No Barriers Blocking Atlanta Apartment Market Growth, Say InterFace Panelists

by Jeff Shaw

ATLANTA — Multifamily investors increasingly view Atlanta as a tier-one market.

Speakers on a panel at France Media’s InterFace Multifamily Southeast conference, held in Atlanta on Dec. 2, point to several reasons why the region is the right place, right now, to build, buy and sell all manner of apartment assets.

“In Atlanta, you’ve got an incredible diversity and strength of employers,” said Chad DeFoor, senior director of multifamily sales for Franklin Street.

Total nonfarm payroll employment in metro Atlanta rose by 134,800 from October 2020 to October 2021, a 5 percent increase, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

DeFoor was joined by Bianca Tabourn, managing director with Stockbridge; Steve Baile, chief development and operating officer with Selig Enterprises; Patrick Chesser, managing director of Mill Creek Residential Trust; Seth Greenberg, CEO of ECI Group; and panel moderator Jason Nettles, managing director with Northmarq.

The speakers in the session titled, “Atlanta Market Update: An In-Depth Look at Leasing, Investment and Development,” all remarked that job growth and high-profile employers moving into the area are, in part, helping to curry favor among investors.

In the public and private realms, interest is growing in the apartment market in Atlanta and in most other major metros. Tabourn reports Stockbridge is seeing heightened interest from domestic and international groups. “In 2022, we expect to see a continuation of allocation toward the private market, including real estate,” she said.

On the public side, Nettles pointed out that CalPERS, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System and one of the largest pension plans in the United States, announced that it is moving its real estate allocation from 13 percent to 15 percent.

“Two percentage points doesn’t seem like a lot, but that equals $10 billion of additional capital that’s going to be deploying in our space in the next four years,” said Nettles.

On the jobs front, Google’s announcement earlier this year that it would be expanding into Midtown Atlanta could be a catalyst for attracting other tech companies. Google will take over 19 stories of the 1105 West Peachtree Tower, which is part of the company’s larger plan to expand offices and data centers throughout the U.S. by 2025.

“All these tech companies are an ecosystem,” said Chesser. “They want to be where their friends are, and it’s an amazing dynamic.”

Baile said the number-one indicator to follow in supply and demand is job growth.

Skyhouse South

SkyHouse South is a 23-story high-rise apartment tower located at 100 6th St. in Atlanta.

“Atlanta is more than just an opportunity for development,” said Baile. “These [tech] companies move here for a reason.

“Our friends at Google are sitting in Mountain View, California, and it’s not a very diverse culture out there. In Atlanta, you have access to much more diversity available to these employer bases, and I think we’ll be the recipients on the multifamily side of what that job growth does for us.”

A more sophisticated renter profile is also driving demand in the region. “Is the credit score of the average renter any different today than it was 10 years ago?” Nettles asked to the panel.

“People’s credit may not be any different than it was compared to the average renter several years ago,” replied Baile, “but people have more to spend. Before, in Atlanta, you’d spend 25 percent of your income on your rent. People coming from Mountain View, Chicago or Manhattan are used to spending 30 to 35 percent of their income on rent, so higher rental rates aren’t as ‘offensive,’ so to speak.”

Additionally, the competitive nature of the single-family-home-sales market favors renter demand in Atlanta.

“We are seeing a shift, psychologically,” said Tabourn. “When you think about choosing to rent years ago, it was a bit of a stigma. Whereas now we’re seeing so many more renters by choice versus renters by necessity.

“Our portfolio is primarily Class A assets, and we are blown away by average household incomes. We’re talking six figures. We sit back and wonder, why would you choose to rent versus purchasing a home? But it goes back to the inability to purchase a home because of the competitive nature.”

Tabourn reports Stockbridge is projecting steep increases for rent in 2022.

“The thing that makes me feel comfortable about it is the tightness of the labor market. In the past, we’ve not seen the income growth and inflation keep up with the rent inflation, so we’ve been concerned about it becoming too large of a percentage of someone’s household income. But now with the tight labor market, the salaries are increasing year over year, which makes us feel better about the ability to continue to pay the higher rates.”

Renter demand isn’t spurred only by white-collar, six-figure job growth. DeFoor, who specializes in the listing and sale of Class B and C assets for private investors, pointed out that jobs in shipping, logistics, industrial and manufacturing are also increasing in the Atlanta area.

“There are some macro changes going on that Atlanta’s a huge beneficiary of,” said DeFoor. “With jobs coming here in droves, people coming here in droves, capital coming here in droves — it’s going to be a great time to witness Atlanta take a step further into the investment world as being a true tier-one investment market.”

— Lynn Peisner

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