The Best Business Partner Either Could Ask For
By: Justin Lafleur, Lehigh Sports Communications
Former collegiate track stars Khalil Uqdah and Kyara Gray are an unlikely pair – Uqdah from Lehigh, Gray from Lafayette.
Don’t they say opposites attract?
Today, Uqdah and Gray are not only husband and wife, but also co-founders of a seven-figure real estate empire called Charm City Buyers.
“Positively impacting people’s lives is our passion,” said Uqdah, a 2010 Lehigh graduate who still holds the program record for the pole vault. “It’s at the core of what we do, it gets us up in the morning and motivates us in tough times. With the development we want to make a positive impact on both the macro and micro level. “
What exactly is Charm City Buyers?
“We are real estate developers and educators,” Uqdah said. “We buy, repair and rent or sell real estate. And on the other hand, we help people to understand this landscape. You learn about it, navigate it and we provide the tools and knowledge to help others explore real estate development, particularly in Baltimore (where Uqdah grew up).”
On the real estate side, Charm City Buyers does a few different things.
“We sell houses at market prices,” Uqdah said. “We also sell affordable homes through non-profit organizations. We help buyers take advantage of grants, tax credits and other dollars that can help them afford a home. This is another way of giving back and gives buyers the opportunity to use their income towards a greater quality of life.”
Today, Uqdah and Gray are in a strong position as a highly successful company, but it didn’t happen overnight.
Let’s go back to the beginning of their story – when the two met in 2008.
“I’m a year behind Khalil,” said Gray, a 2011 Lafayette grad. “I saw him before he saw me. Of course, I watched him pole vault. Everyone knew who he was. Back then, he had the long curls and really nailed it in the pole vault.
“We have some mutual friends who took him to Lafayette one night and we hung out,” she continued. “That’s when we officially met.”
Uqdah graduated from Lehigh with a business and economics major, while Gray majored in economics and finance at Lafayette. Gray was interested in real estate from a young age.
“I grew up in a town where farmland was sold and homes were built on it, so I watched that transformation very young and fell in love with how that looked and felt… and how communities grew,” she said. “I had a family history of building communities. After college, as we transitioned into adult life and the real world, real estate was something we were both interested in and seeing in the long term. It achieved our individual goals and what we could do together.”
The two married in 2013, worked full-time and part-time founded Charm City Buyers (2012) before taking over Charm City Buyers full-time from 2016.
“Previously, as a program director for a nonprofit in Baltimore, I focused on helping students afford and settle in independent private schools,” said Uqdah.
Uqdah’s business degree and background could be applied practically anywhere.
“I knew I was entrepreneurial,” he said. “I knew that climbing the corporate ladder wasn’t going to be my long-term goal, so I was interested – and passionate – about something where I would have the freedom and flexibility to build a business and provide a healthy lifestyle, build wealth and create a… make a positive impact on communities and the world.”
Gray’s post-graduate path first took her to a Fortune 500 insurance company (among the top 100) before moving to run the operations of a software development company.
“I’ve helped build, grow and scale a technology company in Baltimore,” she said.
Undoubtedly, Uqdah and Gray would have been successful had they continued on their original paths, but they have evolved and grown into something better. It is better not only because of the financial success, but mostly because of the impact on people’s lives.
“When you think of Baltimore, you might think of the blocks that have been devastated (empty, abandoned) for decades,” Gray said. “For us, it’s about turning these vacant houses into apartments and showing the people in the communities, or those who have been judging the communities, that there is an opportunity here. There is opportunity, there is life, there is beauty. We can help breathe more life into communities and give the community the power to realize what they see and love.”
This transformation is what Uqdah and Gray enjoy the most.
“It’s about coming in and getting it right, being very aware of what we’re doing and how we’re doing it so that everyone benefits,” Gray said. “It’s how we can help build wealth with the existing community, give those who move into these spaces the opportunity to grow with the growing community, and show what’s possible.”
“We can go into these neighborhoods and do amazing things without a big, huge developer having to come in, cash out and move on,” Gray continued.
Uqdah and Gray help others in many ways. When they started Charm City Buyers, they were more focused on themselves and developing their business, which is essentially converting houses into apartments. Another important element is the training and empowerment of other aspiring real estate developers.
“The Next Gen Acceleration program is the program in which we teach, show and provide participants interested in investing in real estate in Baltimore with the resources, guidance and tools – whether building their portfolio or want to expand,” Gray said. “This program is our family, this is our baby, this is the extension of who we are and who we have become. It empowers these hundreds of people to do the same things for themselves and expand their portfolios, transform their families and generations after them, all while helping each other positively impact Baltimore.
“That’s really what it’s about.”
Focusing on mastering things themselves before leading others, Uqdah and Gray’s journey is very similar to their journey as student athletes.
“Heave while climbing, very similar to how we mature as athletes,” Gray said.
“It takes a full team, including investors,” Uqdah said. “Housing is a basic need that we meet. It comes down to safety and security. A home is where memories are made and families grow, thrive and prosper.”
Uqdah could not be more grateful to his Lehigh family for helping him get to where he is today.
“I am very proud to represent Lehigh in everything I do,” he said. “I’ve taken the lessons I’ve learned over the four years and applying them makes me very proud of where I come from.”
What are some of those lessons you ask?
One is the creativity and entrepreneurial mindset that comes with being a Division I student-athlete.
“Being creative allows us to position ourselves and our brand in a way that differentiates it,” said Uqdah. “We feel like we’re thought leaders in this space, which helps us innovate and bring new and fresh ideas to communities that want and need it.
“As a physical education student, you learn to juggle priorities,” continued Uqdah. “For us, athletics in particular is a very individual competition. They internally compete with themselves to increase the mark, run faster, throw further, or jump higher/longer. Couple that with GPA and social life, you quickly learn to be efficient with time and commitments.”
As an athlete, you also learn how to fight your way through adversity and setbacks.
“You can have a day off or get injured, but the goal is the same,” said Uqdah. “Being an athlete helps with mental strength and resilience to be successful.”
To say that Uqdah and Gray succeeded would be an understatement.
“Without Lehigh, I would never have met my wife and none of this would have been possible,” Uqdah said. “So I’m glad I accepted Lehigh and Lehigh accepted me.
“It was mutual.”
Mutual, similar to Uqdah and Gray, husband and wife, and the best business partner anyone could ask for.