In late 2008, the management team at Greensboro, N.C.–based Bell Partners decided it needed to sharpen its focus. Two and a half years later, the owner of 43,189 units took a big step toward executing those plans with its mid-summer sale of nearly its entire senior living portfolio, for more than $300 million, to Newton, Mass.–based REIT Senior Housing Properties Trust (SNH). “We made a strategic decision awhile back to narrow the focus, but we knew it would take awhile to execute the plan,” says Jon Bell, president of Bell Partners.
The sale includes 22 assets (with another four being sold at a later date) in North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Virginia, and Georgia. For now, the company will retain two senior housing properties in North Carolina that were recently completed and are still in lease-up. Those properties will likely sell within 24 months.
Jon Bell says attractive interest rates, a strong market for the acquisition of senior living assets, and a general backlog of investment cash from prospective buyers (particularly public REITs) influenced the timing of the sale. But the big impetus was that single decision to simplify the business—to focus on the ownership and management of its market-rate apartments. That meant divesting itself of assets that didn’t fall in that core competency. “We concluded it’s tough to be great at one thing, much less different things,” Bell says. The Value of Simplicity
At the time of the sale, Bell Partners had 215 market-rate apartment assets and 28 senior housing properties. Yet, despite having almost eight times as many apartment communities as senior housing sites, the company had about the same number of employees—1,500—in each division.