optiMize-Detroit: Entrepreneur Jonae Maxey wants to make social impact through real estate 

Source: Michigan News

Jonae Maxey, founder of Maxey Real Estate Investments.

Jonae Maxey always dreamed  of being an entrepreneur. Through her involvement in optiMize, she has made that dream real. A native Detroiter and junior at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, Maxey is laying the foundation for social impact through real estate. 

Maxey discovered her passion for real estate investment during her sophomore year. She recalls having a major transformation in her business mindset after reading “Rich Dad Poor Dad” by Robert Kiyosaki and Sharon Lechter. The book details how to achieve financial independence by investing; Maxey, who has always wanted to alleviate Detroit blight, was inspired to invest in real estate. Now, she wants to involve other Detroiters in that process. 

She began her journey by building her network and industry knowledge. Maxey audited an MBA-level real estate class taught by lecturer Peter Allen. Inspired by a Ross class in human capital management taught by Cheri Alexander, Maxey began considering community development through business. 

Maxey combined these classroom experiences with her passion for entrepreneurship. Through optiMize, she developed her real estate business.

“My purpose for Maxey Real Estate Investments is to revitalize inner-city communities within Detroit without displacing the community,” Maxey said.  Awarded $8,000 from optiMize, her goal is  twofold: buy and rehabilitate vacant properties in Detroit using Detroit-based businesses, then lease to Detroiters with rent or rent-to-own agreements. 

Good People: Mentorship through optiMize

Unlike most optiMize teams, Maxey leads a team of one. However, the experience has been far from isolating. Maxey believes optiMize is a large community where everything is interconnected. 

“In business, your network is your ‘net worth’,” she said. optiMize facilitates meetings that enable teams to build a strong network of community leaders and activists. Maxey adds that, even between individual teams, ideas and resources are shared.  

Through one optiMize mentor, Maxey connected with Chris Lambert, founder CEO of Life Remodeled, a non-profit organization that repurposes abandoned schools and engages Detroit communities in repairing homes. Lambert  has inspired Maxey to do similar neighborhood revitalization with her company. 

Mentors like optiMize co-founder Jeff Sorensen, Jeni Olney (associate director for Social Impact), Lisa Bergum (mentorship and engagement manager), and Kemi Dauda (Detroit track lead) have inspired Maxey to seek business success while still staying true to her social mission.

“All these people are good people,” Maxey says of her optiMize mentors, “And the energy, the dynamic, is completely different than other business and student groups.” She said that because it approaches entrepreneurship from a social perspective and anticipates the uncertainties of first-time entrepreneurs, optiMize is able to provide the right moral support network necessary for projects like hers to stay motivated. 

Investing in Detroit

Maxey bought her business’s first property in December with the help of a private investor and started the property’s rehabilitation in January. The project’s momentum slowed due to COVID-19 disruptions. Demand within the housing market has halted as well, which presents a new challenge for Maxey. During this period, she is using the virtual fellowship to build her network with other real estate companies. 

Maxey’s goal is to “connect with tenants on a personal level and also build a business around human capital, around people.” To address low rates of home-ownership in Detroit, Maxey plans on renting homes with buyer-friendly, rent-to-own leases. In these land contracts, a portion of the rental payments will go towards buying the home. 

Her model is different from other rent-to-own contracts, because Maxey intends on working directly with Detroit tenants to design payment plans that are affordable and manageable. Thus, the down payment, payment, and timing options will vary based on the individual. 

To maintain profitability for her business, Maxey will incorporate a mix of rent and rent-to-own properties. “For the future, I will make most of my properties rent-to-own after some years of stabilization by renting them out,” she explained. After she has become financially stable, Maxey will focus on buying properties solely to position as rent-to-own. 

Maxey is working to change the “narrative of what Detroiters see when it comes to a landlord and real estate in general.” She also wants to set an example for other young Detroiters to stand up for the community and bring everyone together. 

Come back tomorrow: Keirra Scott is using her optiMize experience to promote community and voter engagement in Detroit. Her organization My Voice, My Vote, My Future is providing a virtual platform to discuss current issues leading up to the next election cycle. 

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