Belgravia Group's Secrets From Decades of For-Sale Development
Buzz Ruttenberg learned early from his father that plaster dust was a good perfume. Fast forward to a 1987 meeting with lawyer Alan Lev and so begins the history of the Belgravia Group power pair.
After decades of experience in renovations, Buzz and his father David (below) built their first new building in the late '60s at the corner of Webster and Cleveland. Expansions into retail and office followed, but the company returned its focus to for-sale new construction in 1990. Alan entered in 1987, when he went to work for a law firm that shared space with Buzz, his brother Biff, and David. "I had practiced law long enough to realize it wasn't what I wanted to do for the rest of my life," Alan said, and by 1989 he hopped on board at Belgravia and began learning the development business from Buzz.
Teaching themselves to do bigger and bigger projects as years passed, both agree their marquee development is 600 Lake Shore Dr, 400 units on the lake that sold out for $400M, even during the downturn (its "mortgage burning" pictured below). They have seen a variety of downturns in interest rate cycles that Buzz likens to the seven years of fat and lean that Joseph interpreted in Pharaoh's dream. From the oil embargo in '74 to post Gulf War '91, Buzz learned one key to success is having cash reserves so that when, not if, a problem occurs, you have some dry powder. And be the first one back in a market to capture its pent-up demand.
Other lessons: the housing market is more job-driven than interest-rate driven. Know that if you miss your budget you have to do something to respond to the market, and ALWAYS listen to the market, Buzz says. Belgravia focuses on the middle to upper middle price point in any given market, attracting wealthier people who may need to buy down and aspirational buyers looking to move up (both segments buy even when times are tough). The results of taking the bird in the hand and watching downside risk speak for themselves--the company has sold 54 principally three-bedroom units in the past year and a half, all in the $500k-$700k market.
Today's Belgravia projects are highly specialized, targeting supply voids: CA23, 48 three-bedroom units in the West Loop (pictured) is already in an additional 40-unit Phase 3 and Montana Row, 14 extra-wide, 3,200 SF homes in Lincoln Park has already sold eight homes. For extracurricular pursuits, Buzz travels, does foundation work, practices yoga, skis, and is always growing his eclectic art collection. Alan, a fellow adventurer, is chairman of the Illinois division of the American Cancer Society, takes piano and guitar lessons, reads voraciously, and is enjoying some new found free time as an empty nester. Belgravia's biggest challenge? Finding new opportunities in the right location and at the right price. "You have to kiss a lot of frogs to find Prince Charming," Buzz laughs.