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Life and Work with Aisha J. Thomas

Today we’d like to introduce you to Aisha J. Thomas.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Aisha. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I’m originally from Detroit, Michigan and currently reside in the Downtown/Old Fourth Ward area of Atlanta, Georgia. I began in real estate in 2001, fresh out of undergrad as a part-time licensed salesperson. I wanted to educate myself on the real estate purchase process and as a lover of reading biographies, I also noticed a reoccurring theme of real estate ownership amongst the wealthy. Fast forward to 2005, I was laid off from my full-time municipal job, two months after purchasing my first home. This facilitated me opening my own real estate company. But little did I know, 2006 would be the commencement of the worst real estate market crash in history.

I watched my hometown of Detroit, Michigan like Atlanta, GA, and its surrounding areas, rapidly decline due to the lack of jobs and the mortgage meltdown. Prior to the mortgage crisis, there were several pockets of single-family homes developed to infill existing neighborhoods. In spite of the sprinkles of re-gentrification, more efforts were needed in residential and commercial development. There is now a resurgence of real estate development in urban cities as the markets slowly recover. These new developments bring about concerns of whether the opportunities will cater to or push the existing inhabitants out of the urban areas. All of the aforementioned factors increased my interest in the commercial real estate and its development.

I used my legal education to continue my real estate journey. Law school enabled me to complete the Construction and Commercial Real Estate Law courses. I also mastered research in addition to honing my analytical and negotiation skills. As a Student Attorney in the Mortgage Foreclosure Defense Clinic, I received training in client advocacy, litigation and an extended understanding of the importance of public interest work. To gain further knowledge, I completed an internship as a Business Development Analyst for a company that specializes in Urban Multi-family Commercial Real Estate. I later relocated to California after I was accepted into the University of Southern California Ross Minority Program in Real Estate but ultimately completed the Real Estate Associate Program-Los Angeles.

A year later, in 2014, I moved to Atlanta, Georgia. I prayed about it and felt this market would be more amenable to my vision of becoming a consummate brand in the commercial real estate industry as well as serve the community by advocating for affordable housing. I am currently a Board of Director for an impactful community developer in addition to serving other organizations.

What I learned while studying some of the top brokers and developers of residential and commercial real estate not only enlightened me but lit a fire in me. There is less than 1% women and minorities in Commercial Real Estate. Georgia is second in the nation in a number of women-owned businesses and my goal for starting my own commercial real estate company, The Thomas Agency of Georgia is to change the face of the industry and ensure there is diverse representation for those the community.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
I came to Atlanta with a different but similar mindset that I had in California. All the moving and buying new furniture, getting licenses, and joining associations COST thousands of dollars; so I decided I would get a job and build my commercial real estate (CRE) company slowly or at least that’s what I thought.

I arrived in Atlanta in June 2014, a year after graduating law school. I planned to take the GA Bar in July but I wasn’t prepared and took it anyway to see what the exam entailed. After failing, I wish I had studied more because I actually didn’t score that bad considering the circumstances. I found a place to live after a month of staying with a friend. Once again, I was under the wire because school starts in August in Atlanta and not September like many other districts and I had to find an acceptable school for my son. I applied to several advertised commercial real estate positions and did not get hired. I eventually was hired by an Asset Management company. I felt like I had to take this job; I realized that I was being counterproductive to my vision. I am a woman faith but found that I wasn’t behaving like one. And on top of that, the company had a lot of its operations overseas and I was not comfortable with some of the business practices considering my previous experience with the foreclosure industry. So, I left the organization before my health insurance could even kick in.

In the interim, I continued to apply for CRE related positions, networked and pulled my license out of the state required escrow and opened The Thomas Agency of Georgia, LLC, with some help from my family and no real office or business cards. I landed an interview with the largest commercial real estate company in the world and was offered a position. The position at the CRE company wasn’t exactly what I wanted but it would get me in the door. It was a support position. I was hopeful and resolved that I would take the position UNTIL I received the actual offer to begin in January 2015. The compensation wasn’t anywhere near what I expected or needed. Now some would say, you’re in Georgia, the cost of living is lower, the position was an entry point, so take it. One of my mentors suggested just that but the position was being groomed for management and the compensation wouldn’t change and they even wanted me to sign an 18-24 month contract meaning that I could not move up or around in the organization. No Bueno! I was really conflicted because I prayed to God for the job but I also recalled the glimpse He gave me of my future and that position was nowhere in it. At that moment, I chose to recognize my own worth.

In the spirit of transparency, this past few years has had moments of financial, professional and mental difficulty, that I even called that same manager at one point to see if that position was still available. I had moments of regret after speaking with others in the industry as I enrolled in Mentorship programs. Despite those moments, which didn’t last long, I changed my mindset and begin to invest more in my business and myself. How can I help others build their legacy, one property at a time and I’m not building my own? The answer to my question was to create your own lane. You’re not getting the offers you want? Use your skills to make the revenue you want and deserve. I don’t want to be forced into a box in order to get the experience I want. So, I went and found the education and the people with the experience I needed by volunteering, joining organizations and networked within the industry. I speak things as though they are even when they are not. I want to do business God’s way, my businesses are my ministry. I remind myself not to be moved by how things appear at the moment and to stay focused on the promise. In short, I created my own lane and you should to in regard to whatever your dream or vision is.

Please tell us about The Thomas Agency of Georgia.
I began my career in real estate in 2001. I specialize in Tenant Representation, Buyer Agency and Investment Sales. I am a licensed real estate broker in Michigan and Georgia and a licensed salesperson in California.

I am a member of various professional, educational and civic organizations including the Atlanta Commercial Board of Realtors (ACBR), Greater Metropolitan Association of Realtors, Women’s Affordable Housing Network, Atlanta Bar Association (Student). I am a previous member of the International Council of Shopping Centers, Urban Land Institute and NAIOP, the Commercial Real Estate Development Association.

In the past, I had the pleasure of serving as a Board of Director of the Detroit Association of Realtors and currently serves as a Board of Director for Quest Community Development Organization. I’ve been featured and quoted in two issues of Black Enterprise Magazine’s special First Time Homebuyer’s Editions, many national real estates related blogs, local radio as well as HGTV’s hit show, My First Place. In addition to selling real estate, I advocate for affordable and fair housing by volunteering with the Atlanta Legal Aid Society and Housing Georgia.

I earned a Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts from Wayne State University, and a Juris Doctor from the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law. I am also a 2014 alumni of Project Real Estate Associate Program-Los Angeles. In 2015, I completed ACBR’s Inaugural Diversity Mentorship Program.

I am most proud of educating my clients by providing resources and saving my clients time and money during their real estate transactions. I’ve sat at every seat at the table as a homebuyer, landlord, tenant, developer, lender or advocate. My multi-state and private/public experience gives me a unique perspective to ensure my client’s interests are at the forefront of every real estate deal.

Were there people and/or experiences you had in your childhood that you feel laid the foundation for your success?
My parents are both hard-working people who divorced when I was a toddler. As a single mother, my mother serves as an example to always put forth excellence wherever you are. My mother had perfect attendance for many of the years she has been employed in the healthcare industry and in my teens, I witnessed her take classes to change her career path. This taught me the value of working hard as well as the importance of being a continual learner.

I graduated from high school at the age of 16 and started a variety of businesses throughout my childhood. From a lemonade stand to my first certified personal training company, I learned to expose myself to new opportunities and embrace the risks that come with that.

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