Revitalizing Real Estate

Couple sails through sea of housing woes

Ask Christopher Garlin and Regina Mincey-Garlin why their small real estate firm is thriving while major lenders and two billion-dollar hedge funds file for bankruptcy protection, and they credit their mission: to offer a broad range of real estate related services and to participate in the sustainable restoration of housing markets.

“All of our business comes from referrals,” says Mincey-Garlin, vice president of the Montclair, New Jersey-based The RCG Cos. L.L.C. “People know that it’s not just about the money with us. We don’t mind providing the knowledge you need to make an intelligent decision, and there’s value in that.” And the good news of their work has traveled fast. Their clients include everyone from the first-time home buyer to community development corporations and multimillion-dollar property developers.

Founded in 2004, RCG oversees the management and strategic planning of three affiliates: a mortgage lender, a real estate developer, and a consulting company. Garlin is president of the umbrella company (with three additional full-time employees) and leads the consulting and development affiliates as well. Mincey-Garlin heads up the mortgage brokerage arm of the firm-responsible for about 60% of the company’s total revenues, which reached $325,000 in 2007.

The Garlins, 43, met in 1982 and married 11 years later. They grew up in the same gritty, blue-collar neighborhood in Jersey City. Watching the city’s dramatic decline in the late 1980s had a profound effect on the high school friends and even influenced their future career choices. Mincey-Garlin became a financial controller at Starwood Hotel and Resorts, and Garlin excelled as a residential lender and real estate developer with expertise in urban revitalization.

Then, in mid 2002, Mincey-Garlin was informed that the hotel property was being sold. The couple saw the potential setback as an opportunity to take control of their destiny and start their dream business. They spent two years developing a business plan and launched RCG in September 2004. Startup costs totaled $40,000, and they needed an additional $65,000 in capital. The husband-and-wife-team liquidated their 401(k)s, sold their stocks, and emptied their personal savings to pay for equipment, furniture, office space, licensing fees, attorneys’ fees, travel, and bonding and insurance in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Florida. “It was very difficult,” Garlin says. “Real estate is risky and most people said, ‘You’re a married couple. One person should keep a traditional job while the other pursues the entrepreneurial venture.’” But two days after he quit his job, a referral from a former colleague led to two projects worth $90,000. The Garlins had rolled the dice and won. (To read about more co-preneurial couples, see “We Do,” this issue)

The partners’ plans came full circle last spring when their site plan received approval for the development of a 42-unit environmentally friendly condominium in their old Jersey City neighborhood.

The couple plans to expand their business geographically and close more commercial lending deals in 2008, and they project that revenues will reach $400,000 or more this year. Finding work-life balance is an ongoing challenge for the parents of

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