After spending more than 25 years in title insurance and real estate law, Roger Zopfi decided he was ready to broaden his horizons in the real estate industry so he chose to pursue the Master of Science in Real Estate degree at St. Thomas. The new connections and exposure to other areas of the industry have so far been invaluable.
What is your professional education and experience?
My whole journey in real estate began as an accident. I graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in business in 1982. At the time, the economy was down, and full-time positions for recent college graduates were scarce. My first assignment at a temporary agency was a two day stint at Minnesota Title (now Old Republic National Title Insurance Company). This two day temporary job turned into a seven year hands-on learning experience. At the time, I didn’t know an abstract of title from an abstract painting. I started from the bottom and worked my way up through the ranks. In these formative years I was exposed to the disciplines of abstracting, final policy writing, title examination and underwriting. Eventually, one of my former colleagues recruited me to work as a paralegal at the law firm of Doherty, Rumble & Butler in St. Paul. It was here that I began to learn the transactional side of real estate, and had the opportunity to work on major projects like Town Square and the Children’s Museum.
Several years later I became the General Manager of a title insurance agency in Western Wisconsin. Eventually, my wife and I started our own title agency as an agent for Old Republic National Title. After selling our company nine years later, I spent two years as a Senior Title Examiner in the National Commercial Services Division of First American Title. For the past five years, I have been working as a Real Estate Paralegal at the firm of Lindquist & Vennum PLLP. Initially, a great deal of my time was spent working with clients developing, selling, purchasing or financing ethanol plants and wind farms. Thanks to the mortgage meltdown brought to us by Wall Street, I’m currently being kept very busy assisting clients with mortgage foreclosures.
The foreclosure process is very complex and highly technical in nature. Managing the timelines and navigating all of the statutory requirements, really keeps me on my toes.
Why did you choose the MSRE program at St. Thomas?
St. Thomas is the most accessible, high-quality real estate program in the area. Classes at UST are geared towards the real world, not just academic theory. They are very application-driven. I knew that I was not only going to learn “how” things are done in real estate, but also “why”.
I’m also looking forward to the potential International Development course next spring that will allow students to gain some hands on experience with a current development project in the Cayman Islands.
What was your career goal when you entered the MSRE program and how has it evolved since?
I wanted to round out my experience in the real estate field. I’ve spent most of my career in the areas of title insurance and real estate law. I really needed to gain a better understanding of the development, investment, and management sides of the industry. One of my long term goals is to teach real estate, and completing my MSRE will help me achieve that goal.
Talk about your experience in the MSRE program so far, what are the benefits, and what have you learned?
It’s been great. I’m able to apply what I’ve been learning to my every day work with clients at the firm. I now have a greater understanding of their business, and it makes communication more efficient.
The new mentorship program St. Thomas offers to its MSRE students has benefited me tremendously. It gives me access to a lot of industry leaders that I wouldn’t normally have access to. They offer sound advice and perspective, as well as insights into their day to day routines. It’s been an eye-opening and invaluable component to the whole program. My mentor helps me to determine how I can best achieve my goals and get where I want to go in the industry.
The Faculty at UST has both the academic and real world experience we need as students. Our professors work outside the college and have been on the front lines; they stay current with what’s going on and are engaged in the industry.
Integrating industry tools like Site To Do Business, CoStar and ARGUS gives all of us a leg-up in our real estate careers.
How do you balance work, coursework, and other life demands? What’s your favorite non-real estate pastime?
I just take it one day at a time. It can be hard to fit it all in and find a balance, but I’m able to make time for an occasional round of golf or martial arts class with my students.
Of course, I can’t leave out my dog Georgia. She’s my daily reality check. A Dogue De Bordeaux rescue (French Mastiff made popular by the Tom Hanks movie – “Turner and Hooch”), we took in last summer. She makes me laugh every day!