When I think about design, I see it primarily as a thoughtful, proactive element in crafting our output and shaping outcomes in life. Other times, it is best seen in review, when looking back at our project or personal history. The fact is that I have always loved designing, whether it has been spaces, properties, or my own life.
There are elements of design that are intentional and others that are not as obvious; they just show up along the path. When I started my real estate investing career almost 20 years ago, things were pretty cut and dry. Purchase a piece of property, add value, and sell to make a profit. This was the whole premise of the transaction. Yet, with so few females in the real estate investing space, I knew that I had an opportunity to do something a little out of the box. Looking back on this thought is what ultimately led me to design or carve out a niche for myself.
Early in my career, I was shocked when I knocked on a door of a home in pre-foreclosure and experienced an awakening to a bigger problem. I didn’t know what that feeling was as I went back to my SUV stunned by the interaction that I had just had with a seemingly-in-denial homeowner. As my heart was shaken, I called my grandfather who urged me to get out of the vehicle and go back to her door because in his words, “she was losing it before you got there, so someone is going to buy it, so it might as well be you.” Yikes, that statement hit me like a ton of bricks, and my heart sank even more as I began to imagine the lady behind the door to be my grandmother or mother who found themselves in a situation like this. How would I respond? What would I want someone on the other side of their door to do?
It was in this interaction that I was changed forever and never again looked at property the same. I wanted to do relational business in a transactional environment. It was so hard to explain it to anyone. The question to myself became, how can I make a difference while making a profit? I’ve had my actions challenged and questioned. I was told things like, “Are you related to the seller? What you’re doing isn’t part of the ‘investor playbook.’” I help people. I have assisted sellers in financial trouble, have helped them find safe, subsequent housing because it’s the right thing to do, and I’ll do it again. And, while these occasions were not necessarily intentional acts at the outset, the position of the pieces on the board changed and made them part of my transaction, and part of my life as an investor.
Along the way, I made note of mistakes that buyers and sellers were making. I made some poor decisions as well and absolutely didn’t want to repeat them. I took these notes and wrote my first book, Real Estate and Wealth: Investing in the American Dream.
As I continued to work in real estate, the concept of building a real estate portfolio as the core of financial wealth inspired me to write again, this time focusing on wealth-building for other women: Self-Wealth for Women: An Inspirational Book and Journal.
When there was an identified need during the pandemic, I used one of my locations to provide an educational alternative, not knowing that it would lead to a homeschool collective. The school isn’t just a copy of what’s currently offered; it’s a wellness educational center, including things missed by public systems. We have financial literacy as part of our programs; we have gardening; we wish to develop life-long learners, curious about their world. I even get to teach them about real estate investing, which they love. My 11-year-old son, who attends the school, is such a designer…not sure where he gets that from. However, he enjoys looking at property and imagining what the possibilities can be. He is learning early that we use real estate not only to make a profit but to design lives by enhancing communities.
I am now working on an opportunity to incorporate real estate and wealth building, education and the intent of helping others, into a massive undertaking with a mission: a social equity fund, with real estate at the forefront. We will look to provide financial solutions at not just the micro, individual-deal level, but also to reimagine or develop holistic wellness communities. Some of these developments might utilize modular or shipping container construction as a way of making them more affordable, and we want to ensure that healthy lifestyle options are nearby like exercise facilities, green space, and nutritious food.
My team and I are establishing a virtual community within which anyone with a question about real estate can find answers. We are our neighbors’ keepers, and we will strive to maintain that as our goal, online and face to face.
A design thread has woven together the fabric of my career. In retrospect, it is easy to see the pieces that have been assembled and how they so perfectly fit together.
Sonia Booker is a conservative-growth investor who has spent the last 20 years building real-estate enterprises and leading a broad mix of creative industry talent and brands in the US and China. Inspiring the world with a philosophy of one dollar, one decision at a time, turned into one vault, one community at a time has established Sonia Booker Empire (SBE) as a company of the future. SBE exuberates the perfect blend of inspiration, creativity and visionary thinking that has earned them national acclaim. Sonia Booker Empire (SBE), headquartered in Atlanta, GA, serves as the parent company for real estate holdings and businesses.