(Carl Cronan is editor of RealEstate Florida.)

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CLEARWATER, FL-Apartment investors appear to be stepping uptheir activity in the Tampa Bay market lately, with transactionsgoing to closing more quickly and the gap narrowing between pricesoffered and sought for properties, say local multifamily brokers.They say some buyers are racing toward the end of this calendaryear to avoid higher capital gains taxes expected in either 2009 or2010.

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"We are starting to see the market pick back up," John Burpee,president of NAI Tampa Bay in Clearwater, tells GlobeSt.com. "Thereis a big push among owners that if they are in the mindset to sell,they want to be able to close in 2008."

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One such example of a quick closing is the 184-unit LongbranchApartments in Clearwater, which was acquired for $7 million or$38,000 per unit by private investment firm Wisco 1 LLC. Burpeerepresented the buyer while John Stone of Colliers Arnold workedwith the seller, Denver-based New South Properties.

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According to Burpee, NAI represented the same buyer in the saleof a 90-unit property and had cash available to close quickly,while at the same time the seller had also contacted his firm todiscuss market conditions and the possibility of listingLongbranch. "One conversation led to another," he says, "and withina matter of 48 hours we had a meeting of the parties and contractin place for the sale of the property three days later."

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Longbranch's new owner plans a major repositioning andrehabilitation of the complex over the coming year, at a cost ofmore than $1 million, Burpee says. The apartments were 30% vacantas of the Dec. 19 closing date, he says.

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Although apartment buyers and sellers are more willing to cometo terms on deals lately, Burpee notes that a combination oftighter credit and the upcoming long Christmas weekend are makingtransactions difficult lately. "We're kind of at the mercy of thebanks because of the holiday season," he says.

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Yet that doesn't appear to have put the brakes on any deals thismonth. Besides the Longbranch deal, NAI also closed last week on the$5.1-million sale of the 120-unit Regency Square Apartments inTampa. The $42,000-per unit price was 35% below the seller's askingprice.

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Even though apartment transactions in the Tampa Bay market havedeclined over the past two years, in line with a steep falloff incondominium conversions, the pace of deals is expected to tick upagain as the rental market stabilizes, according to Marcus &Millichap. The commercial real estate investment firm notes thatthe local median price for apartment sales was $64,000 per unitthrough the third quarter, with cap rates in the mid-7% range.

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