How a Real Estate Developer Rode the Economic Roller Coaster

Two brothers who began developing property in their 20s have stayed in the business they love through hard times.
April 11, 2012

After 30 years in real estate development, Paul Silverman isn’t afraid of failure. Silverman and his brother Eric were in their 20s in 1981 when they purchased their first property in the Paulus Hook neighborhood of downtown Jersey City, N.J.

Drawn to the area’s proximity to Wall Street and its rich history, they saw potential in a place that had been relatively void of redevelopment.

They paid $90,000 for a crumbling, rundown building and borrowed $400,000 from a bank to rehab it. They were quickly able to rent out the units to tenants. Three years later, they made a total of $1.5 million selling the 14 units.

But despite their early success, they crashed. When the economic downturn hit in the late '80s, they lost everything.

“Everything fell apart,” Silverman says. “I think the biggest trigger was one of our main banks went out of business. It really hurt our operations.”

Rather than leave the profession, the brothers decided to rebuild.

“We still loved real estate," he says. "What we got out of it was learning so much: How to deal with adversity, how to keep moving, how to put one foot in front of the other. There are so many blocks put in our way every time. So, we are almost not afraid of anything now, because we went through such hard, hard times.”

The brothers stuck with Jersey City, building more than a dozen developments. Many are repurposed old buildings and play on their property's former lives. The Park Foundry development was once a brass foundry. And their newest development, Hamilton Square, took over the old St. Francis Hospital building.

“Our formula has been trying to take dumpy, rundown buildings and neighborhoods and fix them up and make them beautiful,” Silverman explains.

Silverman Building creates residential developments, but Silverman says the business is about more than that. The company’s slogan is “building neighborhoods.”

The Hamilton Square development has 14 small businesses, the majority of which are new and locally owned. The development team selected each retailer, helping them throughout the financing and permitting process, which can be notoriously difficult in Jersey City.

To Silverman, it’s about making their buildings fun places to live.

“In college, I was the social chairman of our fraternity,” he explains, adding that experience comes into this endeavor on a bigger scale. "We want people to enjoy living where they live.”

While being a business owner has its up and downs, Silverman says he can’t really see himself in any other career.

“Being an entrepreneur is an exciting profession,” he says. "Developing real estate is what we’ve chosen to do. It’s just so rewarding. I would certainly recommend it to anyone that has that entrepreneurial spirit.”

Photo credit: Melanie Hicken