Boston-based West Shore LLC has built a $750 million multifamily portfolio in the two years that have passed since the company was founded. Most of its properties are in southeastern markets, but West Shore is considering expansion to other areas as well as consolidating its presence in states with favorable tax conditions. Lee Rosenthal, president of the company, discusses the organization’s investment strategy and what modern renters look for in a community.How do you see the U.S. multifamily market today? What are the main trends in the business?
Rosenthal: The multifamily market is thriving across the country. A strong economy, continued revitalization of mid-sized cities and their surrounding close-in suburbs, as well as the ongoing growth and demographic trends in all of our markets indicate a continued upswing. In mid-sized cities that have growing high-skills jobs and employment, we are seeing great opportunities to provide the kind of rental housing that attracts and serves these workers.
So far, West Shore invested in the Southern and Southeastern markets. What can you tell us about the particularities of these regions when it comes to trends and challenges in the multifamily sector?
Rosenthal: We have had great success with the assets we have acquired in Florida, the Carolinas, Texas, Tennessee, Kentucky and Georgia. We are likely to acquire additional assets in other fast-growing areas that have strong job growth and favorable demographic and tax conditions. Most of the new opportunities we are evaluating right now are in similar markets in the Southeast and the Southwest. These growth markets are increasingly attractive to renters, including young individuals and couples, as well as retirees looking for better weather in a comfortable setting with upgraded amenities. We’ve also seen a lot of interest from empty nesters that want to stay near their friends and communities as they downsize.
What other markets are you considering for a portfolio expansion and why?
Rosenthal: In addition to the markets where we currently own, in which we expect to expand our footprint in a meaningful way, we are actively considering investing in other markets with significant job growth, positive demographic trends and favorable tax conditions.
What makes a community appealing to Millennials?
Rosenthal: We focus on buying high quality B+/A- properties below replacement cost with significant upside. These are attractive communities that often feature gyms, tennis courts, pools and other amenities that may be in need of updating. We believe in strong, hands-on management and we make strategic investments in these properties which we know will generate increased net operating income.
We often upgrade or add amenities and update in-unit finishes with the kind of modern technology and high-end appliances that are desirable to young professionals and Millennials. Both younger renters and empty nesters want to live in modernized, attractive communities that have the appeal of a small town or village. Our management assures that the fitness center, the pool and central shared areas all provide a cohesive sense of community.
Shopping, transit, open space, bike paths, daycare and good schools, and health care are all very important for younger couples looking to create a home. Millennials are now 25 percent of the population and many of them prefer renting to buying. They’re often working in careers that require them to be flexible on location. This is a digital-centric generation. What’s needed is excellent on-site Wi-Fi, upgraded technology and a relationship centered on digital communication between tenant and management.
What are your predictions regarding the multifamily sector going forward?
Rosenthal: The prognosis for multifamily is excellent in both the short and long term in our markets. The economy continues to grow and favor high-skill jobs, particularly in cities and markets that previously were left out of prior employment booms and now have favorable tax and demographic conditions.
The pool of Millennials and empty nesters is growing in our markets. Interest rates may be going up somewhat, but they remain at historic lows. In any event, history shows that rent growth will outpace interest rate increases and any inflation. As our growing portfolio and our operating results continue to show, our strategy for multifamily investment will continue to provide predictable, sustainable cash flow along with very significant upside for our investors.