From bridges to bridge loans: Career change pays off

He had dreams of being a dentist until catching the brokerage bug

From bridges to bridge loans: Career change pays off

Alex Jaffa (pictured) was poised to be a dentist as he entered university. Now a senior loan consultant with Eastern Union, you might say he went from bridges to bridge loans.

Jaffa sat down with Mortgage Professional America to discuss his career beginnings and to talk multifamily – arguably the hottest sector of the commercial real estate space even as other property types languish amid a market shift marked by higher interest rates. Specifically, he extolled the Alabama market that’s emerged as a hot city for multifamily transactions.

He entered the industry – by virtue of his job at New York-based Eastern Union, one of the nation’s largest commercial real estate mortgage firms – in February 2014. By his own admission, the job was more a means to an end while studying to be a dentist.

A change of plans

“I started off really knowing nothing, but wanting to get into real estate,” he recalled. Then, a pause: “I’ll be honest and open with you. I was an undergrad at the time in 2014, and was going to dental school. That was the plan – the life plan – not set by me, but my parents. I said, listen, if I can stomach the blood, maybe. No problem, I was always good in school. So, I was going to take biology and all the science exams and pre-med.”

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He needed income, though. “I needed a job to pay the bills while I was an undergraduate,” he said. He turned to Eastern Union, where he was hired as part of the support staff. Gradually, though, he would live vicariously through the brokers in the firm and the role began to appeal to him.

“By September, October 2014, I changed my outlook and told Eastern Union I wanted to be a broker. I loved the math of it and the creative structure of it. I was a salesperson at heart. I told my parents I was not going to dental school but switching my major to finance. And nine and a half years later, here we are. It’s been a ride.”

To top it off, his parents weren’t displeased by his career change. “They were happy,” Jaffa said. “They wanted what’s best for me and what made me happy.”

Mobile commercial real estate market

Lately, it’s been the improbable environs of Mobile, Ala., that are making brokers happy. Not historically known as a hotbed of commercial real estate activity, the southern city has recently emerged as a standout in the arena. Jaffa recently helped execute the arrangement of $14.7 million in refinancing for two multifamily properties comprising 334 units in Mobile.

The first property is the 214-unit Linx Plaza Apartments located at 6964 Airport Boulevard. The 16-building, two-story site was constructed in 1976 and carries 108,858 square feet in net rentable area. The second asset is the 120-unit Plantation Apartments at 5725 Old Pascagoula Road. This venue consists of 10 two-story structures. It was built in 1977 and comprises 79,040 square feet in net rentable area.

The borrower for both transactions is Lawrence Liebhard of L2 Investments, a real estate acquisition firm with a focus on value-add multifamily properties, while the lender was Arbor Realty Trust.

Jaffa described how the owner revamped what were once a pair of properties with low occupancy pulling in sub-market rent levels. “This is a refinance coming from an exit strategy,” he said. “My client purchased these properties along with a third property totaling about 400 units. He bought them in 2021, and took a bridge loan to add amenities, make it cleaner, nicer more updated. He really did a fantastic job. We went back to this bridge lender for the agency refinance, and it really came around full circle.”

The client has a third property in Mobile of around 200 units, Jaffa said. “He’s really seen a lot of the growth and opportunity there, as proven from his track record. He purchased it run down and below market rent, and he really increased demand. It’s a testament to him and the market as well.”

About that market: Mobile is experiencing something of a boom driven by economic development. Jaffa ticked off some of the more notable projects, including expansion of the city’s international airport; the arrival of Amtrak; growth of a massive Amazon storage facility; jobs-creating expansion of an Airbus assembly facility for its popular A321 jetliners. As if that weren’t enough, Topgolf in February began construction on a $22 million complex in Mobile that’s expected to create 150 jobs.

“I would say in the next three or four years, it [Mobile] will be a major hub for development and for tourism,” Jaffa said. “There’s a lot of potential that’s happening, and my client got to see it before anyone else and took advantage of it.”

This isn’t the first refinancing foray for Jaffa. In December, he arranged a $78.6 million loan closer to Eastern Union headquarters to refinance a 1,017-unit portfolio of 12 multifamily properties consisting of 11 sites across nine New Jersey localities, along with one property in the Bronx.

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