Jamaica Plain Rentals and Sales, which has been in the same spot on Centre St. for 20 years, celebrates that milestone this year. The Gazette reached out to Valerie Schecter, original owner of JP Rentals, and Rachael Kulik, Broker and Office Manager, for a look at how the company and the real estate market has changed over the past two decades.
It was 1999—Valerie Schecter worked at another real estate office down the street, but decided she wanted to open her own company. “I wanted it to be a service oriented business; relationship based,” she said. “I was terrified.” She rented the little space at 480 Centre St.—“what if it didn’t work?” she wondered.
Schecter didn’t imagine herself in the real estate business. She went to school for human services, and then headed to law school, which she said gave her the “nerve” to open the business. She had gotten her broker’s license in 1980, and was working in Back Bay for a landlord. She was then asked to come to JJP to help out a dfriend, and she decided to move and work there.
“Before I opened, it was like the wild west,” she said. “Families owned the triple deckers, it was just families who owned everything. The owner would live on the middle floor and rent out the other two floors.”
She said when she first opened the business, her clients were “students, artists, and hippies,” and JP was an affordable place to live.
Schecter said she started to see a shift in the housing clientele when the MBTA Orange Line moved from Washington St. “It completely changed JP,” she said, and put the “whole medical community at our fingertips.” It brought in students and doctors from Bentley, Simmons, and the downtown hospitals. “It gave us this whole new pool of tenants,” she said.
“The next phase that came along was the condo craze,” she said. Buildings started to be divided into condos. “Our job was to maintain relationships with landlords and back up tenants if they needed us,” Schecter said. She said that’s what sent JP Rentals apart from other real estate companies—they got involved with both landlords and tenants and really try to be a resource for both.
“It was never about money,” Schecter said. “You make money if you create a relationship and if you do a job right. Our job was to matchmake people to places. It worked; it became very successful.”
She said that back then, “you knew all the landlords,” because they were a huge part of the community. “You knew their kids; it was really great. There was a lot of loyalty involved which is rare in business.”
She said that once her clientele shifted from students and artists to more doctors and veterinarians, they switched their rental cycle from September-September to June-June, because that’s when a lot of doctors would begin their residencies.
Schecter left the business in 2013 due to personal reasons and moved to California to be close to her daughter, but she said they sold some larger buildings before she left, including some six family buildings that remained rental properties.
“I opened my own business to see if we could create a different kind of real estate office that was matchmaking and was fair, treated tenants with respect, and to make it work both ways—not just grab the money for the landlord and run,” she said, adding that she still considers the landlords her friends to this day.
“I miss JP, I miss my friends, and I’ll always be grateful for their loyalty and their friendship and I think Rachael is doing a great job with continuing.”
Since Schecter’s departure, JP Rentals has had two other owners. The current one is Rob Oteri, but Rachael Kulik considers all three owners to be her mentors in different ways, as she believes they all brought different things to the table. Kulik started at JP Rentals in 2013, when she “walked in with a lease and walked out with a job,” she said. She said she was attending MAssArt for art education with the goal of becoming an art therapist. She ended up working in the office at JP Rentals, and “fell in love with the environment and people.” She got her real estate license soon after, and she said that she feels the biggest change to the real estate market over the past six years has been the increase in price.
She said that while there are still some undergraduate students in the JP area, most of them have moved to Mission Hill, where prices are lower. “JP used top be known for cheaper places,” she said.
Another thing she’s noticed is that the young professionals who come looking for a place in JP are in search of “classic charm; the homey stuff,” she said. “The newer things are too Home Depot style” for them, and people like a mix of old and new.
The rapid increase of new developments in the neighborhood has also had an impact on the real estate market in JP, she said. When the Bell Olmsted Park apartments were built, she was it was something that was “new and unique” in the neighborhood, but now developments are popping up all over the place.
“It affected the rental market hugely,” she said. Last year, there was a huge surplus of inventory, she said, with 180 units still on the market on August 15 last year.
“Developments have a plus in comparison to some other units out there,” she said, as people come from out of town and don’t always have time to walk through buildings in person. A lot of those developments have websites that give detailed floor plans, something a lot of the existing JP homes cannot offer. Additionally, the new developments are guaranteed lead free because they are built very recently.
In order to make other units more appealing to buyers and renters, Rachael said she’s taken to technology and does FaceTime showings and video tours of the properties she tries to rent and sell.
She also still works with a lot of “little guys” who only own one or a few properties, as opposed to a lot of property management companies which manage many more properties. She said that a lot of people prefer working with someone who is more closely tied to the building, in that it may be their childhood home or they raised their kids in it.
“I’m not the type of person to make a paycheck and leave,” Kulik said. “I want to help people find a place to live and make it feel like it’s home.”
The company has also upgraded its online presence. Kulik said that when she started at the company, phone calls and voicemail were the standard. Now, she said, it’s much more efficient to communicate via text and group text, because it provides proof of something that a voicemail or phone call cannot. She said the office also gets its voicemails transcribed and emailed, because it’s more efficient than listening to each one. “Directly texting to a phone is a big change I have seen,” she said.
The website got an update, too. “Val’s old website was organized by bedrooms,” she said. She said this was helpful, but has now made changes to make it even more organized and easy for clients to search for what they’re looking for.
The photography has changed as well—“I was tired to seeing apartment pictures and not understanding the place,” Kulik said, so they started incorporating wide angle lenses for apartment photography. “It’s made a massive difference,” she said.
The office culture is something she believes has remained the same, though. She calls the office atmosphere “a great team effort—this office was built by a team of great people.” Over time, the different owners and office workers have organized and brainstormed ways to make things more efficient, she said. “We learn from each other every day.”
Though the company has learned to grow and adapt to the changing neighborhood and world around it, Kulik said JP Rentals still commits to its original intention of making lasting connections with its clients and landlords.
“JP is all about community and arts,” Kulik said, “ and I feel like we’re a pretty good statement of that now.”