David Bistricer is CEO of Clipper Equity, a real estate firm started by his father in the 1950s. Today, the Orthodox Jewish family owns 60 buildings, with thousands of residential units, in New York and New Jersey. In 2005, the family firm bought Flatbush Gardens, a sprawling rent-controlled complex in Brooklyn . The company has also partnered with the Chetrit Group to buy five properties, including the Sony Building at 550 Madison, which the developers paid $1.1 billion for and are converting into condos topped by a $150 million penthouse. The firm is currently in the process of selling part of its portfolio in an initial public offering, with the goal of raising $144 million by launching a real-estate investment trust named Clipper Equity on the New York Stock Exchange.
Where were you born?
Brussels. My father was in Budapest [during World War II] in hiding and my mother was in Auschwitz. They’re from the same town in Czechoslovakia and reunited in Budapest. They came to the U.S. in 1951 when I was two.
Have you lived in Borough Park since?
Yes, I lived on 14th and 47th streets, and then moved literally across the street. Now I live between 16th and 17th on the other side, on 51st Street. I also have a summer home in South Fallsburg in the Catskills.
How did your dad get started in real estate?
He was in the coffee business in Brussels. They used to bring it from the Congo. When he came to New York, he started buying real estate on the West Side. Prices were depressed. It’s pretty amazing. He didn’t know the language but he started buying buildings.
Did you always know you’d join the family business?
I never worked anywhere else, which my father says is my biggest problem. I used to come here during lunchtime when I was in yeshiva. I went to yeshiva through high school and then studied the Torah until I was 26 or 27. Then I came to the business.
What kind of student were you?
I still study everyday. I start at 6 a.m. with two chavrusas [study partners]. We study Talmud. Then I do Daf Yomi [a daily Torah study] with my son in Lakewood, New Jersey. We do it on the phone. I come into the office around 9:30 a.m.
You have five children. How many grandchildren?
We don’t count them. People don’t like to count to [avoid] the eyin hara, the evil eye. It doesn’t translate so well into English.
What do you like about real estate?
In the food business, the product is perishable. In the fashion business, things go out of style. But a home is a home. Nobody has figured out how to import a home or import land. It’s very stable, so I thought it was a good thing to do.
In 2007, you had the winning bid to buy Starrett City, but it was nixed by elected officials. What’re your thoughts about losing that deal?
The truth is, it was a Mitchell-Lama complex and under my contract, I didn’t have the right to take it out of the program. I had a meeting with Sen. Charles Schumer, and he said, ‘I have to refuse your [offer] because it’s coming on the heels of Stuy Town, and we, as government [officials], can’t let another one gentrify.’ They had to come up with something, so they started saying all kinds of different reasons, but the truth is they wanted to keep this rent-subsidized for [middle-class] workers. It would have been a fantastic deal because the rents were low and slowly the rents would go up. But it wasn’t destined to be.
Clipper landed on a “worst landlords” list a few years back because of violations at Flatbush Gardens. Have you fixed those problems?
When we bought it, there were 12,000 violations. Now there are maybe 500. That was done by putting in an enormous amount of capital — $20 million.
Clipper was banned from selling co-ops and condos in the 1998. Was that a fair ruling?
Somebody wrote that and people were trying to cast it that way, but it’s not factually correct. There was never a time I wasn’t [allowed to] sell co-ops and condos.
Speaking of condos, you’re doing five projects with the Chetrit family. How did you meet?
We met when we bought the Caledonia Hospital [in 2007]. I had the stalking-horse contract.
Your office is on the first floor of a Borough Park rental building. Do you ever think about moving to Manhattan?
When I started at the company, I said to my father, ‘I want to move the office [to Manhattan].’ My father said to me, ‘I don’t want to travel. People who want to talk to me will find me.’ So that was the end of the story.
Do you watch television?
I don’t have a television. When the kids were young, we didn’t have one. It was good for them for religious reasons. Quite frankly, there’s nothing that interests me on TV. We’re building hotels and the guys are talking about putting TVs in the rooms and I’m like, ‘Why are you putting a TV in the room?’
What’s the best advice you’ve received?
Don’t make the same mistake twice. Make new ones and move forward.
What was the last thing you purchased?
A new car, a Lexus. It works, it’s reliable. Actually, it’s leased.
What’s your favorite kosher restaurant?
Restaurants open and close so fast. The best restaurant is home. My wife is a great cook. You don’t have to wait on line and it has a good ambiance.
Do you have any vices?
My vice is money. I like to make money.