Apartment REITs bullish on Washington

October 23, 2011

The Washington region, with its steady influx of young professionals and relatively stable job market, has become one of the most popular locations for development among publicly traded real estate investment trusts, according to data from Charlottesville research firm SNL Financial.

Trusts that specialize in multifamily complexes own roughly 15 percent of the apartment universe, but their properties tend to large, high-quality assets in core markets.

There are 12 apartment buildings being built by REITs slated to open in the next 24 to 36 months throughout the region, placing Washington behind the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana region with 20 projects in the pipeline.

“When you look at new development in this kind of environment, this kind of economy, it’s indicative of the really strong demand [for apartments] we’re seeing in the Washington metro area,” said Kevin Lindemann, director of the real estate group at SNL.

In the third quarter, Washington boasted an enviable 2.8 percent apartment vacancy rate, compared with the national rate at 5.8 percent, according to Alexandria research firm Delta Associates. Lindemann said such low vacancy suggests there is not enough supply, bolstering the case for more development.

He said the prospects for buying-then-selling apartment developments are exceedingly strong in the local market. Real Capital Analytics tracked $4.8 billion in local apartment building sales in phe last quarter, the second highest sales volume behind New York City with$7.1 billion.

“The conditions that have resulted in these high transaction volumes and occupancy rates will probably ease off in the next couple years because the single-family housing market will eventually come back,” Lindemann said. “For now, anyone who owns multifamily in the D.C. area is in pretty good shape.”

Home Properties of Rochester, N.Y., is building all three of its planned developments in the area, where it already holds 10,723 apartment units representing 27 percent of its total portfolio.

Of the three buildings runner-up Post Properties has in the works, one is set to rise in the area. The Atlanta-based company, at the end of September, had 2,174 apartment units, or 11.4 percent of its total portfolio, in the Washington area.

Some of the largest national REITs have placed all of their multifamily eggs in the area’s basket. Rockville’s Washington Real Estate Investment Trust, with 2,540 units, and Federal Realty Investment Trust, with 428 units, each have 100 percent of their apartment investments in the region.

As an investment, multifamily REITs have performed well ahead of their peer group with 1 percent growth in the past quarter. Many other REITs, such as those that specialize in industrial properties and hotels, have seen their stocks take a beating in the market amid stalled economic growth and stubbornly high unemployment.

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