Last March, Miami-based Crescent Heights paid for The Palatine, a coveted high-rise near transit in the Courthouse neighborhood of Arlington, Va. Less than a year later, a number of sources say the 262-unit property is on the market again. And it’s not alone. Earlier this year, GlobeSt. reported that Crescent Heights had also put the Cityfront Place apartments, a 481-unit deal in Chicago that it bought in 2009, on the market. Could the moves by Crescent Heights be a sign that the market is again ripe for buyers to buy and flip? Or is it just that a company that traditionally made its revenue by converting condos is once again flipping buildings? Though there’s data that suggests other recent buyers are putting their properties on the market, there’s certainly not a large enough sample size to call the practice a trend. But it’s something industry analysts are watching closely.
“Anecdotally, there are more of these buyers who purchased the properties in the bottom of the market and are now trying to flip them,” says Ben Thypin, senior market analyst with New York-based research firm Real Capital Analytics (RCA). “Perhaps its nascent trend if these deals end up closing.”
There’s one problem: There weren’t enough trophy deals that traded in 2009 and 2010 for there to be a real market for flippers. “You’re starting to see other guys do it, but there weren’t that many deals that physically traded,” says Mike Kelly, president and confounder for Denver-based Caldera Asset Management. “You had a bunch of Northwestern Mutual deals and a bunch of busted condos.”
In a list compiled by RCA exclusively for Multifamily Executive, most of the re-sales that have happened in recent months have mainly been things built in the '80s and '90s in tougher markets—with the exceptions of a 29-unit property in Brooklyn that sold in 2009 and again in 2010. Thypin says most had minor rehab work, but “nothing substantial.”
“Most of these properties are of lower quality,” Thypin says. “My initial theory was that they were of good quality, and the market was starved [for good quality], so that’s why they are being flipped. But there are properties on here from the '70s and '80s.”
In what could be taken as an encouraging sign, the sellers made a profit on all of the properties that resold. The bulk of those deals (four properties that sold twice and one that sold three times) were in Phoenix. “If you compare Phoenix to Vegas, there’s a lot more demand,” Thypin says. “It doesn’t surprise me that there are a lot more flips in Phoenix.”
The other markets that RCA says saw multiple sales of the same property since 2009 were San Diego, Hollywood, Fla., Miami, San Luis Obispo, and Tampa, Fla. Though there might be some activity on the fringes, Kelly wonders if anything other than assets in poor markets, will hit the sales block anytime soon. “What product will be in the market for that institutional unlevered capital [buyer],” he says. “There’s not a bunch of busted condos, and there’s no new construction. So what’s left?”
If that is the case, what happens with Crescent Heights' high-profile assets may indeed be worth watching.