Family run real estate firm The Dolben Company is determined to enhance communities through the creation of beautiful homes 

Built on a dynamic approach and a family inspired culture, The Dolben Company has been developing and managing best-in-class multifamily communities throughout the New England, Mid-Atlantic, and Southwest Florida markets since 1929.  

Modern Home Builders sat down with key members from Dolben’s leadership and development team to discuss the company’s esteemed history, the key to its success and what the future holds for the 95-year-old multifamily development and management company.  

Ascent at Metropolitan Naples“I’m President of The Dolben Company, a family-owned real estate business originally formed in 1929,” begins Deane Dolben. “Along with my brother Drew, we are the fourth generation of the Dolben family to run the company. Our father, Donald, was Chairman until his recent passing. We have worked together to build upon each generation’s legacy to form Dolben as it is today – a real estate management and development company focused exclusively on apartment communities in the multifamily space. Today, we manage a little over 16,000 units of housing.

“We’re vertically integrated, in that we manage, acquire, and develop apartment communities. The majority of our portfolio is properties for which Drew and I are the principals and have put together with various outside investors, but we also operate in professional third-party fee management, which has always been part of our business,” Deane continues. 

The company’s relationship-first approach to investment helps to maximize value and create something extraordinary with its partners. Dolben’s steady growth has been facilitated by an ability to affiliate and partner with investors seeking returns from real estate investments. Through joint ventures and private syndications, Dolben has been flexible in structuring real estate partnerships with both institutional capital and high net worth individuals. The company has been strategic in offering deals to equity sources who share its investment philosophy and recognize its four generations of management skill.  

The personal touch 

Drew Dolben, Executive Vice President, joins the conversation. “As Deane explained,” he begins, “we have two main business focuses; building multifamily housing and managing it after it has been built. In the late 1980s, we began expanding our focus from just managing existing property to building ground-up new developments. We took the knowledge we’d gleaned from managing housing and implemented that understanding into the design of new projects to create communities in which people would want to live and would be able to live well. We have continued to grow over the last 30 years by applying that knowledge and understanding to the neighborhoods in our geographic footprint, creating unique apartment communities that complement their location.” 

From beautifully designed garden apartments and high spec urban infill mid-rise projects to a challenging 15-story high-rise development, Dolben draws on the collective knowledge of four generations of real estate professionals to deliver best-in-class solutions down to the detail. With a keen understanding of the time and value it takes to create a quality product, the strategy for each project is designed to maximize each investment’s potential.  

“We are involved from the very beginning; from the permitting stages through concept design to development,” John O’Connor, Senior Vice President of Development adds. “We communicate with our property management team to understand requirements in terms of amenities, finishes, and product types; those details that will drive rental interest as well as make the properties easier to maintain for long-term cost efficiency. 

“We also liaise with the architects and have an on-site presence in the form of project managers and quality assurance managers. A lot of other developers are not as involved as Dolben is in the day-to-day running of a job, but we meet with the general contractor to walk the site, execute inspections, and ensure quality expectations are met.”  

Stunning developments 

With a core value of stewardship, coupled with extensive industry experience, Dolben maximizes each investment’s potential. As industry-leading experts with an innovative mindset, the company always puts its residents first, working tirelessly to create communities’ people are proud to call home. From site selection through to construction — no development detail is too small.  

The Dolben team also recognizes the significant role it plays in the lives of its customers. Investing in communities is not just good business sense – it’s also a responsibility. “The communities we serve have placed trust in us as stewards of their housing and real estate, and we remain deeply committed to honoring this responsibility. We work very hard to earn that trust. We’re stewards of our residents’ homes as well as of the capital of those who invest alongside us,” Deane enthuses. 

“General contractors, architects, and design teams tend to prefer to work with companies like ours because we are clear about our expectations. As such, we’ve repeatedly used the same design team and general contractors, and many of their subcontractors, in turn, will follow them. This helps to ensure the construction process is as smooth as possible, which gives us an advantage over many competitors, alongside our focus on product efficiency and market acceptability,” Drew elaborates. 

