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Out of the Ashes: Citirise

By Bruce Freeman

James Thomas Webb grew up in Brunswick County, near Myrtle Beach, North Carolina. He started out in his dad’s construction business at age 13, and by the age of 16 was coordinating labor crews. At North Carolina Central University in Durham, serving as student body president, Webb coordinated committee chairs, ran a substantial budget, politicked and negotiated with the administration.

After graduation in 1984 with a degree in sociology and philosophy, and while waiting for law school to start, Webb interned for a billionaire African-American real estate developer and saw the possibilities for both himself and others within his community. A chance conversation with a college dean helped him to realize that he wanted to put deals together, create jobs, and build for the future rather than sweat it out in courtrooms full of others’ problems.

Despite his parents concern, Webb decided he was going to take his chance and try to become a developer. He got a job with Prudential Bache, studied for and received the proper licenses, and became a district agent selling insurance and financial services. Meanwhile, he traded the time he would have spent studying law books, studying every book he could find on how to become a successful real estate developer.

After Webb left Prudential, he began buying and rehabilitating rundown residential properties for use as rental property. He purchased distressed or condemned property at no more than $15,000, borrowed money to repair and refurbish the property, had property re-appraised, mortgaged it, paid off any debts, and put the property up for rent. Within 2 years, he had renovated over 100 units and found himself in the property management business for the ensuing 4 years. He enjoyed what he was doing, but believed he could make an even greater contribution by running for political office.

Others thought so too, and Webb was asked to run for the North Carolina House of Representatives, but ruthless party politics created a nightmare scenario which resulted in huge debts and obligations that forced him into personal bankruptcy. So in 1990, Webb started all over again; building large estate homes, churches, and day care centers, which kept him busy for 10 years, but just didn’t give him the same sense of satisfaction he’d had when renovating distressed homes.

In 2001, when Webb realized he loved renovating but wanted partners to help him do it on a much wider scale; Citirise was born. Citirise focuses on the rejuvenation of both distressed homes and people. It provides 1 st tier labor jobs, improves neighborhoods, and gives people a chance to live in a nice place near where they work. Citirise currently employs 300 people, and in the last 3 years has rehabilitated over 500 homes. Citirise is now beginning to offer the opportunity for renters to purchase the renovated homes for themselves in North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee. Webb hopes to take the concept nationwide in the near future.

Professor Bruce’s Words of Wisdom

James Webb’s experience with politics taught him many things. He learned that he was much happier in a non-confrontational arena making a positive contribution to society by working with and helping people who appreciate his efforts. When he was bankrupt and demoralized, it was the people he had helped along the way, tenants of the renovated homes, who supported him by collecting money to help him to get started again.

Small contractors who had worked with him in the past donated crews a couple of days a week and didn’t ask to be paid. Painters, plumbers and electricians started showing up to help Webb get back on his feet, but more than that, many people prayed for him and encouraged him by expressing their faith that he would be back – better than ever. All the big shots melted into the woodwork when he was troubled, but others who knew trouble in their own lives dug deep and helped him restart his life and business. These are the people for whom Webb started Citirise; they are the backbone of our communities. Perhaps politics’ most important lesson is that integrity is your greatest asset. James Webb embodies that integrity, and perhaps more important, he brings that personal sense of worth to others as well.

Case History:  [EXTERNAL]

Entrepreneur’s Strategy:

Purchase distressed property, use sweat equity and creative financing to improve it, then rent the improved property to others or sell it for a profit.

Could This Work For Me?

Buy low, sell high – whatever you purchase, it is the improvement you make while you own it wherein lies the profit.







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