UPPER WEST SIDE — Buying your dream apartment can be a life-altering experience, but purchasing property with help from one Manhattan real estate firm may even change lives thousands of miles away.
Rubicon Property, which is set to open its first storefront location at 451 Columbus Ave. next month, regularly donates money to a group that builds clean water wells in Central Africa.
Every 90 days, Rubicon's owners say they fund at least one $5,000 well through the nonprofit charity:water, which works in countries such as Uganda and Rwanda, where villagers sometimes trek for miles to find clean water.
"It ties in with so much of the ethos of the age we live in right now, where the world has gotten smaller and smaller, but the problems have gotten bigger and bigger," Rubicon CEO and co-founder Jason Haber said.
Haber, 34, who lives on West 74th Street between Columbus Avenue and Central Park West with his wife and newborn baby, is no stranger to mixing real estate and global issues.
In September 2009, when he was a broker at Prudential Douglas Elliman, Haber made headlines for standing up to Libyan dictator Muammar el-Qaddafi. Representatives for Qaddafi, who was planning a visit to New York to speak at the United Nations, approached Haber about renting an Upper East Side townhouse for the Libyan strongman.
Haber told them they could have the townhouse for free — if Qaddafi sent convicted Pan Am flight 103 terrorist Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi back to Scotland. The Libyans refused.
Haber was interviewed on CNN and Good Morning America, and received thousands of emails from people "who thanked him for bringing a moral compass to the industry," he said.
"I started thinking about how real estate could make an impact in peoples' lives," Haber said.
When Haber and his brother Cory started Rubicon Property in the fall of 2010, they decided from the outset that the firm would have a philanthropic mission. They chose to focus on clean drinking water because it was a politically neutral issue that wouldn't alienate potential customers, Haber said.
They also liked the idea that water wells make a quantifiable impact on a problem that can one day be solved.
There's a lag time of about 18 months between the donation and the construction of wells, so Rubicon is still awaiting word that its first well is in the ground. So far, Rubicon has donated enough to build wells that will eventually help 974 people, according to a formula developed by charity:water.
Rubicon's real estate portfolio has grown as well. The firm, which has an office on Wall Street, started with just one listing: a $900,000 one-bedroom apartment. Today, Rubicon offers $40 million in exclusive listings, ranging from studio apartment rentals to townhouses.
The Upper West Side was at the "tippy top" of the list when Rubicon was deciding where to open its first retail location, Haber said.
"The Upper West Side has been one of the communities that's responded most favorably to our social and philanthropic message," Haber said. "The people of the Upper West Side have embraced the idea that you can do good for yourself and do good for the world."