A Variety of Housing Options
by Beth Steury
When asked how long he’s worked for Biggs, Inc. of Decatur, Indiana, present owner and CEO Kevan Biggs jokes that he’s been involved in the family business “since birth.” “Growing up, my brother and I were pretty active in the company, being exposed to the business, and in the field working at a young age,” he recalls.
After receiving a degree in building and construction technology, Kevan admits that “the last thing on my mind was to work in the family business.” But after a year spent in Seattle, circumstances drew him back to his roots and to the opportunity to join the business.
Before taking over the company, the Purdue graduate worked alongside his father, Ralph E. Biggs, for thirteen years, following in the footsteps of his grandfather Clark W. Smith, who founded the company in 1959. The first entity of the now third-generation business was Ideal Suburban Homes, launched by Smith as a single-family home building company.
In the 1970s, Ralph spearheaded Biggs Inc., a second division devoted to the building of multi-family apartment communities. Kevan reports, “We now build and develop communities in about twelve counties in northeast Indiana, going up almost to Michigan, then south to the Muncie/Yorktown area, over to Van Wert, Ohio, and bordered to the west by Wabash and Warsaw.” Biggs Property Management currently operates two thousand units across the state, with a small reach into both Ohio and Michigan.
In more recent years, a move in the direction toward redevelopment, aided largely “by the expertise we’ve developed through the different financing mechanisms,” has spurred growth in this area. The expansion of this third entity has increased the size of the Biggs “umbrella.”
Kevan adds, “So, we’re rebranding into The Biggs Group to make sense of the different things we do.” Under this larger umbrella will be Biggs Development, Biggs Construction, and Biggs Property Management.
“There’s a lot going on right now in all aspects. We’re active right now in proposing some new apartment communities, and very active in single-family home sales, with the market being very much a seller’s market.
“There were many years where we had a very set plan book, and we sold to the first-time home buyer when that market was by far the largest demographic. Now, for different reasons, that market isn’t nearly as active, so we’re catering to the ‘first move up’ market or even to people downsizing.” Over the years, their “stick-built on site” product has grown, becoming larger and more complex, especially in the last five years.
“We built one hundred three homes last year, a 10 to 15 percent uptick from the previous year. But, the volume increased dramatically because the size of those homes all increased in square footage and complexity.
“That seems to be where the market is driving our business. We have some very talented people on our team that deliver a very high quality product that continues to give us a great foothold in the market.”
The three thousand square foot showroom at the South 13th Street Decatur office allows prospective home buyers the opportunity to “see, feel and touch” a variety of interior and exterior options for their home. For outlying communities, a designated model home with a mini-showroom in the finished garage allows customers the convenience of perusing those same options without traveling to Decatur.
Biggs Property Management is involved in both “market-rate” and “affordable” or subsidized apartment communities. The company typically retains ownership of the market-rate communities in a “build, buy and hold” scenario, while the affordable apartment communities are arranged in such a way as to work well with the government subsidized programs.
“Many folks still believe we are only involved in affordable single family housing or only affordable apartment communities, but that makes up only a percentage of our overall portfolio. The market-rate apartment communities are just about equal in number of units to the affordable units that we manage.
“A lot of exciting things are on the horizon. North Manchester reached out to us and asked if we would help them develop a subdivision on a ninety-acre property.”
Recently, Biggs partnered with a Fort Wayne group to redevelop the Centlivre campus-style apartment community built in the 1960s. The interiors of the original four hundred fifty-five units will be completely gutted and reconfigured into three hundred seventy-five market-rate apartments. The first forty-eight units will be available in May or June of this year. “We’re pretty excited about this project.”
Another exceptional opportunity in the Fort Wayne area is the collaboration with two other companies to redevelop the General Electric Broadway campus. “This will bring all our resources to bear,” says Kevan.
“We’ve also been asked to partner with some local investors to acquire the school property at the corner of US Highway 27 and State Road 218 in Berne, to come up with the right redevelopment opportunity to make that property viable and community-driven.” This unique project is benefiting from the initial efforts of “a tremendously successful focus group.”
The company employs fifty-five, including those at the Decatur office and those who manage onsite at the various apartment communities.
“One thing that I’m very, very blessed to have is great people who work for me, who are very passionate about what they do here. Many key people have been with me for multiple decades, so that kind of longevity provides great stability and focus.
“The direction we’re headed is exciting, offering new challenges for the whole team. I have some very capable people to come along with me as we move into these new endeavors. It’s been a fun ride so far. Never a dull moment.”
For more information, check out the Biggs Property Management and Ideal Suburban Homes websites, as well as the Biggs Property Management Facebook page.