Stay up to date with our latest developments

Harold Brown: Octogenarian Comeback Kid


It’s not our style to cover one story for the day. But, gosh, if bouncing back from a $660M bankruptcy doesn’t earn you an extra picture or two, then what’s the point? We're talking, of course, of The Hamilton Company’s Harold Brown, who rebounded from the ‘90’s turmoil and today is among the largest private residential landlords in town. At 85, he’s still wheeling and dealing. Last year, he made one of the nation’s largest multifamily buys, according to the WSJ.

Harold gave the credit for the $129.5M purchase of Dexter Park in Brookline to right hand (though left in this pic) Carl Valeri. "It was Carl primarily. I kibitzed," says Harold. And, “put up the money,” adds Carl, whom we snapped in front of Harold's MIT diploma. The money in question: about $40M. The pair said they beat out other bidders for the 409-unit rental building based on Hamilton’s finances and history. “We weren’t the highest bidder, but the seller knew we’d close,” Harold explained. “Our 56-year track record took hold.”

Maintenance Coordinators check to make sure the keys to Hamilton’s 5,000 apartments (98.8% occupied) are in the right place. The company also owns about 2.5M SF of commercial space, mostly neighborhood strip malls and some offices. Harold tells us his properties have held up with about 95% occupancy during the downturn. “We’re flexible, willing to work with people for six or seven months.” But this year, people don’t seem to be in as much distress, Harold notes. “Last year, they came to us with a host of problems.”

Phil Vallely, Neal Campbell, and Marilyn Vega help manage Hamilton’s properties in Brighton, Brookline, Woburn, Brockton, Norwood, Malden, Worcester, Framingham, and Nashua. In the ‘70’s, Hamilton had about 10k rental apartments. Many were converted into condos, but by the time the 90’s recession hit, about 3k remained in its portfolio along with about 10M SF of commercial space in hundreds of downtown offices. Then, the liability was spread through the firm; now it resides in each individual property. Older and wiser, Hamilton bolstered against real estate cycles with low leverage and lean operations. Carl says they can handle a 38% drop in revenues and/or rise in expenses and still break even. “We did a lot of planning to prepare.”

Katharine Maloney, Christina Wolfram, Rivadavi Angelo, and Brandy Decoteau, part of the accounting team that processes the 88k checks a year that flow through Hamilton, now worth “several hundred million,” says Harold, the majority stakeholder. But the company isn’t just collecting rent. It has a construction operation and is developing housing in Boston—from $200k artist live-work lofts in Hyde Park (completed two weeks ago) to a $7M condo in the Back Bay. He has an emotional attachment to an office/retail property he’s developing in Scituate. As a student during WW II, he and a friend docked a boat on a marina that was once on the site. Today, he’d rather go down to Scituate Harbor than jet off to Sicily. Harold says: "I don’t travel. I’m happy here."

Carl is thrilled that more dollar bills are clogging the closet door in Harold’s office. They’re in the habit of making bets on deals coming through, calls coming in, prices on properties, etc. “These are bets I’m glad Harold won,” Carl says of the George Washington photo parade. Hopefully Harold is also right when he says the real estate market “hit bottom in ’08, and our belief is we’re coming out.”


Send story ideas to Susan Diesenhouse,

39 Brighton Ave Boston, MA 02134

Phone - 617.783.0039

Fax - 617.783.0568

Hours: Monday - Friday 8:30am - 5:00pm