Illustration by Marisa Seguin.
By Steven Pease
Their parents wanted to live where they could see the stars. They want to live where they can walk to bars.
Such was the refrain from area real estate pros hit up for tips on what to purchase in today’s buyer’s market. More often than not, these magnates recommend investing in apartment projects located in well-appointed, walkable neighborhoods. They’re where Gen Y wants to live, and where older citizens are relocating after foreclosures and job losses.
But that’s not all. We also asked said experts to put their money where their mouths are in an effort to see how they’re investing. And they answered.
Robert B. Bell Sr. Chair in Real Estate, Marquette University
Talk about applied learning. Mark Eppli, a finance professor at Marquette University and the co-author of a best-selling textbook on real estate development, is something of a real estate player in his own right. In recent years, Eppli and partners have purchased three apartment buildings in walkable neighborhoods – a 48-unit structure in Shorewood and two in Milwaukee proper.
Located near bars, parks and restaurants, Eppli says these projects are about as close as you can get to a surefire investment in today’s market. He points to a study released earlier this year by the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies predicting that the number of American households renting would rise 350,000 each year until at least 2020.
Milwaukee’s millennial generation is interested in a set of neighborhood amenities, he says, not in having a title to structure and land. “The supply-demand balance is in place,” he says, “and new units in walkable neighborhoods maintain their value in an economic downturn.”
President, Mandel Group
Eppli’s epiphany is old news to Barry Mandel, who’s been investing in Downtown apartment projects since the late 1980s. His development firm, Mandel Group, has built some of its own, and more are to come. The real estate bigwig estimates the firm has between $200 million and $300 million invested in a pipeline of walkable Downtown developments and another $100 million tied up in projects in Shorewood, Whitefish Bay, Wauwatosa and Brookfield.
“Walkability is a focus of ours,” he says. “Everything is right where you need it. Density makes the cultural experience that much more interesting.”
The wispy developer proudly states that apartments are now the leading asset class in real estate, trumping condos and single-family homes. That’s good news for Mandel Group and Mandel’s private portfolio, too.
Associate Vice President, Shorewest Realtors
Not every investor has gone apartment crazy. Beth Jaworski is still investing in houses and recommends that others do the same. But they’ll have to find their own deals. Jaworski declined to say where, exactly, she has stacked her chips. “I own three duplexes, and I plan to buy more,” she says. “I also may pick up a two- or three-bedroom single-family, as there is so much rental demand for those.”
Attorney, Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren
Chairman of the UWM Real Estate Foundation, commercial real estate attorney Bruce Block says his real estate investments are outperforming the rest of his portfolio. He recommends projects receiving New Market, Historic Rehabilitation and low-income housing tax credits.
And he seconds Eppli on walkable neighborhoods and apartments. “Young professionals are far more mobile and transient than a generation ago, and that trend is increasing,” he says. “Renting provides much greater flexibility for someone who may have three or four different jobs in three or four cities by the age of 35.”
Plus, mass foreclosure and depressed real estate prices have made many young adults gun-shy when it comes to buying a house, according to Block. “There is no doubt some fear in this group that home ownership may no longer be the great investment it was made out to be.”