The roots of Berger Communities date back to 1972 when two brothers in their twenties joined together in acquiring and managing multi-family apartment communities in the Philadelphia Region.
In order to convince the sellers to take on such a risk, they were often obligated to pay above market prices for the properties. To maintain cash flow in those early days, they took out cash advances on their credit cards. At one point, they had over 40 credit cards in use. Realizing they were stretched, and operating under much leveraged conditions, they were adamant about not assuming any personal liabilities, or co-mingling financial liability among properties.
They used the phraseology from the hospitality field to refer to the Maintenance Operations as the “Back of the House” and Rental and Collection activities as the “Front of the House,” with Steve initially focusing his efforts on the “Back of the House”, and Jim on the “Front of the House.” Ilene Berger, Steve’s wife, helped with some administrative and bookkeeping responsibilities in the early years as well.
The First Apartment Community
The first apartment community the Company purchased was Robert Court Apartments in 1972, a 42-unit apartment home community located in Havertown, PA. Over the next four years, they purchased Tarleton House Apartments, Cliveden Apartments, Wal-Lane Apartments, Chet Wayne Apartments, Eagle Court Apartments, and Bennett Hall/Shelburne Apartments. These communities were all located in Philadelphia, with the exception of Eagle Court, and ranged in size from 24 to 295 apartments per community. These properties were laden with operational issues such as high vacancy, significant deferred maintenance, delinquency, and high accounts payable which, in many cases, Jim and Steve were obligated to assume.
The Early Years
Rapid Growth Begins
Steve and Jim started to recognize that they were going to need more help to properly manage their properties and rapidly growing portfolio. To assist in getting the properties up to speed as soon as possible, their parents Irv and Betty Berger relocated from Reading and moved into the Norris Hills Apartments to assist in overseeing the property until it was stabilized. Their efforts were repeated again in 1980 with the acquisition of Highland Manor. At this point, Steve and Jim realized they were still spread too thin, and needed to hire caring and qualified individuals to begin developing the organization. Doug Artz, a college student who had been working as a part-time superintendent was hired as a full-time employee to assist Jim and Steve in all aspects of property management. He stayed with the organization for almost 30 years and became the first President of the company.
The Success of the 1980's
By 1980, several local banks and syndicators had witnessed the company’s success in challenging markets and offered BRC the opportunity to purchase apartment communities that were in default or on the verge of default. These properties were located in suburban Philadelphia and offered a much greater upside than they had experienced in previous ventures. Despite being in better locations, many of the problems these properties faced were similar to that witnessed in prior acquisitions. As such, the same basic operating procedures continued to be used in order to achieve success.
The Passing of Jim Berger and the Future of the Company
Sadly, in January 2001, Jim Berger passed away at the age of 55. This was a difficult time as Jim and Steve had worked so closely for many years, and Jim was very close with many of the Company’s employees. Steve was faced with a very difficult decision to either continue on with the business, or sell the real estate. Fortunately, he decided to continue the business. In 2005, Steve’s son Dan Berger, 26, joined the Company. Dan had his JD and MBA degrees from Temple University in Philadelphia, Pa, and was at the point in his life that his focus shifted from practicing law towards a career in Real Estate. At the same time, Steve’s daughter Cindy Nissen, 23, was wrapping up her Apartment Mystery Shopping business, and wanted to focus on property management rather than evaluation of property management personnel.
2008-2013 Company Expansion
In 2008, the corporate office was moved from Norris Hills to a commercial office building in Wayne, Pa. From 2008-2013, the Company expanded in Pa with acquisitions of The Commons at Mansfield in Mansfield, The Lofts, and The Residences at Ribbon Place in York, Highland Manor and 25 North Apartments in Pottstown, Walton Heights Apartments in Altoona, Norris Hills East in Norristown, Lakeview Apartments in Williamsport, and Forest Manor Apartments in West Chester. These properties were purchased with substantially more cash than required in the past as the multi-family market had become highly competitive. From a cash flow standpoint, they shifted their focus to building significant capital improvement reserves to ensure that the capital needs of the communities would be met for the long term so that the assets would remain profitable and stable.
Standards are Now the Core of Our Portfolio
BRC takes pride in the fact that many of the acquisitions that took a lot of time and effort to bring up to the Company standards are now the core of our portfolio. With the exception of two apartment communities, the Company still owns/manages every apartment community acquired since 1971. While the company has changed significantly since then, they have always kept their peripheral sights on the rearview mirror while striving to improve every day. They continue to stay focused on the same family-based values and principles on which the Company was founded. Berger Communities values, appreciates, and cares about its team members, residents, and clients. The Company’s success is the result of the commitment and hard work of an incredible team (with some team members having been with the company for over 35 years!).
“We are energized by the past; but even more excited about our future!”
– Steve Berger, Founder