“Being on site and working with the general contractor,” adds Joe Dolben, Vice President of Development, “facilitates real-time decision making, which streamlines operations and reduces lengthy delays and their associated costs.” 

Joe introduces an example of the stunning developments Dolben delivers, to illustrate how the business’ approach stands out from the crowd. “In terms of the types of projects we undertake, we endeavor not to limit ourselves to a specific niche. We’ve worked on unique projects such as our Caro Tuscan Village development, which is a five-story, mid-rise building of 260 apartments centered around an internal courtyard with great space for community living.” 

John continues: “We had several meetings with town officials on the building side and worked with them to enable safe and partial occupancy about a year earlier than would have been possible if we’d had to wait for project completion. This was crucial from a return-on-investment perspective.”  Ascent at Metropolitan Naples

Community & lifestyle 

“Likewise, the 15-story project in Naples, Ascent at Metropolitan Naples, is particularly unique,” Drew states. “Most of the properties in that area are low-rise, but the county has recently established a district specifically for high-rise buildings. We were able to negotiate with a local landowner to secure a unique opportunity to deliver a project at height in a market where similar properties are all four or five stories high. The apartments will be available for rent, offering a new, urban housing opportunity for renters across the city in a market that we think will readily accept high-rise apartments. Of the 15 stories, six will feature secure parking, and we have several floors for amenities, such as a barbeque deck over the garage, a dog walking area, and an outdoor pool and sun deck. We continue to look for those niche opportunities where we can create something unique and desirable to fulfil the housing demand.” 

Indeed, rather than focusing on one specific style, Dolben is adaptable to the market. With an increase in demand for ‘live, work, play’ style properties, where apartments are located close to offices and leisure amenities, people are now seeing the entire community as an extension of the home and are looking for properties that facilitate this lifestyle. 

“We’re in a fortunate part of the world where there are more people looking for a place to live than there are actual homes available,” Drew shares. “We’ve become particularly effective at showcasing how our products can fit seamlessly into local communities. We find that once we complete a project, any fears surrounding disruption are alleviated and people embrace the new addition to the neighborhood.”  

Knowledge & lessons 

As a family-owned business, Dolben’s leaders share the common purpose of trying to be the best at what they do and strive to achieve that goal with their 450-employee-strong workforce. Several employees have been with the company for a decade or more and one of the driving reasons for this is the family feel of the organization. Committed to fostering an inclusive and collaborative company culture, Dolben inspires personal and professional growth.  

“From my personal experience,” shares Joe, “growing up in the company and being involved in the business from a young age, it’s special to see the level of commitment and decision making from both my father’s and uncle’s perspectives. When you have a family business like this, there is a vast level of institutional knowledge and lessons learned that get passed down the generations and throughout the rest of the organization.” 

Looking to the future, the company has several apartment communities in its pipeline waiting for development. With the rise in interest rates and cost of capital, the cost of project and construction prices are also rising. “While the cost side of the business continues to accelerate,” Drew adds, “rents have not kept pace.” 

“Likewise,” shares Deane, “if we don’t get a certain amount of rent, we can’t afford to justify the risk of building the apartments. So, we have several projects in our pipeline that are currently on hold while we create a solution to the puzzle of getting costs and revenue in line. In the meantime, we have some beautiful communities that are ready to go and if we can creatively come up with a solution, we’ll be very excited to start them.”  

The future generation 

“We have a number of beautiful apartment communities ready to develop,” Drew reveals. “We’re currently working on a community of 230 units in Acton, Massachusetts, a western suburb of Boston. This is a spectacular waterfront property located on the Assabet River. Our construction partners are working very hard to try and give us the best prices possible, so, we’re continuing to be optimistic. If we can get through this cycle, hopefully interest rates will normalize and prices will dip a little, then we’ll be in a great place to continue delivering new housing opportunities in places where they are needed.” 

Deane concludes: “The future is focused on training the fifth generation of which Joe is part, to confidently take the business forward and continue our success. We’re very proud to have the fifth generation with us to share our passion for owning, operating, and developing multifamily housing. We will continue to look for opportunities to develop our portfolio up and down the East Coast of the US, partnering with investors that share our philosophy and the benefits of owning real estate for the long haul.”