Detroit Entrepreneur Sees New-Home-Buying Model Forged From Crisis

Mike Kalis thinks everyone has the potential to be an artist.

"Whether you're answering phones or managing or putting deals together, it's all the same. You just have to look at things in a different way," he said. "And when employees can look at their job and their company and say, 'I am a part of something special, I'm a part of something that is growing' and they see their job as artistic, that's truly where you get the growth."

And Kalis certainly knows about growth. His company, Marketplace Homes, which focuses on helping people buy newly-constructed homes by turning their old ones into rental properties that his firm manages, started in the suburbs of Detroit, it's spread to 17 states--and his payroll has increased from 16 employees to 60 in the last year.

"The most common client is a growing family," he said. "They feel stuck and a lot of times, because of the economy, their old home isn't worth what it used to be worth. We're telling people there is a simple solution of leasing out your home so that they can get into that new home they really need,"

"It's a great time to buy so we are helping people be able to purchase and build amazing homes...."

- -Mike Kalis, Marketplace Homes

But the solution isn't always simple. In order to qualify, a homeowner needs to be cleared for a second mortgage. If you can meet the requirement, Kalis said, you can take advantage of this buyer's market.

"It's a great time to buy so we are helping people be able to purchase and build amazing homes at incredible prices without having to sell when it's a horrible time to sell," Kalis explained.

Marketplace Homes sells only newly-constructed houses and gets a 6-8% commission from the builders. And with new home sales dropping in 2011 to 302,000 – the lowest number since the government started tracking that metric in 1963--Kalis said coming up with innovative ways to market these homes is more important than ever.

"My vision for the company is to recreate the way people move. People can go out and find a new home, and we will take care of all the little steps in the middle."

The company, which raked in a little more than $8 million in revenue in 2011, is a far cry from where Kalis started in 2005 after leaving his job at nationwide builder Pulte Homes.

"I remember when my parents were coming in and we had a TV on the floor and we decided we should really get a TV stand and I priced it out and was convinced that was going to bankrupt our company," he said. "So we went through some really hard times, but we always believed in what we were doing.”

Six Shooter Q&A with Mike Kalis:

1. What is your favorite quote and why?

“I took the path less traveled, and that has made all the difference” – Robert Frost

We take risks. We try things. Sometimes we fail. Sometimes we win. We do things that others don’t. When all my friends left Michigan, I didn’t. When all my friends left new construction, I didn’t. When others thought that property management was unsexy, I tried it. When people told me that real estate is local and can’t be sold nationwide, we did it anyway. When a family felt they couldn’t move because they had an upside down home, we showed them a simple solution…then did it over and over for thousands of others. When people said that homes can’t be bought over the phone, we started selling two a day over the phone. When people said get into short sales, we didn’t. Now people tell me that we can’t break $100 million in revenue…we will see…but it’s certainly a road less traveled, wouldn’t you agree?

2. What is the best--and worst thing about building a startup?

Best: Having the ability to lay out a vision that pushes the envelope and shatters conventional wisdom while helping others see the impossible become possible

Worst:  Having to have patience to see an idea come to fruition… Sometimes things don’t happen at the speed I would like.

3. Why will you succeed—and why will Marketplace Homes succeed?

I used to think it was because I could grit it out and just outwork others.  I’ve now learned that I'll only succeed by having great people that are smarter and wiser than me to make sure I’m pointed in the right direction.

Marketplace Homes will succeed because we have a team of people that challenge ideas and the status quo.  We will succeed because we have artists!

4. Where do you think your company will be in five years?  

We will be a billion-dollar company.  We will move the world.  We will make moving fun!

5. Who is your biggest source of inspiration?

My mom.  In her late 50s, she is going to college to get a degree, moved into the dorms, got a roommate… she helps me see that anything is possible.

6. What is the startup culture like in Michigan?  

People don’t know this, but Michigan is probably one of the best areas in the country to run a company.  Office space is available, people are very hard working and care, everyone in the state is extremely open to help with ideas and mentor anyone that asks.  It’s a great idea to offshore your company to Michigan!

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