Cary apartments sold for $40.5 million

Equity pares holdings; Somerset expands portfolio

Staff WriterMarch 18, 2010 

Equity Residential, a Chicago real estate investment trust that has been shedding its Triangle assets over the past two years, has sold two Cary apartment buildings to a New York investment firm for $40.5 million.

Somerset Partners, which invests in multitenant and office buildings, paid $21.5 million for the 444-unit Hidden Oaks Apartments and $19 million for the 344-unit Woodbridge Apartments.

Somerset is one of a number of outside investors that have entered or expanded their foothold in the Triangle during the downturn. In September, Somerset bought its first Triangle property, paying $15.6 million for the 345-unit Beech Lake Apartments in Durham.

"When you step out of the major markets ... when you look to the next rung of cities, we like all the attributes Raleigh has," said Phil Welch, a Somerset partner. "I'd say Raleigh and Nashville are the two markets we're most focused on."

Welch cited the Triangle's diverse economy, job base and the presence of three high-quality universities as reasons the firm considers the region a good investment. He said the firm hopes to expand its Triangle presence.

"We'll still buy more, but at least we feel we've got a pretty good toehold there," he said.

Equity, one of the nation's largest REITs, once had one of the biggest apartment portfolios in the Triangle: 4,031 units in 15 communities across Durham, Orange and Wake counties.

Over the past two years, Equity has been selling assets as part of a broader strategy to cash out of smaller markets and invest in bigger cities. Equity sold the 198-unit Timber Hollow Apartments in Chapel Hill this month for $10.9 million.

Equity purchased Woodbridge for $7.5 million in 1996 and bought Hidden Oaks a year later for $8 million.

Both complexes had about 4 percent of their units vacant in September, according to the Triangle Apartment Association and Karnes Research.

Apartment buildings have been about the only Triangle commercial real estate assets selling over the past year. That's largely because Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, two government-sponsored entities, continue to finance apartment deals.

More than $100 million in Triangle apartment assets have changed hands just since the beginning of the year.

Jeff Glenn, an investment broker at CB Richard Ellis in Raleigh who represented Equity in the Hidden Oaks and Woodbridge deals, said the Triangle's long-term growth prospects are attracting investors from all over.

"The general perception is the market has bottomed out, rents are poised to rebound and new construction is at a 14-year low," Glenn said. "All great news for the apartment market."

david.bracken@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4548

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