While most 16-year-olds work at a fast food restaurant or babysit part-time, Alexis Craig was changing out locks on homes, hiring contractors to fix up properties, and doing administrative work for a small property preservation company in Lansing, Mich. Her boss at the time was handling bank-owned homes and teaching her about REOs along the way. As a high school junior, Craig understood guidelines for homes owned by the Federal Housing Administration, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac, and how to file forms and paperwork. She learned the system inside out, and by the time she graduated, she was freelancing her REO skills for real estate companies across the country.
Craig knew exactly what she wanted to do at an early age: Own her own real estate business. She also married young—at the age of 18—to her high school sweetheart, Alex. She went to Wayne State University in Detroit for a year, then Henry Ford College in Dearborn, Mich., but she says she wanted more. Craig hit a point where her freelance work wasn’t satisfying. She lost the passion for the daily tasks. That’s when she moved back to Lansing, became a licensed agent, and established the Mocha Homes team at Exit Realty Home Partners. “It was a natural step for me, especially with my previous knowledge on the REO side of things,” Craig says. “I care a lot about people.”
Craig is the type of person who’ll have long conversations with strangers. She asks people about their day—and she’s genuinely interested. She doesn’t treat clients like paychecks. How could she when a large percentage of her buyers are foster parents?
Growing up, her grandmother owned Christian Cradle Inc., an adoption agency in Lansing. Her dad was raised in a household that, at any given time, had about four foster kids. In total, he had 36 foster brothers and sisters during his childhood, and three of his brothers were adopted by his parents. Foster care became a standard practice in Craig’s family; her parents fostered as well.
“Fostering and adoption are a normal part of my life. I grew up with it. You get married and you foster. That’s how it goes; that’s life,” she says. So when she and her husband settled down in Lansing, they, too, planned to become foster parents. “My husband jokes that it was part of our marriage contract,” she says. The pair became licensed foster care providers in the spring of 2016 at the same time Craig was working to establish her residential real estate business. Since then, they’ve taken in three children and currently have a 6-month-old boy in their home. But the experience was isolating in a way she didn’t expect.
“After becoming a foster parent, we just had this sense of being outsiders—that no one understood us or could see where we’re coming from,” Craig says. “People say, ‘You’re doing a great thing. I could never do it.’ How do you respond to that?”
Children come into their home for a few months at a time, but the love doesn’t go away after they leave. The couple knew that going into it. But some people expect foster care to lead to adoption. That’s where the conversations get tough. “We do it because we want to provide a safe, loving home for a child,” she says. “In foster care, the goal is reunification. And if it’s not reunifying with the birth parents, it’s unifying through guardianship with another family member. The last option is adoption.”
Because foster parents are highly misunderstood people, Craig found herself in a unique position where she could help a very specific real estate market niche: people who are in the same situation she’s in.
Many foster parents have three or four children in their home at any given time. They also usually have more doctor appointments than the typical family. There’s therapy appointments, court hearings, team meetings, and home studies, which all add up and make foster parents’ lives extremely busy. If they’re looking for a home, they likely need a little extra attention from their agent. A couple with one child may need a five-bedroom home, or a home with flexible space for recreation and living areas. And many of her clients need help at odd hours of the day.
Craig also knows what foster families need in a home: a two-story house, for example, needs a fire escape, the water heater can only go up to a certain temperature, bedrooms need to meet a required size, and the appropriate fire alarm system needs to be installed. When it comes to putting in an offer, the family has to let the foster agency know 30 days before the move so they can receive the necessary approvals on the house.
About 50 percent of Craig’s database are foster parents, and she’s building the business she always wanted. “Ever since I was 16, I’ve been working independently, and I liked the freedom,” she says. “It’s nice to know I determine the outcome of what I want and my results.”
Craig now wants to empower other real estate pros. She currently has a marketing assistant but plans to start growing her team to include other agents who focus on their own niches. “For me, that 9-to-5 job wasn’t what I wanted. I never wanted my potential to be set by someone else,” Craig says. “Once I get my systems up and going, I want other agents to take on some of the business. I can help them be the [agents] they want to be.”