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Turning Distressed Assets Into Trusted Relationships

At the height of the 2008 Financial Crisis, Bob Brier and Ketan Vora saw the rising wake of failing real estate and dove right in. They founded Edgewater Group as distressed real estate consultants to help banks restructure loans and rebuild assets.

Today, Edgewater Group is an approximately $150 million asset size multidisciplinary real estate team of 350 delivering distressed advisory, management and real estate investment services. The company specializes in up to $20-30 million deals for a range of property types in areas with populations under 50,000.

It’s a unique niche and an impressive run – one that Bob and Ketan say has been all about building trust, building relationships, and rebuilding assets.

From distress to investing success

During their first two years, Bob and Ketan helped banks decide whether loans could be repaid or should be restructured. Coming from an operating background, they wanted to keep assets operating and produce better exit results than foreclosing and/or shutting them down.

As Bob and Ketan yielded positive results, their banking clients started showing them troubled assets with which they had no conflicts and that were available for sale to the right buyer – or as Bob says, “Somebody that wouldn’t flip it and fire everybody involved. That was never our strategy.”

The two consultants soon attracted investors that helped secure their first deal – a half-block of residential real estate near the train station in Paoli, PA. That deal led to others, and other investors – from 2014 to 2024, Edgewater Group founded four of its own investment funds.

Today, the group’s assets include hospitality, retail, office, residential and student properties across five states. Spreading risk across several asset types and geographies helps Edgewater Group protect its investors and lenders. “We’re more risk managers than risk takers,” notes Ketan.

The group’s smaller-market presence also invites new opportunities for growth – which often arrive unannounced, like when Miguel Alban walked into the group’s Paoli office to ask about an apartment.

From Paoli to Punta Gorda

As a Customers Bank SVP, Miguel Alban lives and works near Paoli. When Miguel found out what Edgewater Group did, he said, “I think we can help you.”

Within hours, Miguel and Customers Bank’s Tim Romig joined Bob and Ketan for an evening videoconference. Bob and Ketan liked learning that Customers Bank (like Edgewater Group) is based in Pennsylvania and active in Florida. They also liked the bank’s size and multi-state reach. Miguel and Tim liked that Bob and Ketan were operators and not just fund managers.

Building deals and workflows

Over the next several months, Miguel and Tim made several visits to a Punta Gorda, FL property that Edgewater Group was acquiring. “Those visits really helped us humanize the deal and helped us build a relationship.” 

Customers Bank and Edgewater Group closed that Punta Gorda deal in August 2022. A second deal followed in December 2022 and a third in January 2023. During that span, the companies quickly evolved a smooth working relationship.

Bob and Ketan like the bank’s flexibility in loan structuring and its agility in dealing with the day-to-day loan servicing. “The transaction sets the course,” says Ketan, “but the course becomes better when you have good people riding with you.”

It’s one of many reasons why the two recommend Customers Bank to colleagues. As Bob bottom lines it, “If you want somebody that’s going to listen when you make a request, or try to get to know you and better understand your business before making a decision? It’s Customers Bank.”