At 34, Steven Fischler has built a highly successful career in U.S. commercial and residential real estate. Fischler worked for seven years at Lehman Bros. (pre- and post-bankruptcy), where he gained extensive experience in real estate asset management and related businesses.
In 2012, he launched New York City-based SRF Ventures, which does an substantial share of its business in South Florida. SRF is a boutique real estate advisory firm and direct lender providing a range of services in investment banking, asset and project management, investments and acquisition/disposition services that has managed over $1.3 billion in deals. Fischler is SRF’s founder, president and 100 percent owner. He splits his time between New York City and Miami. SRF has five employees.
Earlier this year, Fischler and a friend, Eyal Alfi, set up New Gables Capital in Coral Gables. New Gables arranges and provides financing from $1 million to about $30 million for commercial projects nationwide and is backed by a high-net worth family and other investors.
Alfi, a banker and real estate investor, is the founder and principal of Miami’s Pan York Group of Companies, which works in commercial real estate financing, investments and sales. SRF and the Pan York Group are 50-50 partners in New Gables Capital.
Fischler spoke to The Real Deal about his companies, his insight on the real estate market and the potential effects of a Trump presidency.
Q. How did you get interested in real estate?
A. After I graduated from the University of Miami, I had no clue about what I wanted to do. I got an internship in Miami, but I wanted to be in New York. I interviewed with several firms and got a job with Lehman in 2004 – in the fixed income group. I didn’t like fixed income and a friend there suggested I transfer to real estate. I was supporting a trading desk dealing in real estate bonds and switched into a real estate group that managed assets. When Lehman exploded, I had a large working knowledge of the company and I was retained. I worked there from 2004 to 2011 and it was an unbelievable experience. It was a game changer for me and for my career. [One of the projects he worked on at Lehman was overseeing the completion and sell out of Canyon Ranch Miami Beach.]
Q. Can you give us an example of what SRF Ventures does?
A. We do asset management, we help clients raise capital and help out in acquisitions and investments. We handle some cookie-cutter deals but we are very good at handling more difficult, complex deals. For example, Veer Towers in Las Vegas is a spectacular, 670-unit luxury condo. [SRF advised client Ladder Capital and Pordes Residential in negotiations with the seller, MGM Resorts, raised over $100 million debt and equity and created a post-closing plan to revitalize sales.] We helped the client underwrite the deal, finish the buildings and acquire the last 427 units. At the time , the project was in trouble – Vegas had not come back. But we encountered an opportunity and turned it into a large success for us and the client. We realized this was an attractive asset at a good price.
Q. SRF Ventures has projects across the nation. What share of the firm’s business comes out of South Florida?
A. We do about 35-40 percent of our business in South Florida. There are lots of opportunities in condo projects, hotels and buying land. It’s a very active market. It goes up and down but it comes back.
SRF has many clients in South Florida, including Property Markets Group, where we helped to arrange financing on several projects, and Waramaug Hospitality, where we help with due diligence and acquisitions and place loans.
Q. Why did you and Pan York decide to set up New Gables Capital?
A. We started to see an opportunity. Banks were beginning to pull back a little because of regulations, and they weren’t making commercial loans of $5 [million] to $12 million. We could start making loans to fill in the gaps at better rates than the banks were getting. The loans are for up to three years, fixed or floating interest. We also do mortgage loans, mezzanine financing and preferred equity financing.
We recently started up New Gables Private Lending, which focuses only on Miami-Dade and lends exclusively for investment residential properties. These loans can be as small as $200,000.
Q. What are your plans for New Gables Capital? Do you have a competitive edge?
A. Our goal is to grow the New Gables Capital platform. We have three to four deals going on now and we’re at capacity – we’d like to do more. Right now, it’s my partner and I. We can close deals in a little as two weeks. We’re very different from banks – we don’t have the multiple layers of credit committees and bureaucracy.
Q. What is your outlook for residential and commercial real estate in Miami and the rest of South Florida?
A. Residential obviously has slowed down. But the beach is special – the ocean has a lot of power over people. Some developers are buildings projects they should not have built. And there are a lot of additional rooms at hotels that need to be filled. The city needs to rebalance itself, but the area has a huge, growing population and huge spending power.
Long term – with the growing population in Miami and Fort Lauderdale – I think it’s a strong market.
Q. Any feeling for what kind of impact the new Trump administration may have on South Florida’s real estate market?
A. He’s business-friendly, knows the industry and knows what it needs to grow and succeed. I may be wrong, but I don’t think he’s going to over-regulate. The current amount of bank regulation is crippling business – including real estate and small business. Often, there are good real estate projects but banks simply won’t lend.