It’s the middle of the day on a Wednesday, and Keisha McClain thinks she’s about to take a brief break and eat lunch at Blk Swan, the Harbor East restaurant of which she is part-owner. Just as she starts retrieving photo updates of her firstborn, nearly 2-year-old son, Sir, from his preschool, an email alert on her phone propels her back to work mode.
The email is from a client who has asked the real estate agent to push back a scheduled home inspection to the weekend.
“Do they want to sell their home?” McClain laments as she feverishly types out a measured response. The clacking of her sculpted stiletto nails hits the screen of her shimmering clear phone. Then she changes her mind. “I need to call them instead. Sometimes the tone of emails is different than talking directly to a person.”
McClain wouldn’t divulge the identity of the person she was working with that day — often she works with clients after signing an NDA to protect their privacy — but chances are it was a Ravens player. As the wife of a former professional athlete, McClain has tapped into her unique experience and all the realities that come with that.
“Having friends that are professional athletes, I found that they were being misled. And they were making decisions that were not very smart,” she said. “I didn’t choose this profession. It chose me. I wanted to help everyone around me.”
Real estate agents specializing in celebrity clients looking for million-dollar listings — and the commission that comes with it — are not a foreign concept. It’s considered a dream for many in the field. But as a Black mother and wife of a former professional athlete, McClain is able to set herself apart from others, able to recommend neighborhoods, private schools and services — whether Jack & Jill chapters or beauty salons specializing in Black hair — to her client families.
McClain is cognizant of the importance of generational wealth to her clients — many who have never had access to the type of wealth that comes with professional sports. This is why she finds properties that have a high appreciation value. In fact, once the property has been sold, McClain remains a constant with the families — helping them find contractors for home improvement projects and other things that will allow for the families to make a profit — even if they have to sell the property in a hurry due to a midseason trade.
“Real estate is the key to anyone building generational wealth. If you look at what separates Black people from the masses is because we were far behind owning land,” she said. “It is important for anyone to hold real estate and own land. This is the only way to build generational wealth. Usually, they are the first in their families to make that type of money. It’s really important for them. Athletes in general have a small window to make money. They have to be super careful and conservative about the decisions they make.”
Her approach has worked. She has been named one of the top real estate agents in the region the past two years by Baltimore magazine.
In 2021, when she was pregnant, she had $11 million in sales. In 2022, the mother of a newborn had $13 million in sales.
“I was pregnant — now I have a 1-year-old. I’m giving myself some grace,” she said with a laugh.
McClain estimates that about 70% of her sales are a result of working with professional athletes.
For example, in 2020, McClain was able to move former Ravens defensive end Calais Campbell from a three-month rental in the Ritz Carlton Residences to a 4,000-square-foot home in Fells Point. Even though Campbell eventually signed with the Atlanta Falcons and moved from Baltimore, he kept the home, which was previously owned by swimming great Michael Phelps, and now uses it as a rental property.
McClain has leveraged her success in the Baltimore market to working relationships with players for teams in other regions like the New York Giants, New York Jets and Brooklyn Nets. She also works with several athletes represented by the Jay-Z-led Roc Nation, an entertainment agency.
McClain is a rarity in the industry. Although Black people represent 14% of the U.S. population, Black real estate agents and brokers account for only about 6% of the industry. And according to The Brookings Institute, homes owned by Black people are priced 23% lower than those owned by white people.
A special connection
For families of professional athletes, McClain is able to understand and plan for their current and future needs.
“She’s accommodating and she’s a boss,” said BreighAnn Judon, whose husband Matt Judon played for the Ravens from 2016 to 2020 and for the New England Patriots in 2021.
The family started working with McClain after hearing about her skills through word of mouth from other Ravens wives.
“Before Keisha, we had a different Realtor, and it was a mess. We called Keisha, and she took over and it was smooth,” Judon said. “She was along with the process from beginning, middle to the end. If you click with her — and I did — she’s there to the end.”
McClain helped the Judons find a secluded 7,000-square-foot, six-bedroom, eight-bathroom home on 3 acres. And when the Judons had to move less than a year later, McClain was able to help them resell their home, which they purchased for a little less than $1 million, at a near $300,000 profit.
“Matt obviously makes good money. But if we blow too much money on a house, car, trip, [then] money goes fast. If you are not careful, you can lose it. Getting a good deal and being conscious of what you are spending is important. It allows us more money to invest and to make sure we have money to pass down to our children,” Judon said.
Lauren Cox said she learned about McClain when both of their husbands played together on the Ravens throughout the 2010s.
“She was super helpful. She works so fast and she is good at matching you with a home that matches you perfectly. She found us a home that we really loved. We were sad to leave Baltimore,” said Cox, who is married to former Ravens long snapper Morgan Cox, who now plays for the Tennessee Titans.
Cox said McClain found a home that was perfect for her expanding family.
