Milton Grant has been building homes since he was 19. He put up his first apartment complex in 1974, when he was 24. And over the years, Grant has recognized that one amenity most renters want—but often can’t get—is some place to park their cars. Grant, who co-owns Grant Properties LLC in Collierville, Tenn., also builds between five and 10 single-family homes a year. So it's not surprising that of the 1,000 apartments he’s built, 888 of them are "all-garage" units, meaning that each apartment comes with its own attached garage.
He’s currently working on a 227-unit apartment complex called Westbrook Crossing in Collierville, near Memphis. What will distinguish these apartments from those at his other all-garage communities—The Wyndham, with more than 330 apartments; and Cayman Grove, with 552 units—is that Westbrook’s triplexes will all be one-floor, "so that no one is living above you," says Grant, who has found over the years that it’s easier and more commodious to soundproof walls than ceilings and floors. The apartments will range from 755 to 1,110 square feet.
The attached garages, which vary in size depending on their location within the triplex, are designed so that they are accessible from the apartment’s kitchen. That design is a challenge, he explains, because "you practically need streets all the way around" so each garage has access to them.
The whole community, which will have 75 triplex buildings when it’s completed in 20 months, is being made to blend in with other single-family homes in neighborhoods near the FedEx World Technology Center. "This is pretty much Milton’s idea from the start," says Barry Almon, an architect with The Renaissance Group, the architectural firm that did the drawings for these triplexes.
Magna Bank is funding Westbrook Crossing with an $18.5 million construction loan, according to The Commercial Appeal in Memphis.
Grant is of the opinion that the greatest competitive threat to his apartments isn’t other apartments but single-family homes. His own independent research informs him that, nationwide, as much as 80% of all leased housing is single family.
If he’s right, that percentage is significantly higher than the National Multi Housing Council’s estimates that renter-occupied households account for about one-third of total U.S. households, and single-family homes make up 34% of renter-occupied households. A recent analysis of Fannie Mae’s National Housing Survey by Irvine, Calif.–based John Burns Real Estate Consulting concludes that single-family renters accounted for around 12% of total households in 2010.
Regardless, Grant observes that most renters want the safety and amenities that a single-family dwelling offers. He also notes, though, that until recently, "this has been the worst apartment market since 2003," because it was so easy for people to get mortgages. As banks have toughened their lending practices, he’s seeing more customers for his complexes and a bit more rental construction.
He expects the first renters to start moving into Westbrook Crossing by next spring. His next project will be a mini-storage facility, his second. (He built his first one in 1982, and recently sold it.). "The only reason I’m in business today is because I build income-generating properties," he says.
Grant expects the apartments at Westbrook Crossing to fetch rents of between $900 and $1,200 per month.
John Caulfield is senior editor for Builder magazine.