Founded in 2001 by Albert Dweck, Duke Properties has grown into a real estate investment and management firm focused primarily on multifamily residential properties, including an innovative co-living model. Duke Properties currently owns and manages more than 500 multifamily rental apartment units across 30 properties in New York City and New Jersey.
We sat down with the founder to learn more.
Let’s go back in time over the last twenty-two years. Can you tell us about Duke Properties and how you first got started?
Duke Properties’ mission is to reliably create communities where our residents are connected to live safe, successful, and happy lives. We’re about providing good housing for people, mostly young professionals and small families. We buy and renovate older building assets in the emerging markets of New York City to both maximize building values and provide good and convenient housing. We know that 40% of New Yorkers are living together to afford the rent, so we build shared apartments that are along the subway lines and in areas that are not only more affordable, but that are also becoming destinations in and of themselves (for example in Bushwick, Ridgewood, and Bed Stuy).
I started buying and renting houses more than 20 years ago, then quickly graduated to buildings, first in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, then eventually in Brooklyn where I was born and bred. My New York-focused operation started when I bought a distressed property through a connection, then improved and sold it. The journey since that time has had ups and downs, but we’re still focused primarily on apartment buildings in New York City as well as single family houses in New Jersey.
You mentioned a respectability that you’re trying to create with the homes that you’re building. How do you balance the efficiency that your business requires with the experience that you’re looking to provide your tenants?
In the last few years, we’ve found a trend emerging called co-living. We’re now one of the leading landlords in the city that does co-living with quality. Real estate is a penny, nickel, and dime business, and it’s all about the margins and operational execution. We saw a real opportunity to maximize margins while providing quality housing and unique services for people that are interested in co-living and who were already doing that informally.
In our co-living spaces, people no longer need to figure out the split of furniture ownership, cleaning responsibilities, household purchases, utility bills, or roommate changes. We’re giving people more flexibility and community that they didn’t have before, while taking away some of the friction that can come with a shared household.
After you identified this business opportunity for co-living, how did you move forward with the idea?
In the beginning, we had buildings that we were fixing, and young people were sharing them anyway. After we had already accumulated a host of assets, new property management companies entered the market to introduce the service-side of the co-living concept, and we began signing deals with them.
What have been some reflection points for you as you’ve grown the business?
Whenever you're transacting, there are three parts: risk, costs, and return. Risk and costs are guaranteed, and return is not. So when you're looking at new opportunities, you’re trying to invest to produce a new business. The key is to find something that lights you up and that you’re passionate about. I’m passionate about helping people and creating real estate, which is owning assets that appreciate over long periods of time.
Technology has changed a lot since you got started. What role does technology play for you and your business?
Technology has enabled us to improve internal and external communication, coordination, cooperation, and the rate at which we learn. We see it as our responsibility to improve in those ways with technology. We can manage more properties and manage them more efficiently with technology. It allows us to respond to our residents faster and more effectively, as we can be more aware of what’s going on in real time.
Now, for a few one word answers:
Would you rather give up email or your phone for a day? Email.
What is your superpower? Being a visionary.
Name one thing you never leave home without. Wallet.
To learn more from Albert, visit his YouTube series, Ask the Landlord.
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