The Hartland: Chelsea Native Bob Hart Is a National Real Estate Force

Robert “Bob” Edward Hart has fond memories of his days growing up in Chelsea, attending Shurtleff School, and graduating from Chelsea High School in the Class of 1975.

Bob Hart was a popular, widely admired, and personable student who attained academic excellence in the Chelsea school system, earning such prestigious honors as the Harvard Book Prize and the Jewish War Veterans Brotherhood Award for Leadership and Community Service.

He took his academic talents to Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), one of the most highly acclaimed engineering schools in the nation.

Today Bob Hart runs Los Angeles-based TruAmerica, a firm that started in June 2013, with $10 million in working capital and since then has raised more than $4 billion of capital, and now manages 55,000 residential units, making it one of the top 30 apartment companies in America. In Massachusetts, his firm owns and manages  large apartment complexes  in Stoughton, Cohasset, and North Andover, and Worcester.

Bob was named by the Los Angeles Business Journal as one of the Most Influential People in real estate.

He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Cynthia, and their daughter, Mia, 16. He also spends weekends at his beach house in Malibu and is in the process of building a new summer home in the Hamptons on Long Island.

His Roots are in Chelsea

The son of Alfred Hart, a postal worker, and Sylvia Hart, Bob Hart lived at 89 Bellingham St., across the street from the former  Chelsea Memorial Hospital at the top of  the hill, for the first 16 years of his life.

“My aunt Ruth and my uncle Joe lived downstairs, and my parents and I lived upstairs – it was one of those traditional duplexes,” recalled Bob. “Bob Ham was my  neighbor and one of my best friends, and we grew up together. My parents and I moved over to Cottage Street, and when I went off to college at WPI, my parents stayed there until my dad passed away in 1980. My father’s ancestors settled Chelsea. If you look back at the records, my great-great-great-grandfather, Isaac Hart, was one of the first Jewish settlers in Chelsea from England.”

Bob skipped kindergarten and attended Shurtleff School for grades one through eight, entering the accelerated program for the top students academically.

“I was the Shurtleff School chess champion in the seventh grade, and I was very proud of it,” said Bob. “James Stafford ran the Chess Club. I played intramural basketball in Mr. [Arnold] Goodman’s junior high league. Miss Lewis was my fourth-grade teacher, and she was a great teacher and helped me develop academically. I also remember Mrs. Maglione and Mrs. Healey.”

When he started high school as a member of the first freshman class (Chelsea was a three-year high school until that time), he became a member of the Michael Lubell  AZA organization at the old Chelsea YMHA on Crescent Avenue. The Jewish youth organization later merged with the Chelsea Clovers  and became the Clover-Lubell AZA. “Paul Tannebaum was the club adviser,” recalled Bob.

Elected AZA president, Bob credits the Chelsea YMHA for helping him develop his leadership skills and fostering his interest in community service, something he carries forth to this day.

“I think the YMHA really helped me come into my own through the B’nai B’rith and AZA youth programs there,” said Bob. “During my early teenage years, I worked for Murray and Eddy’s (Delicatessen) with Murray, Eddie, and Sammy Rosenberg. They gave me my first start as a dishwasher and kitchen helper and were a great bunch of guys and strong mentors for hard work .”

His academic career was exemplary in the College Classical Course, regularly attaining high honor roll status in each quarter. In addition to receiving the Harvard Book Award, he was a National Latin Scholar in Ms. Marilyn Glover’s class.

A science scholar, Bob applied and was admitted to a number of top engineering schools including Northeastern, Rensselaer Polytechnic (RPI ) and was wait-listed at MIT. He chose and received a partial academic scholarship to WPI.

“I studied civil engineering,  and structural engineering was my discipline at WPI,” said Bob. “As I got into real estate in my later career, my background in engineering helped me a lot.”

