Vitali Feldman, Founder and President, graduated magna cum laude in finance from Pace University in New York, in 2006. After a brief stint working within the finance industry for Merrill Lynch and Smith Barney, he decided that it wasn’t for him, and he wanted to apply his skillset elsewhere. “When I started thinking about focusing on something I would enjoy more, I ended up getting into the real estate sector,” Vitali opens. “I could directly transfer my knowledge of financing, structuring deals, and daily operations management too. What’s more, I take great joy in creating something new, starting a new project is like giving birth to a new baby every day, and I have four kids! There’s a limit with children, but the possibilities with real estate are unlimited.
“Anyway, this must have been around 2007, because shortly after I joined, the market crashed. This provided me with the perfect entry point to home renovations, so I started by buying and flipping something small, which soon turned into a second project, then a third. Before long, I was at the level where I had multiple renovations on the go alongside a new construction, but I was obviously constrained by money back in those earlier days. It took me a while to get to the point where I am now, capital-wise, but I am the first generation who started this business, it’s not like I inherited it from my father or grandfather. That is ultimately the beginning of Rock Solid Builders.
“Today, the business specializes in new construction, but overall we are a real estate development company based out of New Jersey,” he continues. “We do everything from building new properties to sub-divisions with multiple houses, townhouse developments, apartment buildings and mixed-use structures. We develop from the ground up, and so far, we’re probably close to 600 or 700 completed projects. I’d say 90 percent of our custom comes in the form of spec buildings, which we finish and then sell. It’s not common for us to take a call from a client who’s asking us to build something specific. Fat Joe is among the various celebrity clients who have purchased one of our properties in recent years; he came across something I was building while he was shopping around for a new place, so we met him personally and he fell in love with the house.”
RSB operates with a philosophy to not just build houses, but to design stunning homes where clients love to live, which celebrate family life in all of its aspects. In doing so, it delivers value through a combination of rigorous analysis, hands-on management and innovative design. “We never cut corners,” Vitali states, “and we are never looking to make our money, then cut loose. We have been around for a long time and take great pride in what we do, for our incredibly loyal customer base. People are always referring us to their family members, and the majority of our homes are sold before they have a chance to hit the market. We have word-of-mouth to thank for our high number of off-market sales.
“We use top-quality products, finishes and appliances to help us deliver higher-end properties where people can live happily. We never receive complaints or have to revisit homes to repair issues. In some cases it may mean that we make a little less but it’s worth it for the value we can add. We invest in everything from faucets, plumbing, interior doors and windows to trim, molding, and kitchen cabinets; everything is high-end and real wood, not the cheaper Home Depot stuff. People notice these details and appreciate it. Those in the market who are visiting three or four other properties can always see the difference when they walk into an RSB home. I take pride in every house that I build, so it would be impossible to choose a favorite. We’re currently managing between 30 and 40 per year, but as they’re on the more expensive end of the scale, we can really utilize the nicer features and finishes to make them stand out. That just isn’t possible with cheaper projects, as you can’t make all of that money back.”
The business’ pipeline for 2023 currently features over 200 units in total, including three townhouse developments, multiple single-family homes and rentals, and a large apartment building that is currently awaiting approval. “We mainly operate in Bergen County, New Jersey, and we try to stay local and control our main market. Being so close to New York City has implications on the availability of lots and development land parcels, so I generally try to focus on the bigger deals and, in the meantime, fill the gaps with spec houses. That’s how you evolve from renovations to construction and multi-construction to larger opportunities. The next big step for us would be high-rise buildings, but you don’t get to just jump up three steps like that, you need to climb the ladders slowly to get where you want to be.”
Desirable by design
Unlike many members of the modern home building community, whose businesses were devastated by the necessary lockdowns, Vitali cites the pandemic to have helped RSB a lot, as he details: “We had enjoyed a steady market until the pandemic hit and brought everything construction levels to continue with our projects, and reach out to lenders, then there was a crazy boom. People started flooding to New Jersey from New York and we managed to sell our entire inventory of around 20 houses in just a couple of months. People had become scared of the big buildings and elevators, and wanted to be able to play outside with their kids.
“The rush didn’t stop, even after COVID eased, not until the interest rates started to rise. Before this point, the prices had risen with the sudden increase in demand, but they were still affordable on account of people getting mortgages at 2.75 percent. There’s been a huge spike in the costs of building materials, and the availability of finishes, appliances and fixtures has been knocked back by the nine-to-twelve month wait times, which meant there were houses under construction that companies couldn’t complete for sale. Luckily, I have a kitchen cabinetry showroom and my own building material supply house, so I had plenty of stock to still deliver everything we were building.
“Given that I’m 90 percent based in the spec market, RSB has felt the reactionary slump following the drop in affordability caused by the interest rates rising, however even that is starting to fade. People are starting to realize that houses cost more to build now, that’s just the way it is, and that two or three percent mortgages were a rarity of the past. The economy is still doing well and there is still a demand for housing. Real estate this close to New York isn’t going to drop in price any time soon, which is why we are seeing the uptick in buyers. They are coming back, they are getting mortgages, this is the new reality.”