Thanks in part to the huge popularity of HGTV, home rehab and custom house construction are trades that continue to expand. But the demand for creativity is higher than ever.
Jmore recently talked to two Jewish builders known for their skills and commitment to their craft.
Alex Trakhtman of Zander Homes and Jeff Weissberg of Crown Remodeling don’t know each other — they were born more than a decade apart and grew up in different parts of Baltimore. But they have one striking similarity. Both are artistic entrepreneurs with a passion for making something out of nothing.
Crown Remodeling — which is based in Reisterstown and focuses on insurance and storm damage restoration, as well as exterior renovations — is a family-run business. Jeff Weissberg, president and founder of Crown, and his wife, Paula, vice president of administration, started the company in 2014, a milestone that had long been a goal for the couple.
“This is an American success story,” says Jeff, who was 42 when he finally launched his own business. “The first few years were touch and go, but we were able to build people’s trust and build up a following. We started this company with $1,400, and last year we did $3 million in business.”
Jeff, who is a Baltimore native and Temple Oheb Shalom member, worked for a remodeling company for many years before building his own company, a journey that was anything but easy. He failed the Maryland Home Improvement Commission Test the first time and worked in roadside assistance to make ends meet to support his wife and three kids.
“We know what it’s like to struggle financially and we will never forget where we came from,” says Paula. “It keeps you grounded.”
Adds Jeff: “After failing the exam, I got the poor man’s syndrome and felt I was a failure. But Paula and Rabbi [Steven M.] Fink from Oheb Shalom pushed me to take the exam again, and after spending months studying, I passed.”
Growing up, Jeff remembers working with power tools and building sheds with his stepfather. Additionally, his father is a structural engineer, and Jeff believes his upbringing prepared him well for a job in construction.
“I feel being brought up around construction helped get us to where we are today,” says Jeff. “Our parents are extremely proud.”
Currently, Crown Remodeling has 10 full-time employees, a team of “all-stars,” as described by Jeff. It’s that team that allows his visions to come to life.
Client Stephanie Weinstein hired Crown to remodel the exterior of her home, including all the siding, the roof and the windows.
“I can’t say enough about Crown Remodeling,” says Weinstein. “I wish my late husband would have seen the work they did because he would love every minute detail.”
Meanwhile, Alex Trakhtman is president and founder of Zander Homes, a construction company in Lutherville that specializes in custom home building and high-end renovations.
“What’s awesome about custom home building is we take a set of plans and put those into fruition on a job site,” says Trakhtman, 31. “By mixing colors, patterns and textures, we are able to artistically create unique homes that look different from one another.”
For Trakhtman, who started the company in 2010, Zander Homes is the entrepreneurial opportunity he has always dreamed of.
“Ever since I was a kid, building has been something I wanted to do professionally,” he says. “I always wanted to be in construction in some form and express myself through that.”
Born in Moldova, Trakhtman immigrated to Baltimore as a Jewish refugee at the age of 5 with his mother, father and sister. With the help of CHAI (Comprehensive Housing Assistance Inc.), the family members began to build their lives in America.
“We came here with literally nothing, and the fact that someone else reached out and helped us in hard times, I think about that often,” says Trakhtman, father of a 4-year-old son and 1-year-old daughter. “My kids are first-generation American kids and to give them a life here is a blessing.”
Upon arriving in Baltimore, the only people Trakhtman knew — aside from his immediate family — were his great-aunt and great-uncle. His mother, who was a nurse in the former Soviet Union, got a job as a dialysis tech, and his father was a truck driver before opening his own produce store.
“I would drive in the truck with my dad, and anytime I would see neighborhoods being put up or the beautiful shell of a house, my nerves would go crazy,” Trakhtman recalls. “It was so exciting and beautiful to see a home being built.”
Trakhtman and his family eventually moved to Reisterstown, where his mother gave birth to one more child, a daughter. Mom and Dad worked in the family produce business. Trakhtman went to Towson University and owned a medical sales company before delving into the construction business.
To start his company, Trakhtman asked a friend to teach him everything about the business. After working on a handful of renovation projects, he bought an 11-acre property, joined up with another builder, assembled a team of vendors and began to “feed his desire to be a custom home builder.”
“Home building is a team effort and having the best people work for us is the reason we can produce beautiful homes,” says Trakhtman. “You learn every day from your vendors and those who work with you.”
Now, Zander Homes, which is named after Alex (full name Alexander), is in its eighth year and employs 10 full-time workers. They build homes that range in price from $1-1.5 million in Baltimore, Carroll, Howard and Anne Arundel counties, and range between 3,000 and 13,000 square feet. The company is currently working on 10 new construction projects and six renovations.
“One of the most exciting parts of a project for me is framing,” Trakhtman says, becoming more animated talking about the process. “Imagine having a piece of land. When you put down the foundation you can’t see it. But when you start framing, you start to see the true structure of the home and you see what you have designed on paper come to life.”
Another inspiring aspect of Zander Homes is the fact it’s a family business. Trakhtman’s wife, Regina, works alongside him as a partner. She loves watching their clients realize a beautiful dream.
“Building homes is an art,” says Regina Trakhtman, who is also a realtor. “What makes Zander Homes even more special is that we allow our clients to be the artist and draw from their imagination. We are just the tools that they use to get to that masterpiece.”
Lutherville resident Aaron Wik and his family had the opportunity to create their one-of-a-kind masterpiece with Zander Homes. From the tray ceilings to the intricate trim work to the temperature- and humidity-controlled wine cellar, Wik says building his forever home with the company was a good experience, and a rare one.
“Having a chance to walk through the home and make decisions and changes through the process was great,” says Wik, the father of two. “It’s like having a piece of art and you get to tell the artist what to do.”
It’s that attention to detail, plus hard work and determination, that link Weissberg and Trakhtman. Oh, and don’t forget passion.
“If you follow your passions and work hard everything will fall into place,” Trakhtman says. “I believe so much in entrepreneurship. It’s about taking risks and it’s what America was built on.”
Aliza Friedlander is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.