A Kalamazoo Realtor's little princess helps put kids and first-time buyers on path to their castles

A Way Home — Housing Solutions: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's series on solutions to homelessness and ways to increase affordable housing. It is made possible by a coalition of funders including the City of Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo County, the ENNA Foundation, Kalamazoo County Land Bank, and LISC.
People don’t dream big enough, says Twala Lockett-Jones. They lose something that comes naturally to children.
“When they’re really little, young people believe in fairy tales and that they can do this and do that and be this and be that,” says the Kalamazoo Realtor and real estate broker. “Then the older they get, it’s kind of like reality, and us, as adults, we kind of beat that out of them.”
But she says, “I don’t want them to lose that imagination, that wonder, that sense of being able to do anything.”
Twala Lockett-Jones holds a copy of her book, Princess Mackie Buys a House.That includes the dream of becoming wealthy or at least becoming financially stable. For most Americans that starts with owning a house, a primary investment that usually appreciates in value and can be sold at a profit. Homeowners can borrow against the equity in their property and pass it down to their children or grandchildren as an asset. But a lot of people have no idea how to get started.
To help change that, Lockett-Jones has authored a book that provides the steps necessary to buy a house in very simple terms, including a glossary that explains such things as equity, closing costs, a purchasing agreement, and generational wealth. It also suggests working with community organizations to learn the language and qualifications to secure a mortgage and maintain a home after the purchase.
“The reason I wrote the book,” she says, “is because I wanted to find a way to educate people at a younger age, especially people of color, about home ownership and the importance of home ownership.”
Lockett-Jones says she decided to write the book after a conversation she had with a relative in 2019 who insisted that education was the key to making change. And she decided there is great value in educating people when they are young. So her book is targeted at children in grades three through five.
The story follows a little girl named Mackenzie, whose late father had nicknamed her Princess Mackie. She longs to live in her own “castle” but comes from a family that has always been apartment renters. So she cannot paint her walls the way she wants, put stars on her ceiling, or have the princess bedroom she really wants. She also cannot have the puppy she wants and her mother repeatedly warns her not to make any noise. It might upset their landlady, who lives downstairs.
Princess Mackie draws pictures of things she’d like in her “castle” in this illustration from Princess Mackie Buys a House.“She finally gets fed up and says, ‘Well mommy, if you call me a princess, I’m supposed to have my own castle,’” Lockett-Jones says. “‘All the princesses in my story books have their own castle where they can do what they want to do.’ And so that starts them on the journey to home ownership.”
The book attempts to emphasize the importance of building generational wealth through real estate ownership.
Many African-Americans have been hindered by red-lining, predatory policies, and discriminatory practices. And Lockett-Jones says statistics show that while most White Americans buy their first home in their early 30s, most African-Americans buy their first home in their late 40s. That puts African-Americans, on average, about 15 to 17 years behind in terms of building home equity and in terms of building family wealth.
“If you’ve got 17 years that you’ve been building equity in a home, you can usually step up to your next home and have a really, really nice down-payment for that,” Lockett-Jones says.
But if you’re buying your first home at age 48, and you’re looking to step up into your next bigger, better house, you’re at a point where you’re children are no longer at home and you’re looking to downsize.
This new book by Kalamazoo Realtor Twala Lockett-Jones provides the steps necessary for first-time buyers to purchase a house.Lockett-Jones is the owner of the Lockett-Jones Realty Group at 1201 S. Westnedge Ave. She is passionate about working with first-time home-buyers, and also works with real estate investors. A 1987 graduate of Loy Norrix High School, she attended Kalamazoo Valley Community College and Davenport University. She and her husband Kenneth, a licensed contractor who has a real estate license, have three adult children.
Her book, Princess Mackie Buys a House, is a quick read that was illustrated by Melissa Bailey of Michigan and formatted by Sean Hollins of Kalamazoo. Funded, in part, by a grant from the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo, the 106-page book was published by Fortitude Graphic Design & Printing in collaboration with Season Press LLC and is available for sale on Amazon.com for $11.95.
“What I am finding is, there are adults who are buying the book and saying they’re going to give it to their niece or the little kids in the neighborhood,” Lockett-Jones says. “But they’re reading it and saying, ‘Oh, my God, I’m going to keep this book for myself because it really teaches you how to buy a house.’”
She says she wants, No. 1, for young people to continue to dream big, saying, “No matter what their dream is, they can accomplish it.” 
No. 2 is learning to sacrifice some of their wants in order to reach their goals. As a child, that may be learning to hold off on buying candy so they can buy a toy they really want. As an adult, that may be learning to hold off on buying a fancy car so they can buy a house.
No. 3 is learning to be confident. She says they should realize they may not know all the necessary steps but they can keep plugging away until they reach their goals.
Lockett-Jones is set to sign copies of her book and be the featured presenter at the Epic Center on the downtown Kalamazoo Mall during the city’s Art Hop for July. Because of the July 4th holiday, the monthly Art Hop is to take place on the second Friday of July. Nine-year-old Kaliyah Jackson, of Kalamazoo, will play the role of Princess Mackie there. The character, whose age is not specified in the book, takes her name from one of Lockett-Jones’ nieces.
Lockett-Jones also is working with a consultant and an architect to develop affordable housing units in the 900 block of West North Street. She envisions a mixed-use project with some commercial space on the ground level and perhaps eight apartment units on the second level. She hopes to begin construction within a year.
The project will reclaim space left vacant after a June 2020 fire gutted three large houses in that block. Each of them had been converted for use as apartments. They included a vacant 12-unit apartment house, a large three-unit house, and a large house owned by Lockett-Jones at Woodward Avenue and North Street that had been converted over the years into eight apartment units.
Lockett-Jones, a Kalamazoo native who has been involved in real estate sales for 26 years, says that while home-buying can take time and many people don’t know where to start, she says, “I think the main thing that keeps us from buying a house is failing to believe that we actually can. That’s where the education part comes in because it does sound like a pie-in-the-sky dream to many people to own a house. Generationally, they may be renters. Their mother may be a renter. Their grandparents were renters. So they’ve never seen it and they don’t know where to start.”
Like Prince Mackie, she wants everyone to have their own castle.

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Al Jones is a freelance writer who has worked for many years as a reporter, editor, and columnist. He is the Project Editor for On the Ground Kalamazoo.