DDC Journal Features Kislak Organization
Building on its 106 years of experience, the Miami Lakes-based Kislak Organization invests in a variety of asset classes and industries, including real estate, financial services and tax certificates.
“We have a long history through different cycles,” says Thomas Bartelmo, Kislak President and CEO. “We have an excellent track record of success, and even when we have stumbled, which many people have in the past several years, we have had the ability to deal with issues and the resilience tomove forward.”
Established in 1906, the organization invests on behalf of the Kislak family and its partners. The company currently owns and manages a multifamily portfolio of about 2,700 units.
“We are a family business with a significant amount of capital, so we are able to do things in a fashion that others may not be able to,” Bartelmo says. “When you have family money you can go in any direction you see fit, as opposed to holding to a location and an area. We can go wherever we sense there’s an opportunity.”
Kislak operates in and has a strong knowledge of various markets throughout Florida, Bartelmo says. “We have had deals in many of the major markets here because Florida is really our backyard,” he says. “We understand the state, we understand the markets well and we look for opportunities. It’s a growing state. People want to come here.”
The firm also successfully owns and operates multifamily properties in other markets, including Tucson, Arizona; Las Vegas, Nevada; and Dallas, Texas. While not as large as the Phoenix area portfolio, Tucson has presented a number of opportunities for Kislak that other firms have missed.
“Tucson is a little off the beaten path, so we were able to find some opportunities out there,” Bartelmo says. “One of the family members lives out there, so we have some good on-the-ground local knowledge. It’s not a huge metropolis, but it’s a million-person city and there are a few different facets of industry and job creation. Hopefully that population grows.”
We are a family business with a significant amount of capital, so we are able to do things in a fashion that others may not be able to.
– Thomas Bartelmo, President & CEO, The Kislak Organization
In Las Vegas, the firm has experienced success, although the most recent economic downturn has greatly impacted the area and presented challenges.
“Las Vegas is really interesting,” Bartelmo says. “Much like the people in the casinos, we’ve had the highest highs and some of the lowest lows, and I think that’s just indicative of what that market has been. It was one of the fastest growing markets and now they are still sitting at close to 13 percent unemployment. We rode the rise and had some good quality deals, and now we’re dealing with a more difficult environment there.”
While the firm is often not the highest bidder when acquiring properties, Kislak tries to find properties that can benefit from its expertise. In the past, by using its team’s skills and family capital, the firm has had success and has added value to properties overlooked by larger firms.
“There are so many deals that are floating around right now, and there are so many people that go after the deals, that we try to avoid just being another group putting a number out in the auction process,” Bartelmo says. “We’re always looking for something that, for whatever reason, might be a little bit below the masses’ radar screen where we might have some unique qualifications.”
The ability to innovate and thrive is a hallmark of the Kislak Organization. A prime example is its New Jersey-based brokerage firm, which is the oldest part of the organization.
“It was originally started by the father of our current patriarch,” Bartelmo says. “The business flowed from residential to commercial real estate sales, with a multifamily specialty. By most accounts, we are the largest broker of multifamily properties in and around New Jersey. We also work in Pennsylvania, New York and Delaware. This year, we are aiming to achieve half a billion in sales. We have 25 salespeople, a great support staff and an excellent reputation. While our primary focus is multifamily sales, we also handle retail, office and other commercial sales.”
In 2009, Kislak launched its newest venture – investing in tax lien certificates. The move has proven highly successful. “Given the current volatility in the stock market and the projected yields of comparable investment alternatives, including certificates of deposit and investment-grade bonds, it is clear tax certificates offer a substantially better yield and represent a far more appealing investment,” Bartelmo says. By the end of 2012, Kislak’s tax certificate investments are expected to exceed $140 million.
Throughout Kislak’s rich history, the firm has had many different types of experiences. As it moves forward, Bartelmo hopes to continue to grow the company.
“We’ve been in banking, mortgage banking, real estate ownership and brokerage, and now we do tax certificates,” he says. “We have been involved in a vast array of undertakings through the years. Our goals and aspirations are to take our current ventures and grow them on an even larger scale.”