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HOUSTON-Weingarten Realty Investors, one of Houston’s hometown REITs, had a strong third quarter with increased rents and occupancies.

“Leasing activity has been exceptionally strong so far in 2002, both in terms of demand for space and rental rates,” Drew Alexander, president and CEO, said in a press release. “We see this as a testament to the resiliency of our product type–the supermarket-anchored shopping center.”

To date this year, Weingarten completed 933 leases or renewals totaling 3.8 million sf. The bottom line is a 35% increase from the performance of the first nine months in 2001.

Rent revenue is up 8.3% on a gross basis. Tracy L. Pursell, Weingarten’s director of investor relations, GlobeSt.com that the increase in rent revenue equates to about 50 cents per sf to $1 more per sf for grocery-anchored centers and $1 per sf to $2 per sf extra at smaller shopping centers in comparison to last year’s prices.

Alexander attributes some of the REIT’s third-quarter success to its buying strategy. The focus is to grow through acquisitions and new development “only when we can invest so as to obtain a targeted spread over our weighted average cost of capital,” he says. “This discipline, coupled with the increased rental rates on our existing properties has provided us with exceptional operating results.”

Pursell says the REIT has shown considerable restraint in acquisitions despite the temptations of the favorable financing market. If underwriters determine the desired initial stabilized return can’t be achieved within a reasonable amount of time, i.e. three years, then Weingarten will walk away from the deal no matter how good the interest rate or price, according to Pursell.

Weingarten does have a few deals in the hopper, some of which could close before the year ends. So far in 2002, the REIT bought 2.2 million sf, all retail product, and sold more than $38 million of its holdings.

Weingarten historically buys for the long-term hold, but the Alexander-era has brought a change in strategy. In the Q3 conference call, he announced the plan going forward is to focus more closely on dispositions. Pursell says Weingarten will still be a long-term holder of real estate, but smaller properties and properties geographically isolated from core clusters of the REIT’s assets most likely will go.

The 37.6-million-sf portfolio’s overall occupancy was 92.3% at the third-quarter close. It was 91.9% just three months ago. The portfolio consists of 242 anchored neighborhood and community shopping centers, 56 industrial properties and one office building.

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