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May 13, 2024

With multifamily market focus, third-generation Konover takes reins of storied CT real estate firm

HBJ PHOTO | STEVE LASCHEVER Greg Konover on May 31 will take over as president of The Simon Konover Co., the West Hartford real estate firm founded in 1957 by his grandfather, Simon Konover.
The Simon Konover Co. at a glance
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When Greg Konover was growing up, the family business wasn’t a big topic of conversation.

“My immediate family is not one that talks about real estate or business around the dinner table,” he said. “I knew very little about real estate up until after college.”

That might be rather astonishing, when you realize that Konover, now 39, is the third generation of a storied Connecticut real estate dynasty. His grandfather, Simon Konover, founded the company that bears his name back in 1957, and his father Michael ran Konover Development.

But in his formative years, Greg, who will take over as The Simon Konover Co.’s CEO on May 31, really didn’t know what he was going to do. After attending Cornell, he took a position in insurance for a couple of years, until his father approached him with a job offer.

“I was interested, and I’m certainly interested in the aspect of the family business degrees and lawyers and doctors and salespeople that are all very successful in real estate.”

Simon Konover, who died in 2015, was born in Poland and survived the Holocaust. After being interned in a labor camp as a teenager, he fled to Russia and served in the Soviet army. After the war, in which they lost their entire extended family, he and his brother Harold came to the U.S. via Cuba and settled in Hartford, sheltered by an older half-brother they had never previously met.

It didn’t take Simon long to get on his feet while working for his brother; he got the itch for real estate after his first development, a small hotel, proved successful.

From there he built an empire that now, as his grandson takes over, owns and manages 6,500 residential apartments, along with millions of square feet of retail and office space, and is still actively developing several major projects each year.

Greg Konover joined the business in 2013 and has managed the residential side since 2019; he takes over from retiring president Jim Wakim — a succession he claims was far from inevitable.

“We had a little bit of a succession crisis at one point because there wasn’t a clear path from my grandfather to whatever that next iteration of the company would be,” he said.

“We’ve been a lot more deliberate about our succession discussions than we probably were when my grandfather phased out. So, it’s something that Jim and I have talked about for a fairly long period of time, but the conversation didn’t get specific until more recently.”

Shopping center pivot

He’s taking over a company that has already reinvented itself at least once. Simon Konover made his name as a shopping center developer, in the very early days of that era.

“We ended up being one of, if not the largest shopping center owners in suburban New England. My father was very involved in that. And then we sold the majority of our shopping center portfolio in the early 2000s,” Konover said.

That change was prompted by an early intuition that brick-and-mortar retail might have a limited shelf life, as the rise of the internet and online shopping eventually proved.

“Since then we’ve gone from being a commercially focused company to a company that is probably more than half multifamily apartments at this point,” Konover said.

The company has around 250 employees, 40 of them at its West Hartford corporate offices, the others largely engaged in on-site property maintenance and management.

The mission is a focused one. Konover says 75% of its properties are within 50 miles of West Hartford, with just a few ventures outside of New England — in Pennsylvania, Illinois and upstate New York.

“Our company’s portfolio is really consistent in being suburban in nature and some small cities, and for the most part being New England-centric,” Konover said. “We like secondary and tertiary markets. We’re pretty good on the land-use side at getting approvals. And we don’t need to do detailed market studies when we’re developing new projects because we already know the markets.”

The latest challenge for the company has been navigating the upheavals of the pandemic, which had a major impact on both the commercial and residential real estate markets.

“We still have not seen people return to the office in the numbers that they were before the pandemic, obviously,” Konover said. “But, we also didn’t have a very healthy office market before the pandemic here in Connecticut. Take a market that was teetering, or not necessarily thriving, and even small steps back is really painful to the office world.”

(According to brokerage firm Cushman & Wakefield’s first quarter market report, about 26.5% of office space in Greater Hartford is vacant; CBRE lists Greater Hartford’s office vacancy rate at 23.7%.)

Luckily for Konover, its office space exposure is limited to just a few properties, including its West Hartford mixed-use headquarters, at 342 North Main St.

PHOTO | COSTAR
Simon Konover’s West Hartford headquarters at 342 North Main St.

Conversely, on the residential side, the influx of residents to Connecticut during COVID has created the sort of crisis in residential housing availability that a company like Konover can turn into an opportunity.

“We see a lot of room for growth in multifamily here in New England, and we’ve been successful with it over the last six or seven years. That’s going to drive our future development, our future investment,” he said.

Multifamily portfolio

Simon Konover Co. is active in building and managing in all sectors of housing, including supportive and workforce housing, Section 8 apartments and luxury developments. Konover says Connecticut needs growth across the board.

And despite the controversies over housing bills in the legislature in the last two sessions, he does see movement in the debate.

“I think you’re seeing at least some towns start to realize that first of all, apartment is not a dirty word, and even affordable housing is not a dirty word. These communities can actually be beneficial in terms of driving local real estate taxes,” he said.

He is active at the legislature, and has lobbied them on issues like landlord and tenant regulation, saying that Connecticut does not want to stand out as a state that is not welcoming to landlords and apartment developers.

Konover is continuing to innovate on the residential side, including office-to-apartment conversions. Its first foray into such projects will be in downtown Hartford, where it plans to convert the office space above the Society Room on Pratt Street.

The project will eventually yield around 40 apartments while preserving the venue space and other retail on the ground floor, at 31 Pratt St.

Konover is working with the Capital Region Development Authority on that development, and a separate new build in East Hartford that would lead to 130 apartments on the Connecticut River. Konover says with the expansion of Pratt & Whitney, East Hartford is hot right now, and the development is planned on a familiar model for his firm.

“We’ve built a lot of three-story, multi-building, garden-style apartment communities. They are high end in terms of their finishes, and one of the key components which you’re seeing almost across the board in multifamily is that you’re providing an amenity package.”

That means incorporating a gym, community room and other features that allow the development to function as a community.

Right direction

Brian Zelman was a colleague of Greg Konover during his time at Konover Development, and now his own company Zelman Real Estate has engaged the Simon Konover Co. to manage some of the assets that he’s developing in partnership.

“He’s very savvy,” Zelman said of Konover. “There’s something to be said for generational real estate; being able to maintain that, staying true to the vision and having the discipline to stay strong cycle after cycle. And certainly Greg embodies the qualities that will carry that forward.”

He also notes the Konovers’ long reputation for philanthropy, which he says Greg is continuing.

“They’re extremely generous,” Zelman said. “It’s definitely a known and respected name in the community.”

Greg Konover says he has no plans for wholesale changes at his grandfather’s company as he takes the reins.

“My philosophy in general is, you don’t need to fix what’s not broken,” he said. “We’re certainly going to evaluate what the market is telling us and make changes based on that. But we’re headed in the right direction already, and we’ve been headed in that direction for a while.”

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