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Socha Management in Glenville turns 60 years old, passes to third generation

Outlook

Socha Management in Glenville turns 60 years old, passes to third generation

Commercial/residential property rental operation a significant presence on Route 50
Socha Management in Glenville turns 60 years old, passes to third generation
Bill Socha is shown in the Flex Office Suites at Socha Plaza in Glenville.
Photographer: Erica Miller

GLENVILLE — The real estate management company formed in 1959 by the late Walt and Sophie Socha will transition June 30 from the leadership of their son, Bill, to their grandchildren Grant and Taylor.

Bill Socha said he now holds the reins to Socha Management in name only — Grant and Taylor are doing at least 80 percent of the actual work of running it. But he wants to finish out the 60th fiscal year of what has been the only long-term employer he’s ever had.

“To me it’s quite fitting,” said Bill, who at 59 is one year younger than the family business. “I’ll step down and my adult children will take over.”

Socha Management, formerly Walter J. Socha Builders Inc., transitioned over the six decades from single-family housing construction to apartment construction to apartment/commercial rental management. 

It sold off its original residential complex, Indian Brook Apartments on Van Buren Road, and now has a single 60-acre campus on Route 50 comprising the 460-unit Shady Brook Apartments and the 120,000-square-foot Socha Plaza.

HUMBLE START

It’s a significant presence on the town’s commercial corridor, and light years ahead of where Walt and Sophie Socha started. 

Both were children of Polish immigrants: He grew up in the Polish-American enclave along Eastern Avenue in Schenectady, she on a Clifton Park farm.

When he was 12, Walt lost his father in a workplace accident at the Alco locomotive factory and he had to work from an early age to support his family. He started as a mason’s helper.

“Then he formed his own mason contracting business,” Bill said. “Started doing sidewalks, front stoops on people’s houses were big back then, then worked up to foundations. After a few of those he decided, ‘I’m going to be a homebuilder.’ Somewhere in there he met my mom and they got married, and together said, ‘Let’s start this building business.’ ”

ERICA MILLER/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER  
Bill Socha inside their Flex Office suites in Socha Plaza in Scotia on Monday, December 23, 2019.ERICA MILLER/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER
Bill Socha inside their Flex Office suites in Socha Plaza in Scotia on Monday, December 23, 2019.

The 1950s and '60s were the great boom era for American suburbs, and Glenville and Clifton Park were no different. Walter J. Socha Builders constructed more than 100 houses there before shifting their focus. Walt realized that apartment houses would provide a steady stream of income instead of a single lump sum, and would appreciate in value for him rather than for his customers.

“He was already finding people were selling his homes and making more money than he did when he built them for them,” Bill said.

The company bought a farm on Van Buren Road, sought the zoning change necessary to build a series of colonial-style apartment buildings called Indian Brook, and was denied permission by the town of Glenville amid vocal resident opposition — some people just thought apartments didn’t belong in town. Walt took the matter all the way to the highest court in the state and won.

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“That was a big thing. We were really the first major apartment complex in Glenville,” Bill recalled.

Bill cut grass and trimmed shrubbery at Indian Brook as a teen. He also pumped gas as a part-time high school job and worked briefly in apartment maintenance in Colorado. But after earning college degrees in civil engineering/architecture and business management, he spent his working life with the family business. 

“For most of my life I’ve been designing the buildings and then building them, and now maintaining them,” Bill said.

His two siblings, Mike and Lyn, also worked for the family business and have since retired.

CHANGING TIMES

In the early 2000s, the company changed its name to Socha Management to reflect the fact that it was no longer building single-family houses.

Socha’s commercial and residential occupancy rates are both running around 95 percent at the start of 2020.

“We’re very happy with those numbers in this very competitive market,” Bill said. “Everybody’s building apartments right now.”

The secret to success in real estate, it has often been noted, is location, and Socha has a good one. But in rental real estate, even in a good location, there needs to be an added level of customer service to retain tenants because they can move away if they aren’t happy.

Socha Management is known for the level of upkeep on its property, Bill says.

ERICA MILLER/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER  
Bill Socha inside their Flex Office suites in Socha Plaza in Scotia on Monday, December 23, 2019.ERICA MILLER/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER
Bill Socha inside their Flex Office suites in Socha Plaza in Scotia on Monday, December 23, 2019.

“We have good customer service. We respond,” he explained.

“Some people come to us [from other apartments where] their maintenance requests go weeks without being taken care of.”

Late last year, he got the kind of feedback he likes to hear from an older couple who’d sold and moved out of their home, and while looking for a new home were living in one of Socha’s corporate apartments — a dozen furnished temporary units for people in just such a housing transition.

“They had an issue and we came and fixed it right away. Then we had that big snowstorm — I was in Florida but I heard about it. Right after that storm they called and said, ‘We’re going to rent, we’re going to be full-time tenants.’ Because they were so impressed with that snow removal.”

RETIREMENT

For the past five years, Bill and his wife, Shelly, who works in human resources for Socha Management, have not only been employees of the company, they’ve also been tenants. They sold their home in Saratoga Springs around the same time they bought their condo in Florida. Socha Management was completing a mixed-use building with upscale apartments on the top floor at the time, and renting made more sense than buying.

They’ll be moving permanently to Florida in June, but will be back north regularly to visit family.

But will Bill actually retire?

“We’ll see,” he laughed.

“Someone told me ‘You’re never going to retire.’ They used the term ‘redirect.’ And there is some truth to that.

“I’m always busy. I’m always up to stuff.”

Bill will retain his interest in a joint venture, Soeva Hospitality, which owns some commercial space in Florida and owns three restaurants — two in Florida and one in Socha Plaza, the Glass Tavern. But it won’t be at the same level of involvement as being president of Socha Management. Time on the water and golf course will increase, and perhaps also time on the race course in the heavily modified Porsche he owns.

ERICA MILLER/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER  
Bill Socha inside their Flex Office suites in Socha Plaza in Scotia on Monday, December 23, 2019.ERICA MILLER/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER
Bill Socha inside their Flex Office suites in Socha Plaza in Scotia on Monday, December 23, 2019.

“I like to say now I’m 80 percent retired. I’m already stepped back quite a bit. The best way, I think, for Grant and Taylor to be taking over is just to get out of the way.

“They went out and did different things. … I think they had a good feeling they would come back and be with the family business, but both of them wanted to try different things.”

Bill spoke to The Gazette seated in the new flexible office space in Socha Plaza, simply called Flex Office Suites. It’s a variation on co-working space, offering a small suite for a small monthly rent and communal access to the infrastructure that quickly gets expensive in a standalone office. Target tenants include startups, tiny companies and established larger operations that want a new remote location. Socha Management heard enough interest to decide to enter the market.

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“This project was sort of my last,” he said. “I played a big role along with my daughter creating this concept and then pulling this together.”

The logo was Taylor’s creation. Its popping-lime green color was Bill’s idea, prompted by a documentary he’d seen years ago on how H&R Block made a huge investment of time and money to design its own green logo.

“We played around with colors,” he said. “I came back to that story. I said, ‘If H&R Block spent millions of dollars, let’s run with it.’ ”

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