For developers, building better communities trumps one-off rehabs

When people hear the phrase “real estate development,” new builds, specifically new houses, often come to mind.

However, The Metropreneur recently caught up with three local development companies whose primary mission is renovating existing properties and transforming neighborhoods one home at a time. In fact, the leadership at all three companies emphasized their desire to make a difference wherever they work.

“In real estate development, how and what we create has a lasting impact on people and our environment,” says John Delia, real estate developer at JSD Holdings Group LLC. “While exploring neighborhoods in Columbus, I’ve noticed effects of previous housing cycles. What makes us different is our vision beyond our single parcel or project.”

Justin Campbell doesn’t really consider Trustworthy Investments LLC, of which he is co-owner and president,  a development company per se. Instead, he says its focus is “reshaping neighborhoods.”

RL Partners LLC has renovated houses in the Ohio State University campus area, Westerville, and Upper Arlington, but Peter Lohmann says he and his co-founder, Adam Rich, would like to grow their company to the point where they can have “an identifiable impact” on a whole neighborhood.

Both Lohmann and Campbell say their companies mainly renovate single-family homes, with Trustworthy Investments having fixed up properties in Clintonville, Westerville, Linden, Whitehall, Merion Village, German Village, and Northtowne.

Delia described his firm’s work in broader terms.

“The investments we make are based off our assessment that a potential property is significantly undervalued or presents an opportunity to outperform the marketplace,” he says. “We look past the surface and rely on fundamental principles.”

JSD Holdings Group has renovated property “all over the city of Columbus,” but is currently concentrating on the Near East Side and Near South Side, he says.

Though current economic conditions haven’t been so great for, say, your 401K, the developers we spoke to say it’s generally had a positive impact on their businesses.

“While the economy has really devastated a lot of sectors, real estate development, particularly with regard to renovation of existing homes as opposed to the building of new ones, actually has an interesting story,” Lohmann says. ” Right now conditions for buying, renovating, and holding real estate just could not be better: cheap homes and very low interest rates. It’s hard to overstate how powerful that is from a real estate development perspective.”

There is more supply than demand, which has made it a buyer’s market, says Jeremy Ambrose, co-owner and CEO of Trustworthy Investments.

It’s arguable that such favorable buying conditions mean development companies have more opportunities to provide quality housing options, which might explain why the ones featured here aren’t content with just buying a property, fixing it up, selling or renting it, and moving on, with no thought to its future.

“I’m hoping to build a better Columbus for today and down the road,” Delia says. “We hope to use our development as a model for other communities.”

Delia also operates Urban Alchemy, an action-oriented 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that works to increase occupancy and foster economic growth in overlooked communities, and promote personal pride among residents.

Campbell says, ultimately, he wants to give clients and communities “peace of mind knowing that they can walk away from their unwanted property, turn what was once an eyesore into a neighbor next door, into a good home that can hold a family again.”

Lohmann and Rich dream of buying an entire city block and turning it around.

“Renovate the properties, all new sidewalks and utilities, everything,” Lohmann says. “A lot like what they’re doing with Weinland Park− it’s just really fantastic.”