ATLANTA — Multifamily developers and investors keep an ever-watchful eye on job and population growth in their target markets. In the Southeast, where several metros are seeing gains in those demand generators, which markets stand out?
That was a central question posed during the regional panel discussions at France Media’s 10th annual InterFace Multifamily Southeast conference. The event took place Tuesday, Dec. 3 at The Whitley in Atlanta’s Buckhead district. The event drew 384 attendees in the multifamily real estate sector.
The short list for the various speakers’ favorite markets include the usual suspects, namely Atlanta, Orlando, Tampa, Charlotte and Raleigh. These markets all have a recent track record of strong employment growth, which is traditionally a reliable indicator of multifamily demand. Norm Radow, CEO of Atlanta-based The RADCO Cos., warned though that not all jobs are created equally, which has long-term implications for the new apartment communities coming on line.
“The majority of the people hired are on the low end of the wage scale and the few making a lot of money are tipping the average up,” said Radow during the conference’s Atlanta Market Update panel. “The workers are there to rent them, but we’re building a product the majority can’t afford to rent.”
Despite that headwind, the panelists concurred that Atlanta’s apartment market still has a long runway for growth. Jason Nettles, managing director of investment sales at NorthMarq, described how Atlanta’s apartment market is almost a victim of its own success as the value-add sector’s cap rates are now lower than newer urban infill product as investors see the city’s value-add product type as low-risk.
“We had a value-add, infill asset in Atlanta that had a blank slate, as in none of the units were renovated. The cap rate got down to 4 percent, and core and core-plus deals are trading closer to 4.5 percent,” said Nettles. “Outside of Austin, which we’re hearing is in the 3 percent cap rate range, Atlanta is the most aggressively priced non-gateway market in the country.”
Radow said that Atlanta’s cap rate inversion is causing his firm to zig where others are zagging. The RADCO Cos. is a long-time value-add investor in Atlanta’s suburban markets, but its most recent acquisition is 464 Bishop, a new apartment community in Atlanta’s West Midtown neighborhood near Atlantic Station.
“We bought that well below replacement costs. It was a distressed lease-up where the merchant builder wanted to get to the next project,” said Radow. “We haven’t done that kind of deal in the cycle, but we’ll be doing more of it as capital is not as aggressive there but is chasing our existing portfolio.”
In Orlando, which the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports has been the nation’s fasting growing job market for the past four years, multifamily players are looking closely at the types of jobs created.
“I’m bullish on Orlando and the infrastructure spending and STEM jobs, but what I don’t like is its exposure to the hospitality sector,” said Craig Marbach, managing director of Venterra Realty, a multifamily developer, owner and manager that has nearly $2.2 billion in assets under management.
During the Central and Northern Florida Market Update panel, Marbach and moderator Luke Wickham of CBRE discussed the importance of job diversity for multifamily real estate. They concur that Tampa is likely the most diverse economy in Florida but that Orlando’s numbers are too big to ignore.
“Orlando led the state in job creation year-over-year with 52,000 jobs, and 40 percent of new employment in Orlando during the last 12 months was professional business and financial services, with an average salary of almost $60,000 a year,” said Wickham, senior vice president of CBRE. “Bringing companies into the market like EY, EA Sports and FedEx, Orlando has done a nice job of diversifying its economy away from tourism, though it’s always going to play a major role in the market. The Mouse is pretty powerful.”
In Orlando’s Lake Nona master-planned community, which has become a destination for tech and healthcare jobs, a joint venture between Linkvest Capital and Futura is underway on Futura at Nona Cove, a 260-unit apartment community. On the investment side, multifamily giant Cortland recently purchased Haven at Reunion, a new community in Kissimmee now dubbed Cortland Reunion, for $71 million, or $210,000 per unit.
Carolinas is a two-market race
During the Carolinas Market Update panel, all but one speaker said that their focus in 2020 will be on projects in the Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham markets. Katie Bloom, who works for the acquisition and development divisions at Goldman Sachs, said her firm’s biggest acquisition and sale in 2019 were both in these North Carolina metros.
“Our biggest acquisition this year was Novel Stonewall Station in Charlotte, which we purchased from Crescent Communities for $171 million,” said Bloom, managing director of Goldman Sachs. “Our largest multifamily sale was The Aster in Cary that Woodfield Development built.”
