Philadelphia Landscape is his Canvas

August 21, 2016


Amit Azoulay is seated in the living room of a condo at 1512-18 Frankford Ave., explaining that, after completing 18 development projects, with four more on the horizon, he still considers himself an artist. "I have been painting all of my life," said Azoulay, who came to Philadelphia in 1999 from Haifa, Israel, to study at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

Azoulay says his artistry is closer to architecture. "As a kid, I designed all kinds of buildings and 'dream houses,' " he said. Even today, more than a decade after buying his first properties - one in Manayunk, the other in Francisville, Azoulay designs every one of his projects using CAD software, then has his architects "make it work."

One example of his artistry is 1512-18 Frankford Ave. - brand-new construction across the street from the Heffe taco shop that blends so much into the streetscape that it looks like a flawless rehab of a building from the late 19th century.

What's more important in this booming Philadelphia market fed by buyers whom Azoulay calls "young professionals" is that 12 of the 13 condos at 1512-18 are under contract at prices in the high $300,000s to the lower $400,000s. There were multiple offers on three that sold the first week of August, said Keith Adams of Elfant Wissahickon Realtors.

Azoulay's first project on Frankford Avenue - a four-unit building - was sold out in three weeks at comparable prices. When he decided to take his skills to the streets of Philadelphia as Carmel Developments Inc., no one was more pleased than his father, Azoulay said. "He has been a real estate developer in Israel for 30 years," he said, adding that his father "was sitting on the sidelines," waiting for his son to follow him into the business. "Actually, I wouldn't have it any other way," Azoulay said. "It is a fascinating field, with pros and cons like everything else."

The main pro, he said, is being able to design his buildings. His first experience as a developer - and his only Manayunk venture - was not a happy one, he said, having to deal with a contractor whose work was not to his liking. "It was a double lot, 35 feet wide, but the building was basically a shell for nearly a year, hammered by the elements," he said. Azoulay was finally able to "figure things out," he said, and the project was completed and sold.

He went on to build "$2 million houses" in Andorra, just as the bottom fell out of the real estate market in 2007-08. "Those were the last expensive houses I did," he said, and proceeded to "reestablish my company to build smaller and affordable houses in the city, which did not suffer as much as other places."

There was plenty of cheap land available in the city's formerly less desirable neighborhoods, and that helped keep building costs lower. What he designed and built was "something not fancy and not too big that would sell even in a recession," Azoulay said.

Although he is considering taking one of the penthouses in his new 34-unit rental apartment building at Columbia and Girard Avenues - for which ground will be broken in two months - Azoulay has been living in one of the units of a duplex at 16th and Parrish Streets in Francisville that he built in 2008. That was the other lot he bought in 2005. "I sat on it for three years," he said. "I decided to build two condos. I called Dad and said I had made a mistake. That couldn't have been further from the truth."

One mistake he corrected was the asking price, which he said was the result of bad advice. He took the other condo as his own and put his office in the building. There are always doubts when developers dip their toes in untested waters.

In 2012, he built six condos with an underground garage on Fairmount Avenue between 10th and 11th Streets, listing them in the low $200,000s. "My colleagues said 'Really?' and I had my doubts," Azoulay said. Within four months of the open house, all six had been sold."It was a good deal in a down market," he said.


by Alan J. Heavens