When Erik Kaiser graduated from college in 1992, one thing was certain: He wasn't interested in getting a job. No 9-to-5s, no bosses, no cubicles. What Kaiser wanted was to build something of his own, but at the time he wasn't sure what that was. So he explored his options and found what he was looking for in the real estate offices of Hoboken, N.J.
“I liked real estate but didn't know much about it,” says 36-year-old Kaiser. “So I would hang out in offices picking up the lingo and understanding the market.” Professionally dressed and driving his parents' car, Kaiser played the part of a possible investor and picked up important information along the way. Not long after, he was buying property. Kaiser purchased two condominiums with graduation money, savings, and a mortgage on his mother's home, then bought a 13-unit building. By 1994 he had acquired so much property that forming a company seemed like the next logical step. Hoboken-based REMI Co. was born, and the then-24-year-old Kaiser was the do-it-yourself president and founder.
“When I bought my first properties, I did all the painting and all the carpentry that needed to be done,” says Kaiser. “I changed the toilets and cleaned the units and sanded the floors. I liked that because it gave me a sense of value.”
In fact, Kaiser continued to be the financial backer, realtor, and construction manager on his developments for the next seven years. It wasn't until 2001 that he no longer worked at each job site, and in 2003 he finally took on a financial partner. What was once REMI Co. has now evolved into REMI Cos., with four separate operations: development, construction, realty, and home loans. The last, known as REMI Capital, was established in 2002, and is now the largest mortgage banker for the Hispanic community in New Jersey.
“He saw that there wasn't a Hispanic mortgage company out there,” says Rob Orrok, vice president of REMI Capital. Orrok says Kaiser ran with the idea, going into the heart of Hispanic communities in New Jersey and finding clients. Since its beginnings, funding has grown every year, topping out at $200 million in residential mortgages last year. “Business has been great,” Orrok says.
Kendra Pisarra, senior vice president at REMI Cos., says that when she came on board in 2002, the company had five people and Kaiser was outlining big plans for expansion. “Five years later, all those companies he was talking about exist,” says Pisarra. “He recognizes idea-makers. He has a great ability to assemble good people.”
Kaiser's “Better” brand product in Yonkers, N.Y., illustrates that skill. Better at Glenwood, a $250 million mixed-use development, is an international effort. The product is characterized by a diverse and global development team. Designed by Will Alsop of London's SMC Alsop architecture firm, Better will be Alsop's first project in the United States. Kaiser hopes to expand the brand internationally.
“We're just doing what we're doing, and people want to be a part of it,” says Kaiser. “That's really exciting.”
Malorie R. Medellin is a freelance writer in Hobart, Ind.