As the multifamily market appears to be turning the corner toward recovery, uncertainty remains. But it appears that panelists at a leadership session at the MFE Conference last week in Las Vegas, moderated by Highlands Ranch, Colo.-based UDR CEO Tom Toomey, has solutions.
Though the past few years have been rough, forcing some of Toomey’s panelists to make capital calls to their investors, things are looking better now. In fact, seeing the amount of equity ammassing for multifamily, Dave Woodward, CEO of Greenwood Village, Colo.-based Laramar Group, said he plans to start a new fund in the next six months.
“We see a lot of capital out there and more being raised all the time, but not many transactions,” Woodward said.
Woodward’s fellow panelist, Santa Ana, Calif.-based Grubb & Ellis Apartment REIT CEO Gus Remppies has been active, raising $185 million for what he called a “once-in-a-generation buying opportunity.” And Remppies has followed up on that by buying nine multifamily communities. In some cases, he has had little competition because Grubb’s structure allows it to buy from troubled TIC buyers, who have few liquidation outlets. “Having the non-traded vehicle helped us dramatically,” he said.
Though it faced some constraints with the slowdown of its development pipeline, Atlanta-based Gables Residential has shown some interest in add units through development. It bought a couple if new properties (including one that it previously owned before selling to a condo converter) and recently started a project in Fairfax, Va. Gables has targeted six of its parcels to build on and is seeking more opportunities, specifically to expand in Washington, D.C., and Southern California. “We’re looking at joint venture opportunities to put more land in production,” said Sue Ansel, Gables’ COO and Multifamily Executive’s 2010 Executive of the Year.
Woodward’s last fund was a value-add vehicle, which would reposition properties. Then the bottom dropped out of the rental market and repositioning became untenable. “The math hasn’t worked in the last couple of years,” Woodward said.
So Laramar adjusted and made managing for special servicers and banks a growth business. Often he’ll see properties he once owned or knows well falling into trouble and will call servicers about them. “The more familiar you are with the real estate, the more you can engage them [the servicers],” he says
Woodward thinks these groups will ultimately be putting more product on the market. “A lot of it is coming, but it's trickling out slowly,” he says.
Woodward thinks this flood will eventually offer repositioning opportunities, though it could be a little while before that market comes back. “If you factor in these properties coming back from lenders and those people with the value-add mindset, we could see people trying to move these [units] up [a class level],” he says.
But despite solid plans, there is still uncertainty for some of Toomey’s panelists. Gables is part of a closed fund and will eventually be sold or taken public. And, by 2013, Rempess will need to find a liquidation event for Grubb & Ellis, which could include going public or selling their portfolio to a REIT or institution.