Brian and Kent Roers have quietly built one of the largest Twin Cities-based developer-managers of residential properties.

The farm boys from rural Marshall, Minn., started their careers in accounting and financial planning, respectively, after making money on their first real estate investment — a fixer-upper house while they were still in college 20 years ago.

Brian, 41, and Kent, 42, left their day jobs in 2012 to form Roers Cos. Since then, they have developed more than $600 million worth of buildings and raised $160 million from private-equity investors along the way.

Before that, they survived the 2008-2009 real estate-deflating recession. They credit their conservative instincts.

The Roers brothers had accumulated about 30 houses. Banks were lending liberally, with mortgages requiring little to nothing down, low documentation and sometimes interest-only payments. Housing prices were rising annually by 20% or more.

“Something didn’t feel right,” recalled Brian Roers. “I’m a [conservative] CPA. And I almost took an interest-only mortgage.”

The Roers concluded they were in a real estate bubble. They sold all but a few properties at nice profits before the market collapsed.

The good instincts have paid off since Roers Cos. was capitalized and launched into multifamily housing in 2012.

The company has developed and built about 40 projects, mostly in the Twin Cities, North Dakota, Wisconsin and Iowa. Their multifamily residential buildings total 2,500-plus units. They also have constructed several commercial buildings. The 85-employee, Minnetonka-based company expects revenue this year of about $7 million.

Roers Cos. has prospered thanks to a disciplined, diversified approach.

It starts with geography and extends to production. The company limits itself to six projects a year, including senior housing, market-rate apartment buildings and subsidized-affordable housing in diverse markets.

It invests a conservative 25% down on each project to ensure there is plenty of equity to weather lean periods of eroding value.

That came in handy when Roers was caught in North Dakota’s oil patch with several apartment projects in 2015.

The price of domestic oil, which peaked at nearly $100 per barrel in 2013-2014, fell to nearly $30 a barrel in 2015-2016. It recovered to the $50 to $60 range since 2018. That has stimulated energy production, employment, income and rentals in North Dakota oil country.

Kent Roers can remember building the Bluffs of Williston, a 148-unit, $29 million project. It was the biggest ever for the firm in North Dakota, and came just as oil prices sank.

“There were many sleepless nights,” he recalled, as the project opened in 2015 with prices hovering around $40 per barrel.

“We had to raise cash to pay down debt” as North Dakota property valuations fell, Kent Roers said.

About 85% of their investors who had staked them in North Dakota projects ponied up for more. That provided capital and some confidence. Later, Roers sold its Mezzo apartment building in northeast Minneapolis at a profit and paid down more North Dakota debt.

And it bought them time to wait out the slumping North Dakota oil patch economy.

“We built good buildings in good locations,” Brian Roers said. “Now, they are cash-flowing.”

The brothers were joined by minority partner Jeff Koch in 2013, another farm boy and friend from Marshall. Koch worked in project management at Target and was a veteran real estate investor.

In the Twin Cities, the Roers partners built a couple of student-housing buildings near the University of Minnesota. They also have built senior housing in redeveloping Richfield — including the $21 million, 88-unit Havenwood project on the site of a former public works garage — and Buffalo, and market-rate apartments in Burnsville and Chanhassen.

Roers avoided the postrecession rush to downtown Minneapolis, led by the likes of the larger Doran, Ryan, United Properties and Sherman.

Instead, they developed three luxury apartment complexes over the past three years in developer-hungry downtown Des Moines.

The first project, Confluence on Third, was a 211-unit upscale complex, completed in 2017, that redeveloped an entire block.

“They shook up the market,” said Ryan Moffatt, economic development project manager for the city of Des Moines. “They set the bar higher. It was a $41 million project, three buildings, on a derelict site.”

With amenities including a rooftop patio and bar and common space in the buildings, plus aggressive marketing, “other developers started to emulate them,” Moffatt said.

Des Moines agreed to a 10-year property tax abatement, and the state invested $1 million in workforce tax credits for the project, Moffatt said. He considered that a good bargain for the city. Roers Cos. has done two more projects in the Des Moines loop since.

Roers cracks the big 10 of Twin Cities-based developers in terms of square footage developed, regardless of state, over the last three years.

The brothers see no reason why the company can’t grow from $7 million to $12 million in revenue by 2025.

“We don’t think there is another Great Recession coming,” Kent Roers said.

 

Neal St. Anthony has been a Star Tribune business columnist and reporter since 1984. He can be contacted at nstanthony@startribune.com.