A few months ago, a Hoboken multifamily building, The Artisan, sold for a record $569,000 per "door," or apartment. The acquirer, a real estate investment management company, forked over $33.6 million overall for that nearly 60-unit asset.
Within weeks, two Edgewater apartment complexes, including the luxurious St. Moritz, were purchased for a total of $168.3 million by separate buyers, a large Massachusetts insurer and a giant Israeli investment firm.
Andrew Merin, a capital markets vice chairman of Cushman & Wakefield of New Jersey Inc., backs the prices North Jersey properties are commanding.
After the tough years when buyers were reluctant to come to the table, investors are opening their checkbooks to buy multifamily residential, industrial and office real estate in North Jersey. The capital markets are looking more kindly on Bergen County and the Hudson River Gold Coast, drawn by the region's lower prices compared with soaring markets in Manhattan and Brooklyn, the improving economy overall, low interest rates for financing, and the bargains available for Garden State properties versus what the cost would be to build such structures now.
"There's a lot of capital out there," said Andrew Merin, vice chairman of the Metropolitan Area Capital Markets Group of Cushman & Wakefield of New Jersey Inc. in East Rutherford.
Buyers range from the traditional, risk-averse institutional investors such as public and private real estate investment trusts, pension funds and insurance companies looking to buy trophy Class A properties to regional players making deals.
It's a far different scenario than during the Great Recession, when few banks were lending and one of the few properties selling in North Jersey were distressed office buildings. The hottest sectors today are multifamily — witness Hoboken and Edgewater — and industrial, area real estate executives said.
"The activity is certainly stronger than it's been in the past couple of years," said Joe Garibaldi, managing director of real estate firm JLL's Capital Markets Group in East Rutherford. "Fundamentals have stabilized or are improving, depending [on] which sector you're looking at. … The good news is that on every deal that we have in the market, there's numerous buyers that are showing up."
The market is considered attractive enough, for example, that CBRE is marketing for sale Metropolitan Tower, the 15-story high-rise in East Rutherford across from the Meadowlands Sports Complex.
There are other factors making North Jersey more attractive to investors, said Kenneth Pasternak, chairman and co-founder of KABR Real Estate Investment Partners in Ridgefield Park. Many AAA bonds are only paying 3 percent yields, he said. That compares with so-called capitalization rates, the relationship between a property's annual net operating income and its market value, of 5 percent to 7 percent for premium multifamily or office buildings in New Jersey, Pasternak said.
In addition, rents for multifamily residential in North Jersey are considered low, with room to increase, which acts as an inflation protector for investors, Pasternak said.
"You have rents increasing, you have a lot of demand from yield-seeking institutional players, and you have a very cheap cost of capital," he said.
Those factors make investors willing "to pay more and more money" for North Jersey properties, with multifamily residential one of the strongest commercial sectors, Pasternak said.
The Artisan, a 59-unit apartment building at 1400 Clinton St., Hoboken, was purchased in February by LaSalle Investment Management, the fund management arm of JLL, from Argo Real Estate in Manhattan and Alpine Development Partners in Tenafly, according to CoStar, which tracks commercial real estate. The property's per-unit price of $569,000 marked a record in the state, CoStar said.
But that price can be justified, Merin and others said. Hoboken is a popular residential market, and The Artisan, built in 2013, is a high-rise, which typically entails the use of pricey steel for construction, Merin said. The cost of erecting a similar building today would be significantly higher, he said.
"And as good a price as this seems, it's nothing compared to Manhattan," Merin said.
The St. Moritz's price, at $537,000 a unit, was not far from The Artisan's. The 224-unit luxury property was sold for $120.3 million by Edgewater developer Fred Daibes to Cornerstone Real Estate Advisers Inc., a unit of Springfield, Mass.-based MassMutual.
"The price paid for The St. Moritz reflects the quality of the building within the subset of high-rise apartment buildings with superior finishes in its market," a Cornerstone spokesman said in an email.
The St. Moritz also commands high rents, another factor justifying its purchase price, Garibaldi said.
In Edgewater not far from the St. Moritz, developer and Daibes partner James Demetrakis recently sold a newly constructed 100-unit luxury building, Infinity Apartments, for $48 million. The buyers were Chicago-based Waterton Associates LLC and Clal USA, a subsidiary of an Israeli insurance and institutional investment firm that manages $45 billion in assets.
Deep industrial pool
Clal USA is bullish on the Gold Coast and Bergen and said it has $1 billion to purchase up to 5,000 multifamily residential units in the Northeast.
In addition to multifamily, New Jersey's industrial market is seeing lots of activity. There was record volume in industrial on the sales side last year, $1.2 billion traded, according to Garibaldi.
"The highest level of interest or the deepest pool of capital is in the industrial space," said Kevin Welsh, a CBRE New York Capital Markets senior vice president.
That sector's growth is being driven by North Jersey's proximity to New York City, the large population density in the region, e-commerce's mandate for same-day delivery, the limited warehouse properties in the region, and the area's proximity to the ports, airports and highway system, Welsh said.
"The institutional investors really like the location," he said. "Even if the vintage of the building is older, they just like the underlying fundamentals of the market."
Welsh noted, for example, that J.P. Morgan Asset Management, part of JPMorgan Chase & Co., recently paid $47.5 million to acquire a portfolio of eight industrial properties in the Meadowlands, in Carlstadt and Lyndhurst. A week later, JPMorgan paid $14 million for an industrial building in East Rutherford, he said.
North Jersey's suburban office space, a disaster zone for investors in the Great Recession, is starting to draw the interest of institutional investors, local real estate executives said.
"There is definitely talk that yields have gotten so low in places like New York City that some of the big institutional core investors are looking around at secondary markets, which we would call the New Jersey office market, to keep an enhanced yield for what is a pretty safe bet," said Jeffrey Oram, executive managing director in the Colliers Investment Services Group of real estate firm Colliers International.
'Crème de la crème'
Contrarian investors, those less averse to risk, are eyeing the suburban office market with the belief it will rebound, Merin said.
But institutional investors are still only interested in crown-jewel properties, Oram said.
"You've seen some trades in New Jersey," he said. "They really have to be the crème de la crème, like Jersey City waterfront kind of stuff, really some of the better properties that the core buyers are looking at. But there's still kind of an aversion by a lot of the large institutions for New Jersey, because they got trapped there in the last downturn."
Buyers willing to take more of a risk are buying in areas such as Secaucus. Mountain Development Corp., based in Woodland Park, and a fund managed by PCCP LLC acquired 1 Harmon Plaza, a 10-story, 192,100-square-foot office building, for $11.5 million in February.
"We bought it with an institution that has a really good track record of executing on these kinds of value-added deals," Mountain Development President Michael Seeve said. "It's a really good asset that needs to be leased up, but it ought to be leased because it's prominent, it will be well-priced and it's well-known."
Cushman represented the seller, New Boston Fund Inc., in that transaction. Deals such as that, where a buyer gets a Meadowlands office building at $50 to $100 a square foot, "allow you to give tenants very generous improvement packages, low rent, and still come out and make a good return on investment," Merin said.
Having a partner such as PCCP LLC also is a lure for tenants, Seeve said.
"When an institution is invested in the equity, most tenants will take some comfort and know that this is going to be a really well-run asset,'' he said.
"This is an asset that's never going to have capital problems or anything like that."