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CHICAGO-Equity Residential is spending more on property maintenance and capital improvements in an attempt to regain occupancy. Maintenance and capital expenses, including salaries, totaled $86.5 million in the first quarter, an average of more than $400 per unit for the first quarter.

In addition, Equity Residential is rolling out a new marketing campaign that in addition with more aggressive newspaper advertising, includes increased leasing incentives to its staff. That cost, though, is minimal compared to the amount being spent to spruce up properties.

The REIT spent about $1,600 per unit on property maintenance and capital expenses, but expects that to rise this year as it aims to increase market share, says president and CEO Bruce W. Duncan.

Interiors are getting renovated before new tenants move in, and landscaping is being improved at Equity Residential’s complexes, Duncan offers as examples.

“We thought we had an opportunity to make our properties look better and more competitive in the marketplace,” Duncan adds.

Occupancy across the 221,249-unit portfolio stood at 92.5% at the beginning of April, according to Equity Residential’s first-quarter report.

Meanwhile, Equity Residential sold 17 properties in the first quarter for $195 million, putting the REIT on track to meet its goal of selling $700 million in properties this year. Another $261 million in deals are under contract or letters of intent, Duncan adds.

On the other hand, the REIT’s three first-quarter acquisitions totaled $111.5 million, with another $159 million under contract or letter of intent. The REIT’s 2003 goal is $500 million in acquisitions.

“We have not seen the opportunities, in terms of pricing, that we thought we would see,” Duncan says.

The sales were at an overall capitalization rate of 7.6%, while Equity Residential bought its three newest properties at a 7.0% cap rate.

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