We recently sat down with Alex Elkin from Eastbound Construction to learn about his professional journey and the state of development in Manhattan. Alex founded Eastbound Construction 10 years ago to assist owners and developers navigate the complex world of Real Estate Development and construction. The company has been responsible for building over 1.6 million square feet of development projects with development costs over $2.2 billion. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
When did you first take an interest in development and construction?
I had some odd jobs after college but nothing stuck. I started working in construction and it fit my personality. I realized pretty soon that this would be the beginning of a long-term career and so I went and got my Masters Degree from NYU, did the LEED® program, and spent my 20’s learning everything I possibly could about Development and Construction. By the time I was 30, I felt confident that I really knew what I was doing. By the time I was 35, I was confident enough in my skill set and my experience to start working privately for developers to help them navigate through the challenges in NYC development and construction.
What are some of the challenges developers face today?
In addition to the typical challenges – sourcing debt and equity, coordinating design teams, managing contractors…etc. – developers are now facing additional challenges due to uncertain pricing (trade wars, volatility in commodity pricing like steel and glass) as well as local politics. The recently-enacted rent laws in NYC, for example, changed the landscape for many, many developers / owners. And changes to government agencies, like the Department of Buildings or Landmarks Preservation Commission, add additional and unpredictable layers of uncertainty. It’s not the easiest time to be developing but many of our clients are still doing so successfully.
What is the initial meeting with a new client like?
They’re always interesting. Relatively new developers are (rightfully) concerned with being taken advantage of. And we’re here to protect them and guide them. Experienced developers are already aware of some of the risks and we can proactively mitigate them. The ones who come to us mid-project are always interesting because they’ve typically already run into issues and we map out the best way to get them back on course. Different skill set and different resources, but just as interesting.
Is there advice you’d offer someone who is looking to become a developer?
Being a successful developer requires the ability to do many different things at the same time. Speaking the language of finance (debt & equity), design (architecture & engineering), construction, insurance, legal…etc. My advice is always the same to people looking to get into development or construction – it takes at least 10 years before you become fluent enough in all those languages. So in the beginning, focus on one thing to become an expert in as quickly as possible. When you’re a plumber, your primary concern is plumbing and you don’t concern yourself with how to calculate interest reserve. And when you’re an insurance broker, you don’t have to worry as much about the difference between air-cooled and water-cooled mechanical systems. So pick something and learn everything about it. Then keep doing that over and over. And you’ll keep learning every day until you decide to retire.