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In thrall to transport

“Location, location, location” has always been the motto of the world of real estate. But Tom Epstein, experienced executive director of construction of the New York giant Levine Builders, adds an important qualification: “It’s location near transportation.”

"I know how buildings are put together,” Tom Epstein says. He has been active in the field since the late 1970s. We meet Tom in an impressive library paneled in veneered American walnut in his last project in Brooklyn. For the past 30 years he has been part of Levine Builders, one of New York’s pioneering Real Estate Development and Construction companies-one that sets itself apart from the competition in a number of ways. Together with two other companies it forms a group- started and headed by its Chairman, Jeff Levine - that handles the entire development process. Douglaston Development seeks out promising properties, acquires them and obtains financing and the necessary permits. Clinton Management handles the management and maintenance of the completed building. In between, the projects are built by Levine Builders with the largest headed up by Tom Epstein. “Over the course of my career I’ve gained experience on all aspects of construction with the result that I can effectively manage the entire construction process.” The combination of three sister companies cooperatively working together results in a huge advantage. If a problem arises, everyone works together to solve it instead of pointing fingers at each other.

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Jeff Levine personally focuses on acquiring sites. “Timing is everything in this business,” Tom notes. If Mr. Levine believes there is a good chance that a project will succeed, the company retains a suitable Architect. Close cooperation is created while they run through details from the building’s schematic design to the last finishing touches. Each design phase generates its own challenges. “Take the flooring of an apartment for instance,” Tom explains. “With owner-occupied apartments you can provide virtually any type of wood. An apartment for rent is a completely different story. There we have to have flooring that can withstand repeated move ins and outs, careless tenants and need product that can be replaced easily.” The Development team and Levine Builders often involve a marketing agent when brainstorming with the Architect and interior designers. It is important for the team to design apartments that set themselves apart from those of the competition. “The marketing challenge is to show that our apartments are superior to our competitors at the same price and size. “For example, at our latest project, 2 North 6th Place, we opted for an American Walnut rather than a typical oak for the flooring. Not many developers would do that for a rental building.”

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However, the appearance of the building and the apartments is not the whole story, Tom emphasizes. The location of the building is often where most buyers and renters start. Here the issue is not merely the distance to the place of work, but also the ease with which people can bridge this distance. Considering the high cost of housing in New York you would like to be able to walk to work or have easy access to public transport. The loss of this access from natural disasters can have an unexpected negative impact on the real estate market. In 2012 the US East Coast was hit by Hurricane Sandy, which caused enormous material devastation and flooded several tunnels under the East River. Upon investigation it became clear that the Canarsie subway tunnel between Brooklyn and Manhattan urgently needed structural and mechanical repairs, which required that it be temporarily closed for several months starting in 2019 and commuters would not be able to use the popular L subway line. “There are alternatives, such as the ferry and other surface means of transport, but there is a possibility there will be a perceptible effect on rental and real estate prices in the short term,” Tom says. “However, the effect will disappear over the longer term.”

Tom Epstein - Levine Builders

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