Student Housing: Willowtree Apartments in Ann Arbor listed for sale by national student housing investor

By Paula Gardner for

How hot are student housing complexes in Ann Arbor right now?

Two new high-rise development projects are proceeding near Central Campus, and the market is absorbing space in three towers opened in the last 14 months.

Now one of the nation’s largest student-housing operators is testing the market by listing Willowtree Apartments for sale.

The listing was unveiled Oct. 18, and broker Kevin Larimer of Farmington Hills-based Hendricks & Partners said offers will be accepted until Nov. 18.

Response to the listing is “very strong,” Larimer said. “That’s true of student housing on a national level. Certainly at a university like the University of Michigan, that’s even more so.”

American Campus Communities is listing the property, which is located off of Plymouth Road, about 1/2 mile west of Huron Parkway and just north of the University of Michigan’s North Campus.

The publicly owned Austin, Texas-based company folded the property into its overall disposition plan this year to generate capital and build value for shareholders, said William Talbot, senior vice president of investments. It sells 5-10 properties per year.

“Part of the reason is to capitalize on the strength of Ann Arbor,” Talbot said. “It’s a very desirable place for people to invest.”

The 26.6-acre property last was sold in 2005 for $22.5 million. It moved into the American Campus Communities portfolio in 2008, when the student housing REIT acquired GMH Communities Trust.

That deal was a $1.4 billion transaction that expanded ACC’s portfolio to 88 student housing properties with 54,300 beds, a 90-percent expansion.

Since then, the $2.1 billion company has grown to 47,202 beds and quarterly revenue of $76 million, according to 2nd quarter data. At the same time, overall occupancy was 96 percent in fall 2009.

At Willowtree, the occupancy rate for fall 2009 – when the new Ann Arbor Campus Housing property called The Courtyards opened at Broadway and Plymouth roads – was 83.9 percent, and rental rates were climbing by 0.7 percent.

By this school year, according to ACC reports, the occupancy rate hit 99.5 percent on a projected rental rate decrease of 4.6 percent.

The property totals 473 apartments, with 851 beds in either one- or two-bedroom floorplans. At just under 400,000 square feet in the mix of three-story buildings and one five-story tower, the average market rate per bed was $475 in 2009.

That price compares to $680 per bed at The Courtyard, $862 at 4Eleven Lofts and $1,119 at Zaragon Place.

Despite the leasing success this year, Talbot said the property doesn’t truly fit into the ACC portfolio: Its leases are by the apartment and not “by the bed,” part of the growing movement in student rentals among the major national players.

The timing of the sale also was determined by financing: Exisiting financing will mature within a year, Talbot said.

That should make it attractive to an investor, he said, particularly since the financing markets for student housing complexes are returning, allowing loans with 25-30 percent equity.

The purchase price will be set by the buyers, Talbot said.

The assessed value of the property is $10,732,000, giving it an estimated market vale of $21.4 million and generating $508,000 in property taxes.

ACC still owns several properties in Michigan, including Peninsular Place in Ypsilanti, just north of the Eastern Michigan University campus. At that complex, fall 2009 occupancy was 93.9 percent.

Meanwhile, American Campus Communities continues to grow: The company closed a $200 million deal in September to take full ownership of 14 properties, representing 8,534 beds.

The company’s stock [NYSE: ACC] was selling for $32.74 per share today, close to its 52-week high of $33.04. Its market cap was $1.74 billion.


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