When pinned down on choosing just one Carolinas market as having the best growth prospects, moderator Andrea Howard of JLL said she’d pick Charlotte.
“I love all my children, but I’d have to go with Charlotte,” joked Howard, senior vice president of multifamily capital markets and investment sales at JLL.
Thanks in part to the Lynx Blue Line connection to Uptown Charlotte, the South End area has become a center for job growth with recent announcements including new offices for Lowe’s Home Improvement and LendingTree, among others. Uptown Charlotte is also spreading its wings with new offices in the works for firms like Duke Energy, F.N.B. Corp., Deloitte, Honeywell, Ally Financial and Truist Financial Corp., the recently merged company between SunTrust Bank and BB&T Bank that chose Charlotte as its new headquarters.
Raleigh and Durham are seeing a similar concentration of office and mixed-use development in their downtown districts. Employers, investors and developers are looking to capitalize on the brain trust of talent graduating from nearby Duke University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University.
And these markets are attracting major investors. For instance, Starwood Real Estate Income Trust, a non-traded REIT managed by Starwood Capital Group, recently purchased The Exchange on Erwin in Durham near Duke University for $111 million. The multifamily component of the mixed-use project was delivered in 2018 and features 265 units that were 99 percent occupied at the time of sale.
Although the Carolinas panelists were most bullish on North Carolina’s top two markets, Justin Weintraub of Daniel Corp. said not to count out Greenville, South Carolina.
“Each quarter Greenville is becoming more and more institutional,” said Weintraub, executive vice president of Daniel Corp. “Year-over-year through the third quarter, Greenville had 22,000 jobs created, and Charleston was half of that. Greenville somehow misses folks’ radars.”
Daniel Corp. is currently underway on Camperdown, a redevelopment of the former Greenville News campus that will transform downtown Greenville’s apartment market. The $200 million project will include an AC Marriott hotel and a 170,000-square-foot office building, as well as a 10-story apartment tower that Weintraub said will command record rental rates for Greenville.
“We knew Camperdown was going to be challenging from the outset,” said Weintraub. “Our cost basis has never been achieved from an exit sales standpoint in Greenville, and our projected rents have never been achieved. Our company has a history of stretching the limits. There’s no merchant strategy on this one, but who knows what the market will dictate.”
Howard said that the “core four” Carolinas markets — Charlotte, Raleigh, Greenville and Charleston — all provide strong rent growth projections in 2020 and 2021.
“There was a point at this time last year when a lot of the third-party models were moderating rent growth down from the 1 to 1.5 percent range, but that’s all gone and erased,” said Howard. “I’m looking at 2.9 percent to 3.5 percent-plus rent growth in those four markets.”
Looking to the stars
Outside of the traditional and emerging Southeastern markets that investors and developers are bullish on, Florida’s Space Coast was said to be an attractive region for multifamily prospects. The aerospace industry is taking off in Brevard County on the east coast of Florida with firms like Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin investing heavily in the market with space and sub-orbital launches.
SpaceX has requested to launch as many as 40,000 Starlink satellites in the coming years and is also building out its rocket program in the Space Coast. Blue Origin is building a 90-acre expansion of its existing $200 million rocket facility, and the company is reportedly investing more than $1 billion to work on an infrastructure dubbed “the road to space” that could facilitate millions of people to work, travel and potentially live in space.
The aerospace defense industry is also a prominent employment engine in the Space Coast with established firms like Lockheed Martin, Rockwell Collins, Northrop Grumman and the merger between Harris Corp. and L3 Technologies.
The Brevard County cities of Melbourne, Titusville and Palm Bay are seeing new employees come in from all over the world to work in the space and aerospace industries, and Venterra’s Marbach said they’ll need a place to live.
“Highly educated individuals from India, California and all over the world are coming in, and they’re not looking for single-family homes,” said Marbach. “With tech you can do it most anywhere — Atlanta, Austin, Seattle — but with space launch, there are very few places you can be located. There’s less multifamily product per capita in the Space Coast, and we’ve been trying to capitalize on that.”
MultiVerse Global LLC, in partnership with Integra Land Co. and JMG Realty, is building 600 apartment units within Space Coast Town Centre in West Melbourne. Zimmerman Development is also building The Highline, an eight-story, 171-unit community in downtown Melbourne.