“It was a very well-put-together home. It was in a great area. It was near the interstate. It was near my husband’s work. It felt safe. By the time we left I was pregnant with my third. It was a perfect fit,” she recalled.
Alyssa and her husband, former Ravens defensive tackle Brandon Williams, bought a home in the highly sought-after Worthington Valley Green community in Owings Mills with McClain. She also helped the couple to sell two homes — including one that was sold after the couple left Baltimore and moved to Arkansas.
“Having a personal relationship with her and knowing that she is fighting for your interest is huge. She made it easy for us to relocate into the new home. She really looked after the house and cared for it,” Alyssa Williams said.
The Williamses turned a profit on each home sale that McClain handled. The home in Worthington Valley Green was sold the first day it was listed for $2.1 million.
“She knew it would be profitable when we bought it,” Williams said. “It’s important for us because it helps build our real estate portfolio and [then] when we sell the home, we will get a return on the investment.”
Williams said McClain’s flexibility, the way she markets homes and her contacts have made her successful
Humble beginnings and a turning point
Born Keisha Sullivan, McClain came from meager beginnings that she said have driven her to succeed.
“Ooh, chyle,” McClain, 38, exclaims when recalling her upbringing during the late 1980s and early ’90s in Northwest Baltimore near Mondawmin Mall. “It was hard and rough.”
McClain’s father was addicted to crack. And she lived in a household of eight filled with extended family members.
“That was normal,” she said. “We weren’t on government assistance. Others had it much worse. It was normal for someone to get stabbed in elementary school or someone getting pregnant in middle school. Our school assemblies were like the movie ‘Lean On Me.’ ” The 1989 film stars Morgan Freeman as Joe Clark, a real-life principal who imposes discipline at a struggling urban school.
McClain said that attending Baltimore City College High School was a turning point in her life.
“For me it was the first time I got out of my neighborhood and experienced people from different neighborhoods,” she recalled. “It is important to see people from other areas who have different experiences. Even though that was a college prep school, and I didn’t go to college, I was lucky enough to be surrounded by people who worked hard and who had goals.”
McClain got her real estate license at 21 — three years after starting an event and home-decorating business. McClain said her initial business experience prepared her to sell homes.
“I love spaces,” she said. “I liked the aesthetic aspect of it. I like that I am responsible for where someone lives. I pour myself into them. That’s what drew me to it. I realized that it was such a major decision they were making. I love to take care of people and make sure that they make the right decision.”
A hard worker
McClain has also excelled in other forms of business. In addition to being a restaurant co-owner, she owns a Retro Fitness gym franchise in Catonsville and Self.ish Beauty Spa in Pikesville.
“There are things she does every day in her life that make me want to accomplish. She elevates everyone in our company. I have never, ever — in all the time I have known her — I have never heard her say an unkind word about one human being. She is not wired that way. She looks for the very best of everyone. She is the real deal,” said Karen Hubble Bisbee, managing principal of Hubble Bisbee Christie’s International Real Estate.
The two met almost four years ago. Hubble Bisbee said McClain is one of her top employees in addition to being one of her “favorite people on Earth.”
“Keisha has the strongest work ethic of anyone I am fortunate to work with other than my mother, who is 86 years old. Her work ethic defines her. She always leads with integrity and ethics. When you lead with those two things, everything falls into place,” Hubble Bisbee gushed. “She is a keeper.”
McClain’s positivity is infectious and true, according to Hubble Bisbee.
“If you know her, you know how warm and friendly she is,” she said. “She is 100 percent inclusive, respectful and grateful. She makes all of us grateful to be in her presence. She emulates this positivity that is glowing.”
McClain is able to apply an authentic personal touch to all of her transactions, those who know her say.
“She is remarkable about the personal level of caring she places with her clients. The deal is really secondary to her,” she said. “The support, satisfaction, and caring for her clients is paramount. We see it is the repeat business she brings in. A year or so later they bring a family member or college friend in. Her client list is extremely loyal to her.”
McClain’s husband, Jameel, who is director of player engagement for the Baltimore Ravens, said he is in awe of all that his wife has accomplished.
“I think that Keisha goes above and beyond the call every time. It’s a beautiful part of the way her brain works,” he said. “She gives so much attention to detail in everything that she does.”
He described her as authentic and trustworthy, winning her a sterling reputation in the industry.
“It’s one of the hardest things to come by — people who are organically fighting for the true future of you. It’s important to have people fighting in your best interest — even if you don’t know what that is,” he said.
McClain said the memories of her difficult upbringing help to spur her on.
“Coming from where I came from — and how I came up, I have experienced not having much, with not much to do. I’m just here to make the best of it,” she said. “I just feel like I’m so blessed. You just make a decision to be kind and happy no matter what. And you do it no matter what. It’s a privilege to work and to own businesses. There’s not really anything to gripe about. I get through it, no matter what it is.”