Contact Us

Douglas Jemal On Pioneering Neighborhoods And Building A Family Business

Dochter & Alexander Retail Advisors' Dave Dochter and Douglas Development's Douglas Jemal

Douglas Jemal is one of the top owners of commercial real estate in the D.C. region today, with over 200 properties across the portfolio of his family business, Douglas Development Corp.

But when he began buying properties in the 1980s, after building a successful electronics store business, he said he couldn't compete with the major investors in the city's central business district. 

"Back then, if I pulled up on Connecticut and K to buy something, nobody’s talking to me," Jemal said last week at Bisnow's D.C. State of the Market event. "I had to go where people weren’t going. I had to create it."

The neighborhoods where Jemal acquired properties, such as Shaw, Chinatown and Ivy City, have transformed dramatically since he entered the real estate business, in large part because of him. The key to realizing value from investments in neighborhoods that are still up-and-coming, he said, is patience. 

"I don't believe there's such [a] thing as a bad market, a good market or an in-between market," Jemal said. "It is what it's going to be, and if you're in for the long haul, you're going to survive. If you're in for a shotgun wedding then boom, you're done. The meter runs out and eats you up alive. If you have the time, you're going to make the dime."

But beyond just waiting for neighborhoods to experience rising property values, Jemal has pioneered new developments in emerging areas, such as the Hecht Warehouse redevelopment in Ivy City. He said flexibility is key when trying to build a new project that meets the desires of the market.

"When it comes to building a building, you've got to live it," Jemal said. "It does change. On paper it's not at the end of the day what someone may want in three years when you're delivering it. The cool factor is that you have the ability to look at something and change something up."

Dochter & Alexander Retail Advisors' Dave Dochter and Douglas Development's Douglas Jemal

Dochter & Alexander Retail Advisors principal Dave Dochter, who joined Jemal for the event's keynote conversation, said firms like Douglas Development have had an impact on the way large institutional investors approach projects. 

"Previously, it was all about credit, now there's no question you need to mix in cool and take a little bit of risk," Dochter said. "Doug has taken that and been rewarded. Institutional capital is now looking at that and saying they need to budget in risk in order to keep some of that cool. It's a balancing act for institutional capital to try to do what Douglas has done."

Jemal has built Douglas Development as a family business, with his sons Norman and Matthew serving as senior vice presidents. He said it has been important to let his sons grow and make their own decisions, and he doesn't see himself as the lone visionary behind the company. 

"I think it's a visionary team," Jemal said. "We all work off one another. It's cohesive, we all get along, we love to get to work together, we love to see each other. We don't have any arguments because who gives a shit? You're not going to win if you fight."

The final key to succeeding at real estate development that Jemal identified was never being satisfied. 

"Once you think you’re successful, you’re going to fail," Jemal said. "You’ve got to earn your stripes every day. You’re as good as the last check you wrote."

Several other top developers and brokers will share their keys to succeeding in real estate June 12 at Bisnow's How To Make It In Commercial Real Estate event, including Tom Bozzuto, Gary Rappaport, Wendy Feldman Block, Bo Menkiti, Adrian Washington and Martin Ditto.