Craig Toalson watched his sister leave Richmond for California after high school. But he wasn't interested in heading for the West Coast. He was too into the Richmond area. So much so that he bought his first house at age 23 in Henrico County.
It was 2003 and Toalson was working in the car business, where he learned what it was like to work for a small, local operation. He had a small down payment and saved up mostly for closing costs.
"Even today, it's a misnomer that you have to have 20 percent down to buy a house," he says. "There are so many credits and first-buyer home programs, it's great."
If he sounds like a pitchman that's because he is, in a way. Toalson found his ideal job at the Home Building Association of Richmond, an organization that advocates for affordable housing. Its voluntary membership represents builders and tradesmen large and small.
When he took over in 2011, membership was in the dumps because of the great recession's after-effects. Toalson got to work reviving the energy around the association and reinventing its structure. He also gave back to the community, forming a partnership with Ask Childhood Cancer Foundation, where he serves as an active board member. He's since increased participation by 44 percent to 478 members.
Toalson says he's especially proud of returning the Homearama Event to the market, a home tour show which drew more than 22,000 people this year and raised $20,000 for Ask. He says the biggest challenge today is the lack of land and labor, which are driving up prices for home ownership.
"We're talking to high schools and community colleges, retired veterans, trying to get these people into the work force," he says -- "framing houses, HVAC, plumbing. We need the next generation of work force to take over for the people who are retiring."
He likes to tell people that if they don't want to go to college and incur debt, they might be able to work and own their own home or business sooner than later.
Just like he did.