How Seth Weissman’s Personal Journey Fueled His Professional Success
The Urban Standard Capital founder pivoted (very) early from architecture to development, and then to finance
Not every child knows what they want to be when they grow up. Fewer have even an idea.
When Seth Weissman was in the sixth grade, he completed a class project to interview a professional in an industry he might want to pursue upon reaching adulthood. Weissman, who had a feeling he wanted to become an architect, peppered a working architect of a spec project near his parent’s home in Armonk, N.Y., on whether he should follow the same path.
Ironically, the architect told him in no uncertain terms to avoid the profession at all costs, citing low pay, cyclical market patterns, and the hard truth that developers make the final decisions on how a project looks.
Three decades later, Weissman, 40, sits as the founder and president of Urban Standard Capital, a multifaceted New York City-based real estate private equity firm that manages more than $600 million of debt and equity investments over multiple platforms. A majority of the firm’s business is loan originations and serving as a credit partner for real estate deals across numerous asset classes, but the company began as a small real estate development and property management firm, proving that Weissman — in a roundabout way — did in fact follow his architect’s advice.
“For me, real estate is the intersection of a lot of areas of personal interest,” Weissman said. “It’s design, architecture, urban planning, finance and entrepreneurship.”
One of the reasons Urban Standard Capital has emerged as one of the top debt funds in the middle-market credit space — with loans typically falling between $50 million and $75 million — is Weissman’s real estate development background, which is somewhat uncommon for executives on the alternative lending side of the fence.
In the early 2010s, as a scrappy 26-year-old with a degree from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, a Goldman Sachs analyst certificate on his resumé, and a few years working at Perry Capital, a multi-strategy hedge fund, Weissman decided to get “closer to the bricks” and branched off on his own to syndicate deals. After asking everyone he knew to write a $25,000 check for initial seed capital, he started on the value-add side of the business, buying existing properties, renovating units, leasing buildings, and eventually expanding from there into ground-up development.
Brick by brick, he collected a small portfolio of New York City properties.
Today, Urban Standard Capital still owns and manages 25 buildings that Weissman developed early in his career. This understanding of development, property management operations, and the specifics of interior and exterior renovations has augmented Urban Standard Capital’s estimation in the eyes of its investment partners beyond the guise of conventional lending.
“It changes the conversation,” Weissman said. “You’re speaking more as a peer than as a traditional lender who doesn’t have the direct real estate and development experience that we do.
“Everybody on our investment team has development and operations experience, and equity experience, so when speaking with brokers, or borrowers, they appreciate that we’ve sat in their seats on our equity projects,” he continued.
Deal by deal, meeting by meeting, Weissman made the industry connections he needed to find his footing, first as a developer and then as a lender, peppering investors about risk and return, stress-testing his ideas, and learning how to transition into credit products, value repositioning, and value-add investments by the time he reached his early 30s.
Since making its first loan in 2016, Urban Standard Capital has grown across industries, cities and asset classes. The firm’s deals extend from the tri-state area to South Florida and the Rocky Mountains. Two-thirds of the firm’s investment profile is residential — meaning for-rent and for-sale single-family, multifamily and mixed-use products — with some retail, office and land investments. The firm doesn’t lend on hospitality, senior living or self-storage.
“Our product is designed to appeal to investors who have different risk tolerances, different return tolerances,” Weissman explained. “The person who is interested in getting a monthly dividend and a lower risk profile, where you might buy 65 percent loan-to-value as a loan, is just different from the ground-up condo development, which is more venture capital by nature.”
Perhaps one reason why CRE sponsors have gravitated to forming partnerships with Urban Standard Capital is due to Weissman’s own unique journey as a gay commercial real estate executive, a personal identity search that he says formed in him two enduring characteristics: grit and empathy.
“Anybody who has faced or overcome adversity has two beneficial characteristics that are directly related to that experience,” he said. “The grit part has come out of often being the only gay person in the room … the other thing is you inherently have more empathy for other people.”
Weissman’s empathy was easy to see during COVID-19, when he organized the initiative known as Real Estate Has Your Back, which pooled money from 50 different New York City real estate companies to finance an effort to provide hot meals from local restaurants to New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) residents, first responders and hospital workers. The initiative ended up serving 25,000 meals to those in need and helped keep multiple restaurants alive.
