In the high-leverage world of real estate financing, "there's a gun to your head all the time," says James M. "Mickey" Abrams.
Still, Mr. Abrams, president of Abrams Development Group Inc., just keeps putting himself under that gun.
Now working on his fifth development project in less than four years, the 29-year-old Pikesville native builds for a very specific niche: small- and medium-sized businesses that require 500 square feet or less of space.
Even in the toughest of economic times, "there's always a generation of new companies coming up," and needing space, says Mr. Abrams. What's more, as the larger companies streamline, "We're seeing a lot of people moving down, taking less space."
Yet, Mr. Abrams wasn't always impressed with the potential of serving the small guy.
After logging four years at the development arm of Continental Realty, a Baltimore County-based development group active in Owings Mills and other areas, the University of New Hampshire graduate decided to strike out on his own with the financial backing of friends and family.
His first inclination was to go for the big score, but "the field was fairly crowded for large projects," he says. Besides, "they take longer to do, and they're riskier because your eggs are in one baskets."
Typically, his projects cost less than $3 million and take no more than a year to build.
ADG's buildings are sprinkled around the Baltimore area -- in Reisterstown, Owings Mills and Ellicott City, for instance.
Many were financed this year, though money is increasingly harder to come by, says Mr. Abrams. His company's ability to tailor buildings to the needs of small-business owners is a plus with banks, which are concerned with keeping occupancy levels high, he adds.
Keeping his own business small also pays off -- he doesn't have the overhead and other expenses that weigh down large developers in hard times.
"We're small enough to make the smaller user feel large," he adds, stressing his company's attention to service and trouble-shooting for clients.
Still, Mr. Abrams knows that nothing is guaranteed in his business -- except risk.
"If you try to shift directions to suit the economy," he says, "the economy's going to shift on you by the time you finish. You have to look at what makes real estate work over a long period of time."
And sometimes you have to challenge conventional wisdom.
Admitting that Columbia is "absolutely" overdeveloped, Mr. Abrams is building Signature Centre anyway. It will stand on Route 100, which will link Howard and Anne Arundel counties.
Signature Centre, like the other ADG projects under construction, should be completed within the next three months.