Growing up in Newport Beach, California, in the early 1980s, Afshin Etebar dreamed of being an architect. Today his dreams are reflected in the palatial residences and multifamily dwellings created by Etco Homes. Etebar, 52, now serves as president of the company that he, with his brother, Bob, and father, Nasser, launched in 1989. Over 30 years and more than 1,500 residences later, the company now builds homes throughout Los Angeles County in sought-after locations, including Pacific Palisades, where it is currently completing its flagship, one-of-a-kind community, One Coast.
In addition to One Coast, Etco Homes is building in Beverly Hills, Pasadena, West Los Angeles, Downtown L.A., West Hollywood, and the San Fernando Valley. CSQ caught up with Etebar this spring to learn more about his journey and what keeps him grounded.
How did you gravitate from architecture to development?
Architecture was my passion during high school. One of my teachers recognized my passion and encouraged me to pursue it. Immediately following high school, I started taking classes at Orange Coast College in preparation of moving forward to architecture school. At the same time, I began working with a local Newport Beach architecture firm by the name of Dorius Architects, as a junior draftsman. This was back when everything was done by hand rather than computer-aided drafting (CAD). But the industry was changing rapidly, and everything was going to CAD. Around that time, my father, then nearly retired, was looking for new endeavors to pursue. That is when we decided to look for opportunities in the development world, and my father and I formed Etco Homes and started to build homes together.
What was it like working with your father?
It was probably the single best period of my life. Today I look back and think how fortunate I was to have the ability to have that time and connection with my father, both in my business and personal life for over 20 years. Whether at home, in the car, or at the office, he guided me calmly through life’s trials and tribulations. I was fortunate that I had my father helping me from the start and it was even more helpful that we were very like-minded with the “just do it and do it right” attitude from the first day. Prior to starting our company, my father had previously co-founded an RV sales and service company that went on to become one of the biggest RV dealers in California.
Your brother joined the company a few years in. How have your roles developed and what is your priority now?
Just the same as my relationship with my father, my brother and I deal in the same regard. It is nice to be in accord with him and it has been that way ever since the beginning. Although we are both fully involved in every facet of our business, we do tend to favor some aspects of the business more. For example, my brother tends to deal a lot more with our partners, finance, and construction costs, and I deal more in the location selection, acquisition, design, construction, sales, and marketing aspects of our business.
I personally don’t like to think about the financial aspects as that may distract me from my vision. I enjoy visiting construction sites, fixing problems, and finding solutions. Our company is focused on luxury condominiums, three to eight levels. We’re in niche markets, other than our Downtown Los Angeles and San Fernando Valley communities, and our prices currently range from $2.5–$7.5M, depending on location. We currently have nearly 600 units under construction that are expected to be completed by the end of 2021.
At what point did you start to feel you had turned a corner to a successful venture?
I have always felt that we have been successful even going through tough times. I would say that a turning point was when we became a partner of Lennar Homes in 2018. That propelled us to a new level, with a national, public company behind us. We are poised to grow and maintain our dominance as a home builder in the Los Angeles market.
How do you stay nimble in uncertain times?
We stay true to our core values. We don’t jump and react without fully digesting the conditions in the local economy and on the ground. No one can see uncertainty or down markets, but I think what we do best is to acquire in the best communities and build the best quality in that community. That, combined with that fact that we build our own buildings, has always been a cornerstone to our values and I believe is the main ingredient in keeping us nimble.
What do you do to unwind?
Because I enjoy the process of homebuilding, on weekends I like to get up early in the morning, put on my jeans, get coffee, and either drive and walk the sites or literally walk to the sites. Since it is quiet, I can not only relax but I can make mental notes and get ideas for certain features of a property. It is not only relaxing but a very effective way for me to see everything firsthand.
Is there any advice you have for someone who has a desire to get a foothold in real estate development?
This is a very tough and financially strenuous business. I would encourage aspiring developers to team up with people that think alike. Also find financial partners that are open to some risk. People that have staying power. Then, I would say, start small, so that you can have your hand in every aspect of the business so that you can learn every part of the homebuilding process.