Up-Close with Vivek Singh, Singh Properties: Reflections on a Success 25+ Years in the Making
NEWARK, NJ – One of the most promising and welcome aspects of any conversation about New Jersey multi-family real estate has got to be the localness of it all. No matter how big or brassy the highrises across the Garden State get, you can’t get too deep into a discussion without touching upon one of the local families who have been instrumental in creating the skyline of today. And more often than not, the stories of those families start off twenty years ago or more. That’s why CapRE invited Vivek Singh, Principal at Singh Properties to the New Jersey Apartment Summit and asked him to share how his family’s firm got to where it is today, as well as where they came from. Below is an early snippet of the Q&A Singh provided to the gathering of 400+ New Jersey insiders.
Klebash: Let’s start with how your company started. It’s a very interesting and very successful story about a great growth pattern. You’re a great privately held company growing in a market that has been changing over the past several years. So why don’t we start with the formation of your company and how it started? It’s a very interesting story.
Singh: The company that we have today, my mother started 40 years ago. She came here with nothing but her own wits and she built a real estate portfolio in Jersey City. Even back then in the 1980s, when she started buying in Jersey City, almost every deal she looked at didn’t make sense for ma financial standpoint. So if you don’t have money and your assets are going to be thread, she really had to look at value-add plays and the first property she ever bought, in a Greenville section of Jersey City, is still in our portfolio.
And she built it just from that one property to a few hundred properties. You could go to pretty much any block throughout Jersey City, especially from Greenville to Journal Square to the Heights, and she owned a property almost on every other block. Now she is much older and in the 2000s, she started liquidating the portfolio. I was working at a law firm and my sister was in private equity funds. She really managed this incredible portfolio with herself, one maintenance person and one building superintendent. And now when I look at everything we use to manage the same portfolio, about the same size today, we have so much more personnel and so many more resources available to ourselves. And she was able to do it with paper and pencil – keeping track of all of her tenants and all of her bank accounts.
During that time she build tremendous relationships with vendors throughout Jersey City. People often know me as “Mrs. Singh’s son.” That was where I started piggy-backing. Seven or eight years ago, I left the law firm world and said, let’s start building that back up again. So we started buying very aggressively, primarily in Journal Square. Some of the other sub-markets of Jersey City and Hudson County.
Klebash: So it started with one building. And what year was that?
Singh: She first bought a 36 unit building on Ocean Avenue. It was 1988. Back then it was a very, very rough area. From that building she built everything, but Jersey City was a much different place than it is today. If you go downtown to any sub-market in Jersey City, you are going to see massive development today. The level of sophistication that a lot of developers have brought – they’ve changed it. Downtown was a dump when I was growing up. Aside from Newport ball and Avalon bay, there was nothing. The developers who build the skyscrapers and the beautiful five or six story buildings, they have stabilized those communities. They’ve brought in the retail and they’ve really made Jersey City an attractive place to live.
Klebash: Tell us about the total portfolio now. What do you have in development right now?
Singh: We own a few hundred units. We have one property remaining in Union City. Union City I’m not very fond of, which I’m sure many investors are not. We are going to leave that municipality. We have some in Hoboken. We have condos and multi-family there and in Weehawken as well. But Bayonne and Jersey City, predominantly Jersey City, that is where we primarily will be focused. The smaller municipalities are not operating, I don’t think, at the same professional level that Jersey City does. Jersey City is an easier place to do business. There’s more development.