Our Perspective 10/ 22/ 2015

In a changing market landscape, equity sources grow more nuanced

To follow or not follow the masses
Many people believe equity sources are like a herd of cattle following the market in droves. On the surface, it may look like investors are all chasing the same thing; but generally, each equity source is looking for the perfect fit.

Today one consistent fact for sources of equity is apartments. This sector makes up approximately 50% of all commercial real estate. Retail, office and industrial total 45%, and hotels comprise the remaining 5%. It’s only natural that apartments will always represent a larger segment of the market, and when retail, office and industrial have been so inactive in recent years the view of the real estate equity market is basically “all things apartments.”

Both empty nesters and young professionals are influencing the apartment market
The reality is that we are only four to five years into this new cycle, and what took 10 years to create will take 10 years to reposition (with a three- to four-year discovery period in the middle). It took the U.S. about eight to 10 years to drive our home ownership rate from its 63% historical norm to its 70% high point. We have now reached the historical norm of the low 60% range, but in all sincerity the apartment sector has at least another four (maybe six) years remaining before a correction would be feasible.

Additionally, the demand for apartments today is driven by two segments of our population: baby boomers (who are living and working longer) are downsizing and echo boomers renting rather than buying. Never before have we seen two segments of our population driving the apartment sector. In past apartment cycles, it’s always been young professionals driving new apartments. But today we have both young professionals and empty nesters who want the convenience of apartment living without the yard and hefty mortgage.

Continued growth ahead
It appears the apartment growth will continue, allowing today’s investors to carve out niches in the apartment investment strategy. No longer is the motto “buy anything and everything.” The new motto is “invest into certain segments of the market.” Aside from the Core Plus, Value Add and Opportunistic risk profile, investors are dissecting these risks into even more specific characteristics today. The range of criteria goes from nine-foot ceilings to newer than 1990s or 2000s.

Ground-zero locations take off amid nuanced interpretation
“Location, location, location” has long been the calling card for developers. A term relevant to today’s market derived from this phrase is “ground-zero” location.  Ground-zero refers to a property on Main and Main in the commercial business district, or is it Main and Main in the suburbs across from a Fortune 500 corporate office park, or across from a hospital, university, or bank call center.

There is discussion among experts whether ground-zero locations must have a certain unit size or unit mix, and some will even go so far as to say no ground-floor retail. Many sources today are identifying these very small nuances they have grown to understand and target these investments for the most part.

The economic recovery is spreading beyond the gateway cities
While gateway cities typically dominate the institutional investor’s attention, they are now looking to second- and even third-tier cities for investment opportunities. It may appear they are chasing yield, but in reality, the recovery is finally spreading to these smaller cities and investors know it. There are better returns in these markets. Gauging how much of the overall profit is cash flow versus residual sale profits is the difference between a gateway city investment versus a tertiary market investment.

When you consider that every equity source has an allocation issue, or timing issue, or staffing issue, or just plain-too-busy issue, one thing becomes abundantly clear. Staying in front of your equity source, maintaining a relationship with them and showing them opportunities that make sense to them is the key to raising equity in today’s market.