Sky-high housing prices have pushed home ownership beyond the reach of millions of workers, including many in the remodeling field. “These people are in the business of renovating all day long,” says John McCloskey (Big50 2005), who owns J. Francis Co., Pittsburgh. “For them not to own their house is heartbreaking.”

So he's doing something about it, on a number of levels.

One, McCloskey buys fixer-uppers that he then sells to long-time employees who wouldn't otherwise be able to qualify for a mortgage, due to credit or other problems. “I am the bank,” McCloskey says. “I sell them the property and we have a closing ceremony, but I take back the mortgage note.” His mortgages are typically for five years, yet employees' monthly payments are comparable to rents, as the homes tend to be fixer-uppers in ungentrified areas.

Two, McCloskey has a separate company that renovates houses and then rents them. One renter is an employee who, come next January, will buy that home. “Two years ago, I said that if he would contribute an additional $50 per pay period, I would match it,” McCloskey says. The $6,800 sum total will become the down payment. “The nice thing is that it's a duplex, so he'll also have an income.”

Three, sometimes McCloskey simply walks employees and long-time subs through the process of buying a home.

In virtually all of these scenarios, McCloskey encourages the new homeowners to peruse his 22,000-square-foot office/ warehouse for recycled building materials. This “closed system” keeps these items from the waste stream, he says, and slashes employees' remodeling expenses.

McCloskey says that buying and selling properties is surprisingly easy, and that loan-analysis software is simple to use. He's not making money by selling properties to employees, but he isn't losing money either.

Nor is he losing good people. Home-ownership, he asserts, “gives a great amount of satisfaction and really starts some financial security.”