FAIRVIEW, N.J. — While it was fate that first brought Fairview's Mike Elayan and Nora Jaloudi together at a wedding in their teens, it was hard work and determination that they say brought success to both their relationship and their business.
Elayan, an Oradell native, and Jaloudi, formerly of Englewood Cliffs, married when they were both 20 and have since built a family of five together — along with dozens of homes across Bergen County.
"If you're honest, you can be successful in this industry," said Elayan, 34, a father of three.
"We don’t build for profit, we build for passion."
To make a long story short, it was love at first sight for the high school sweethearts.
A couple years after the wedding, Elayan got his real estate license and began working on a development project in Jersey City with a distant relative and his brothers.
After the demolition, Elayan realized his relative had been stealing money, and left his team to finish a project that they had no equity in.
"I remember standing in front of 3-family property thinking my brothers were going to kill me," Elayan said.
"I had to mitigate the loss."
He dropped everything to figure it out and ended up hiring a financially-distressed contractor to help start a company,
Elayan knew nothing about the industry but was determined to finish the project.
After that, it only made sense to keep running with it, and ECS Custom Homes was launched in 2005 with Elayan in the forefront and Jaloudi working client relationships and manning the books.
The turning point came in 2012.
One of Elayan's friends, a painter, was looking for someone to finish the job of a contractor who left the projects halfway through.
ECS Custom Homes stepped in and was able to finish the houses.
"It was the opportunity we were yearning for," Elayan said. "I bounced around communities and developed a good reputation specializing in high design."
Elayan and Jaloudi are currently working on nine homes in Bergen County valued between $1.5 and $4 million. One of the houses will soon be their own and double as an ECS Show House, formerly an estate belonging to the owner of a Chevrolet dealership.
ECS Custom Homes is also working on projects in Rutherford, Demarest, Ridgewood, Hillsdale and a brand-new duplex in Edgewater.
Each one is unique.
"We want every house we do to be special," he said. "We never do cookie cutter houses.
"We spend a lot of time on the earlier part of the process to make sure no one has any regrets. It's a large investment."
The couple says that working together has brought them closer.
"It's a true bond built on hard work and love," Elayan said. "We didn't become successful and discount what the other went through.
"We just respect another so much for what we're willing to endure, while believing in each other and building everything we have together.
"It's a pretty amazing relationship."