With no traffic, it doesn't take long to get from the steep hills, cable cars, and ubiquitous fog of San Francisco to Palo Alto to visit Essex Property Trust. When you arrive, the pace at the office seems low-key, and ties are in short supply. So, in some respects, you could call Essex a California company.

"It's not a big institutional feel," agrees Jim Cowan, who is the executive director of Morgan Stanley Investment Management, a New York-based fund that buys real estate stocks. "When you walk in their office, it's a much more entrepreneurial environment, which I like. It's a small enough company, and there aren't that many layers of management and administration."

With Keith R. Guericke as CEO and a focus on limited markets, Essex Property Trust has earned respect from multifamily analysts.
Alan Blaustein With Keith R. Guericke as CEO and a focus on limited markets, Essex Property Trust has earned respect from multifamily analysts.

But neither is it like the Essex management team just came into the office from surfing at the beach. Instead, they blend West Coast calm with East Coast discipline to create what has become one of the country's better-performing apartment REITs.

So while Essex may lack the overhead of some of its public peers, it's certainly doesn't lack focus. Led by CEO and president Keith R. Guericke, Essex remains intently disciplined in pursuit of its goals. It's a deals company, earning its money by making solid purchases before markets get hot, making renovations that can fetch higher rents, and managing those properties. It's also geographically concentrated, operating only in four major West Coast markets–Southern California, Northern California, Portland, Ore., and Seattle.