During 18 years at NYCDCAS, Debbra McAllister completed more than $200 million in real property acquisition transactions.
SPOTLIGHT ON: Cristina Stevens
A Career That Finally Lets Her Travel
Christina Stevens was just 21 years old when she came to the U.S. from the West African nation of Sierra Leone. Little did she know at that time that she would one day own her own successful real estate firm in New York City.
Upon arrival in the U.S., the now broker-owner of Laujel Realty Corp. on Williamsbridge Road in the Bronx settled with relatives in Stuyvesant Town in Manhattan. After growing up in a very warm country, Stevens welcome the change of seasons that New York offered. “I actually love the cold weather,” she admitted. “I was also very open minded so I was ready for a change.”
Growing up in Sierra Leone, Stevens received her education at an all-girls school and upon graduating, she worked for their Parliament as a correspondent to the deputy speaker of the house. She grew up speaking English, so her transition to American life was not so difficult.
Never one to turn down opportunities, Stevens accepted temp jobs, cleaning jobs and “lots of other odd jobs” to make ends meet. After some time, she secured a position as a housekeeping dispatcher at the famed Plaza Hotel. “I saw my mother work hard and I knew that all I had to do was work hard to provide for myself,” she remembered.
That hard work paid off when she eventually was named director of housekeeping at the former Novotel Hotel in Midtown Manhattan—a position she held for more than 10 years. However, her new career had its price—Stevens was never able to take a vacation due to her job demands. It was only when her grandfather passed away that she was able to return to Sierra Leone for the funeral. “It was the first time in 10 years I was able to get away,” she recalled. “Back then, as an African American woman, my first concern was that I might lose my job when I got back.”
After a week’s stay in West Africa, Stevens returned with the news that the hotel would be downsizing. She was offered a position of office manager with the same benefits and salary, but would now be expected to clean a few rooms each week. “I was a single parent and needed the job, but I was also a hotel executive and they were asking me to do the same work as my line employees,” she said. “I told them that wouldn’t happen in this lifetime.”
Stevens resigned, only to be asked to come back again, which she declined to do. “My mother told me she was proud of me and invited me to take a long-needed break and visit her in Richmond, VA,” she added. So, not only did she visit Virginia, but she also took the opportunity to vacation to places like Amsterdam, Germany, Belgium and London.
After returning home to New York, she reviewed her next career options, but sought out a life insurance broker to ensure her family was protected. As it turns out, that was the best decision she could have made—the broker offered her a managerial job on the spot! “The broker actually came in late for his appointment with me and I told him ‘you could never work for me,” she laughed. “He told me no one had ever said that to him and wanted me to work with him!”
Stevens was managing the company part-time when she noticed that a real estate broker was sharing the office space. “She always came to work happy and drove a beautiful car,” she recalled. “That’s when I knew I wanted to look into the real estate business.”
After earning her license, Steven juggled both jobs, working countless hours, but soon realized that one of them had to go. “Once I started full time with real estate, I was soon making more money than I had ever made at the hotel,” she said. She became a top producer with Prudential On Track Realty, but eventually told her broker it was time for her to open her own business. That was in 1997, and Stevens has never looked back.
She maintains a small office with eight agents, has served as a NYSAR Director for many years, and is enjoying her first year as a member of the HGAR Board of Directors. She also served as president of the former Bronx Manhattan North Association of Realtors.
Active in her local community, Stevens is a member of the Bronx Chamber of Commerce and the Greater New York Chamber of Commerce. In addition, she’s always involved with events at her local church as well as fundraising for local charities. Stevens also loves spending time with her family, including three grown children and six grandchildren.
Best of all, after 28 years in real estate, Stevens now has time to take vacations. “I love to travel,” she said. “I promised myself that when I was finally able to do this I would wake up in London, have lunch in Paris and dinner in Amsterdam!”