remember holding conversations with his neighbors just by yelling across the street. “Me and my best friend would yell across the street,” he said.
Although Burnt Corn was considered a small city and it was family oriented, Williams has a lot of memorable moments. He credits his father for setting a foundation for not only him but his peers as well.
“I have several memorable moments with my dad and that kind of drove me to into mentorship. He was very instrumental in every aspect of my life.”
Growing up whether he had a football game or a baseball game he would always depend on his father to be there whether he was coaching or cheering him on.
“What was most memorable about it is I had some friends that didn’t have their father in their life. We used to go to the football games or basketball games on Friday nights and he would say, ‘we should load up and everybody can go.’”
He added that his father was highly respected and but most importantly Williams says he was able to see the impact his father had on his friends. “You can just see how they look to him almost as the father figure then and now.”
Not only was his father a mentor he was a pastor as well. “Every time the church doors open we were there.”
“Leaving The Garage Door Opened”
Williams was known for playing the piano at every church within his community. There are countless churches all around. In areas like that, everyone visits each other’s church with revivals, Sunday afternoon programs. Every church is not full time there so you may go to one church on first and second Sunday, a different church on third and fourth Sunday.”
Besides playing sports [football, basketball, baseball, swimming] Williams played the piano which ultimately was a way for him to earn money. At a young age, his mother noticed he had an interest in the piano and quickly found a teacher to teach him lessons.
“It took me about a year to become decent and to learn the basic structure of everything and overtime I got better.”
“I would charge $250” to play, he said.
Williams was enrolled in Monroe County School System his entire childhood and played basketball at Monroe High School.
Although neither one of his parents attended college, they instilled the importance of furthering his education.
During his senior year, he applied to several colleges and universities in the state ultimately settling on the University of Alabama at Birmingham which was a “larger city” compared to a small town like Burnt Corn, he said.
Whenever he would go home to visit [Burnt Corn] and return to campus, his father would always make jokes and saying “you’re so ready to get out of here, you left the garage door open and the door unlock.
Williams majored in communications studies with the idea of working in the public relations industry.
During his senior year, he decided to pledge Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., a historically African American fraternity.
Joining the fraternity came as a result of mentorship including his uncle and some older friends, he said.
Asked the importance of mentors Williams said that person “can give you direction in a space that you can’t necessarily see yet. A mentor can live something that eventually is going to come out where you’re going to have to live that same thing and … give you guidance based on their experience but just from watching other things.”
After graduating, he went to work in a phones sales center and began work as a volunteer recruiter for Growing Kings, which mentor students in the Birmingham City Schools. “That’s how I ended up getting into the mentoring and space,” he said.
Obtaining A Real Estate License
While recruiting other men to mentor in the organization which he did for five years he obtained his real estate license.
“I considered pharmaceutical sales and selling cars but, my aunt who is a real estate broker in Georgia told me I should get into real estate. I started doing some research. I noticed everybody that was wealthy had their hand in real estate.”
He took classes and the test to become a license realtor.
“It took me three times to pass that test. After taking it the first time, I told myself I would go study the parts that I miss. When I went back the second time, the stuff I missed on the first test I got right but what I had right on the first test I got wrong,” he laughed.
Ultimately, he passed in 2014 which was a relief and excitement, he said.
But there were still some things to learn. “I think everybody thinks when they get into real estate, they will get rich. I thought that too. I thought that was my opportunity to strike big,” he said.
Eight months after obtaining his license, Williams’s first sale “came from one of our fraternity brothers. He had his house on the market a couple times, and it didn’t sell. He told me if it don’t sell with this other agent, and I’m going to give you a shot.”
Wanting professional development and training, Williams landed an opportunity at Keller Williams in May 2015 which is where he learned how to run a business in the real estate space, he said. “They have a ton of training.”
Each week he had two classes where he learned how to talk to buyers, how to negotiate a contract, how to do open house, and more.
“Through those classes you were getting intense training, on everything that you needed to say and do and how you needed to approach situations and that’s what really made my business thrive.”
Just In Time
He created Just In Time, real estate agency in 2014 which consists of himself as a real estate agent, and transaction coordinator and a showing agent.
Becoming a real estate agent “has impacted me exponentially. I have been able to do well financially and one of the main reasons I wanted to get into real estate is to invest in it as well. When I mentioned everybody I searched was wealthy and they had their hand in real estate, it was from an invest standpoint.”
Since being in the business he has been able to acquire a number of properties. “I’ve been able to increase my net worth which was the main intent for me to be able to get into the business.” “I bought my first investment property at 28. It was a fix and flip,” he said. “I bought my first home at 31.”
”My wife and I own six properties,” he said. “A mixture of multi-family, commercial, residential lots and single family homes.”
Williams strongly believes that a person network impacts their net worth. “Once you start meeting people several things happen. One you get information that you didn’t have before, you get access to stuff that you would have never had access to without that. And then especially in the real estate world, it gives you an opportunity to maybe get in deals that you wouldn’t have even known about or had the funds for.”
He has become passionate about wealth building. “Community wealth building is basically bringing the resources to the people. Not asking them to come you, but you go to them,” he said.
He makes about 35-40 sales, which is considered above average.
He considers himself “a student of the business. “So that means outside of just the classes that we’re required to take I’m a ferocious reader. I’m reading something every day in order to be able to better my knowledge around market dynamics.”
His goals include real estate development. That looks like building neighborhoods from the ground up, acquiring and redeveloping commercial property in Birmingham.”
In addition to wealth-building, Williams loves to spend time with his wife Shawn and one-year-old son Joyner.
“Prior to having Joyner, my wife and I used to travel a lot. We go to different places and enjoy each others time and company.”
Traveling to Belize was relaxing for Williams and “the most enjoyable trip.”
He has several more places on his bucket list to travel but he’s mostly interested in traveling to Africa and Dubai.
The National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB) will host its Black Housing Summit in Birmingham through November 11.
The 100-plus city tour will include focus on homeownership and other real estate opportunities. NAREB was formed in 1947 to secure equal housing opportunities regardless of race, creed, or color.