Beginning his Professional Career

Upon his graduation in 1979, Bob entered the field of technical sales and worked for  La Crosse, Wisconsin-based, Trane Air Conditioning, that had recruited him at WPI. He relocated to Los Angeles where he worked at the local Trane sales offices.

“I didn’t get into real estate until after I moved to California in 1980,” said Bob. “I was always curious about the real estate field for reasons I can’t fully explain. I even sat for the Massachusetts real estate exam and obtained my sales license when I was coming out of WPI after receiving dozens of qualified job offers in engineering .”

He applied to graduate school in business and was accepted to the Anderson School of Management at UCLA in 1981.

“It’s interesting. I was president of my AZA Chapter, president of my junior class at WPI, and I became president of my business school class at UCLA ,” said Bob. “I was following a pattern where at one point I actually thought I wanted to go into politics and enter government service, but I quickly decided there’s no money in that, so I went into business out of business school.”

Entering the Field of Real Estate

Bob took a position shortly after business school in the entertainment industry for the Disney Channel for three years from 1985-1988.

“That job provided me with the capital for   my initial real estate ventures ,” said Bob. “I bought a duplex for $157,000 in Venice, California in 1987 while I was at Disney. I sold it a year-and-half later for $250,000, which was a lot of money then. That duplex was the germination of my entrepreneurial path into real estate. I was a small developer and investor but still working for a living too.

“In the early 1990s, I hit a rough patch in the economy which were the downward  years when the Resolution Trust Corporation came in and took over a lot of the failed savings and loan institutions across the US  – and there was high inflation, so I had to learn what we call in real estate, workouts. So that’s where I really became more of a real estate asset management professional. In 1994, I took my first job as a real estate professional for Executive Life, a failing insurance company that was seized by California Insurance Commissioner, John Garamendi. At the time, it was the largest insurance takeover in U.S. history. I was brought on as a member of the  executive team to help rehabilitate the company, and I spent four years doing that, working for the insurance commissioner and the trustees.”

In that capacity, Bob started working on large-scale real estate deals “and that really led to the next step in my career starting in the mid-to-late 1990s.”

He moved on to Heitman Capital in Los Angeles, working on troubled assets for pension funds and large domestic and international banks for three years.

“All the while, I had been building my own small real estate portfolio building by building one at a time,” said Bob. “And in the year 2000, I was in my early 40s and I joined a company in Beverly Hills called Kennedy Wilson (KW), and I started their apartment business from the ground up. That’s when my career really shifted toward dealing with large-scale apartment communities, and I became president of a newly formed company that I built within KW called Kennedy Wilson Multifamily. For 14 years, I built that business into a $3 billion multi-family enterprise within this larger public real estate company and really made a name for myself doing that.”

One of Bob’s investors at Kennedy Wilson, Guardian Life, a New York-based insurance company, approached him and asked if he would consider leaving Kennedy Wilson and building a new company with Guardian Life as a strategic partner.

“I left Kennedy Wilson in June, 2013, and formed what is now TruAmerica Multifamily,” said Bob.

TruAmerica is now a $14 billion company that has 55,000 units under its ownership and management and one of the top-30 apartment owner/operators  in the country.

“We built TruAmerica up over the last eight years with Guardian Life and many  institutional investors to what it is today. TruAmerica has been the highlight of my 40- year business career, and it’s been a real good run for me and something I am very proud of in this mature phase of my career. At 64½, I am still going strong  and  run the company day to day with my management team.”

Attributing his Success to an Optimistic Outlook and his Chelsea Upbringing

“Growing up in Chelsea in a duplex and living a close existence in a lower middle- class family, I really learned to appreciate the simple things,” said Bob. “And when I got into apartments, what I do is workforce housing. I buy Class B housing that houses blue and grey collar families and I improve it and I get a lot of satisfaction from that, so I attribute a lot of my success to those early days in Chelsea and seeing how people who aren’t as wealthy as others can live in harmony and do good for others while  doing well. So, I always look back to my roots in Chelsea as kind of a humble beginning.”

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