Andrew Kirtzman, the communications consultant and biographer of Rudy Giuliani, is a close personal friend of Weissman who helped lead the messaging effort for the pandemic-era initiative in 2020.
“He’s just a really generous person, and he figured out a way to help both the restaurant industry and NYCHA residents,” Kirtzman said. “It’s a small example of his competence. He’s really analytical and he understands complex concepts and he just knows what he’s doing in whatever he tackles.”
Kirtzman has known Weissman for more than a decade, having officiated his 2014 wedding to designer Joseph Altuzarra in the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center in Manhattan. He said that any success his friend has achieved in real estate has come out of his value system.
“One of the reasons people are so drawn to him is he’s a really centered person,” Kirtzman explained. “He knows who he is, there’s an ease to him. I think people are drawn to happy people, and he’s a genuinely happy person.”
Councilwoman Julie Menin of District 5 in Manhattan first met Weissman 11 years ago when she chaired Community Board 1 in Downtown, and he served on Community Board 4 in Hell’s Kitchen and Chelsea. She described Weissman as “a consensus builder” who supported causes that helped local communities, LGBTQ+ groups, the arts and small businesses.
“He’s very thoughtful, and he’s very passionate about New York City, I can tell you that,” Menin told Commercial Observer. “He comes from a business perspective, a business background, so he’d try to work with others who might not agree with him.”
While the ethos of “I win, you lose” remains central to the dog-eat-dog world of American business, at Urban Standard Capital Weissman has deliberately tried to cultivate a different philosophy as a credit partner to sponsors of complex real estate transactions. He strives to find the middle ground, manage relationships, and guide capital into asset classes and geographies that offer limited downside for his partners.
“I don’t want to go to work every day and have my success built on someone’s failure,” he said. “Everyone here feels the same way. We’re cheerleaders to our partners, and that’s a different approach than we see in a lot of the middle-market space.”
The strategy of advice and reconciliation has so far paid dividends.
Weissman’s firm has recently extended a $52 million inventory loan to refinance a luxury condominium at 199 Chrystie Street in the Lower East Side of Manhattan; supplied a $20 million construction and condo inventory loan for a 12-unit residential project at 66 Clinton Street in the same Manhattan neighborhood; and provided $26 million of a $40 million joint-venture acquisition loan for a 250-acre residential estate in Vail, Colo. The firm is also coming to the market with a six-story, mixed-use development at 378 Broome in Manhattan’s Nolita neighborhood that will feature four condo units over a retail space.
Urban Standard Capital has also been active in the Hamptons as well, where it has developed a subspecialty completing luxury, single-family spec homes. The firm is the largest private lender on those homes in the region, according to Weissman.
“We do a ton in Miami and Palm Beach, and just expanded into ski towns, starting to do Vail, Beaver Creek, Aspen, and we just did our first loan in Nantucket,” he said. “It’s just fun.”
If Weissman is able to have fun in his chosen profession, it’s because he knows that he stands on the shoulders of civil rights giants. It’s not lost on him that early in his career he was often the only gay person in the room negotiating business deals, and that so much of the broader acceptance of LGBTQ+ professionals across industries has occurred only because of the courageous choices made by earlier generations of Americans.
“I have friends who are in their 60s and 70s who were really on the front lines and really took risks,” he said. “Being out today, especially in a market like New York, is nowhere near what they had to go through, so I’m very grateful to people who came before me, who had that presence and were willing to take significant risks.”
And with that risk has come reward, as Weissman tries to pay it forward to younger members of the LGBTQ+ community. For the last 15 years he’s been a member of the Gay Real Estate Group (GREG), and said that he’s always willing to take a phone call, sit down for coffee, open that door, or be as helpful as possible to any gay (or straight) young professional looking to break into the real estate industry.
“There’s been significant LGBTQ representation in the brokerage or sales side of the business, but over the years I’ve started to see it more in the finance and investment side, and I’ve also seen the proliferation of affinity groups,” Weissman explained.
“But I do think that the real estate community, the industry, it’s generally a meritocracy,” he added. “If you have the skill and the work ethic, you can rise in the industry. It’s very performance-based and it’s a natural benefit that doesn’t have some of the other barriers to entry that other spaces do.”
Sounds like a wonderful career path for any sixth grader to take.
Brian Pascus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.