A South Side real estate investor has written a book about buying, rehabbing and managing properties for a surprising audience: kids.
She was surprised, too, at first. When she spoke at an Englewood elementary school’s career day last year, Pongee Barnes said, she didn’t expect the fifth- through eighth-grade students to care much about her business.
“But some of them lit up,” she said, “because they had watched flipping shows on HGTV. I was taken aback by how excited they were to learn how to flip properties.”
Combining the Stagg Elementary kids’ appetite for tips on how they can grow up to be flippers and her own interest in boosting children’s literacy, Barnes in January self-published “Riley the Real Estate Investor,” about a girl who’s “on her way to becoming a real estate mogul.” There’s also a version with Robert as the main character, for boys to read.
With her husband, Stephen, Barnes has rehabbed 20 South Side homes as part of the renewal wave that has upgraded thousands of formerly distressed homes in the city and suburbs. They own a portfolio of 13 residential rentals and are now rehabbing a small commercial building with two storefronts in Auburn Gresham. In 2018, she self-published a guide to investing written for adults, called “Real Estate and Chill: Tips and Tricks for New Investors.”
In her new, kid-oriented book, readers learn “what capital is,” Barnes said, “what a fixer-upper is, that you can sell or rent out a house that you fixed up. Basic principles that kids can relate to.”
The Barneses live in Beverly with their two sons, Benjamin and Franklin, who are namesakes of the first two books in Pongee Barnes’ series of books for junior entrepreneurs called Little Owners.
Pongee Barnes grew up in Washington Heights, the daughter of a Chicago Public Schools teacher mother and auto shop owner father. When she was 13 and busy reading Nancy Drew books, she said, her father gave her a copy of the 1997 book “Rich Dad Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not.”
“It changed my life,” Barnes said. “My father always talked about why he owned his own business, and I decided I wanted to do it, too.” Now, with her Little Owners titles, she’s passing the same advice along.