ORLANDO-This area’s multifamily market is experiencing one of its best years in decades as investment sales and rising rents continue to attract local, regional and national buyers, according to new market studies by Marcus & Millichap Real Estate Investment Brokerage Co. and CB Richard Ellis Inc.

Walt Disney World’s addition of 4,000 employees this year and its 2005 plans to open two large child care centers in Kissimmee and near its 30,000-acre enclave in Lake Buena Vista are expected to generate renters for the projected 2,250 new units surfacing this year, mostly in five south Orlando submarkets near Disney.

“The Orlando economy and its apartment market have begun to rebound after drab performances a few years ago,” says Steven M. Ekovich, Marcus & Millichap’s Florida regional manager. The impact of Disney’s staff growth is “being felt far beyond payroll gains,” the broker says. “Employment expansion at local hotels, restaurants and other tourist activities will add another 6,000 jobs by year end.”

Robert W. Miller, senior vice president of CB Richard Ellis Inc.’s Central Florida Multi-Housing Group, notes the apartment market “continues to roar ahead in the third quarter, registering the largest percentage rent growth increase in five years.”

That’s good news for landlords who are seeing rents improve from $757 per month at mid-year to $774 at the end of September. “Rents have risen for four consecutive quarters,” says Miller.

He cites a recent report by Dallas-based M/PF Research Inc. that predicts Orlando and Las Vegas will be the top two apartment markets in the country in 2055. “More institutional buyers have begun considering opportunities in Orlando, but the majority of buyers continue to be private groups,” the CBRE executive says.

New apartment construction in the metro area has slowed, both brokers agree. The 2,250 units expected to surface this year are off nearly 900 units from 2003–a 28% decrease and the lowest amount of development since 1995.

“Together, the Southeast/Airport and the Southwest/435 submarkets will account for half of 2004′s completion total,” estimates Ekovich. He says vacancy is “rebounding strongly and should improve by 60 basis points to end 2004 at 7.7%.”

On the hot condo conversion scene, CBRE’s Miller expects converters “will venture further from Downtown Orlando and will begin considering more properties in suburban markets. Rental communities in unique locations, such as on the water or on a golf course, are especially likely to see interest from converters.” Converters already are eyeing Altamonte Springs, Maitland, Winter Park and MetroWest as new niches, the broker says.

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