The real estate enterprise known as Rapid Realty, true to its name, is growing rapidly. On Sunday, the company celebrated the opening of its newest franchise in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan.

“It was a fantastic opening,” said Rapid Realty founder and CEO Anthony Lolli. To date, the company has 60 locations and is a franchise that spans New York City and parts of Long Island and New Jersey.

The rise of Rapid Realty is a unique growth story. In the midst of the financial recession that began in 2008, Lolli saw what most others did not during the crash: a silver lining of opportunity.

“We went from one location to 60 during the worst economic collapse and during the time when the real estate market had a black eye and a black cloud over it,” said Lolli. “I stuck to my guns with the rentals. I did rentals when rentals were not cool. When everyone else was selling million-dollar listings and there was predatory lending and people buying homes with no money down, and financing was flying off the shelf, I stuck to rentals. I’d always say I’d rather make a fast nickel than a slow dime.”

Fast-forward from Rapid Realty’s first deal in 1998, and the concept of earning fast nickels has made the 14-year-old company several million dollars richer and turned it into a major player in New York City’s real estate market.

“I call what we do ‘rentals for the rest of us’ while other businesses focused on the 1 percent,” says Lolli. “So when the collapse happened, the 1 percent wasn’t budging. But guess who was budging? The 99 percent. People were downsizing. People were renting their homes and downsizing their lifestyle until the recession ended. That’s when we came in. Even people who short-sold their properties needed to rent. People were losing their jobs and getting unemployment but not getting paid as much, so they needed to move out of that expensive place into somewhere more reasonable–and that’s where we came in.”

And that’s the sweet spot of the city’s real estate market, where Rapid has been ever since. According to Lolli, 60 percent of Rapid’s inventory comprises no-fee apartments. It’s this niche that allowed Lolli to personally flip a $150,000 property investment into one worth $3.5 million, and the same niche that allows him to institutionally pass onto his trainees the Rapid opportunity to expand.

“It costs to get a real estate license. We’re going to pay for you to get that real estate license and we’re going to employ you. But you’re going to help us rent out some of these vacant apartments to some good people. You’re going to earn a commission. You’re going to earn a living doing this career until you get back onto your feet.”

According to Lolli, this contract with New Yorkers is the reason why his organization has sky-rocketed from having 200 people to more than 1,200 people, because people fell in love with the business and being part of the resurgence of the economy. It’s a feeling Lolli says he wants those formerly incarcerated in particular to experience.

“Sometimes a person who was incarcerated is already down, and the only job opportunities are minimum-wage, and not even that. Some come with all kinds of restrictions. But when you hold a real estate license, it’s like a second chance. You’re licensed by the state, you’re in a trusted position and you really get a chance to prove to the world that you’re not a statistic and you’re not someone who is going to go back.”

Lolli said his motivation to help those formerly incarcerated re-enter society by using real estate as their comeback came from examples set by his father and his experiences with a friend who was formerly incarcerated.

“My father was a teacher, and when he retired, he voluntarily taught at Rikers–not just books, but he taught other stuff, like how to shave. I looked at those things as examples and they came back to me when I reunited with a friend I had grown up with but hadn’t seen in 15 years.

“He was locked up, and when it was time for parole, I helped put together his parole packet. But he got denied because of the limited prospects he had when coming out. I then began to network with my entrepreneurial friends to see what could be done. I saw that I can make an example one person at a time.”

According to Lolli, those interested in helping Rapid Realty help more people, one person at a time, are encouraged to reach him through his websites.

“I want people to look at the sites first and see what we’re all about. I’m proud of our work because we are for real.”

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