In the early stages of the recovery, REITs seemed to make the biggest deals. That's changing, as the list of top 10 buyers so far in 2011 indicates. The privates are definitely back in the game, with Houston-based Veritas Investments leading the buying parade. But REITs are still spending big money, too.

When measuring purely by the type of property sales, portfolios win out, according to the data compiled by New York-based research firm Real Capital Analytics. In fact, Houston-based REIT Camden Property Trust added the second-most no. of properties in the first half of the year thanks to a portfolio buy. And some companies combined resources to boost their buying power. For instance, coming in at sixth on the list was Florham Park, N.J.-based Kushner Cos.; New York-based private equity firm Square Mile Capital; and Cleveland-based Apollo Property Management, which partnered to buy a portfolio of 4,681 apartment units in June.

“A lot of these are private capital funds teaming up with an operator, like the Kushner deal,” says Ben Thypin, a senior market analyst for RCA. “There seems to be a lot more of that in there. It’s a little bolder than the REITs. REITS are less inclined to go into a tertiary market or a property with more deferred maintenance.”

But if you look at who is buying the trophy assets, institutions and REITs are dominant. Of the four REITs in the top 10 buyers by volume, the frontrunners are Denver-based UDR (No. 1), Chicago-based Equity Residential (No. 3), and Arlington, Va.-based AvalonBay Communities (No. 5), who all made the list in addition to Camden (No. 4).

“The REITs as are leading the pack [when it comes to volume],” says Marc E. deBaptiste, a principal in the Boca Raton, Fla., office of Apartment Realty Advisors. “Any of the top five REITs have such a significant infrastructure and availability of capital to give them an advantage.”

But their high barrier push-to-good markets will keep their total units purchased down, but dollar volumes high. “The analysts like to see a coherent strategic plan that includes having newer properties in better markets,” deBaptiste says.

There’s also a lot of money chasing deals that may not be on this Top 10 list but could fuel future deals, according to Bill Roohan, a vice chairman for CB Richard Ellis. “There’s foreign capital looking to make a mark,” Roohan says. “They’re coming in second, third, and fourth. They’re now understanding the market and will eventually become the first buyer.”

Top 10 Buyers of 2011 so far, By Number of Properties

Company No. of properties bought Volume (in millions)
Veritas Investments 28 $129.0
Camden Property Trust 15 $499.0
Area Property Partners 14 $431.1
Landmark Residential 12 $112.0
Pacific Coast Capital Partners 13 $76.6
Kushner Cos. / Apollo Property Management / Square Mile Capital 12 $72.0
Lynd Cos. 11 $92.8
Alma Realty 11 $22.3
Angelo Gordon 10 $401.0
Harbor Group International 10 $201.6

Source: Real Capital Analytics