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SOUTH PORTLAND, ME-Maine endured an especially cold winter in 2008, but the completion of yet another multifamily sale continues a sizzling start to the year for apartment property transactions. The latest asset to change hands is Mill Company apartments, a 95-unit complex that Home Properties traded for just over $7 million to a local group, Port Property Management.

The seller is among several national REITs aiming to concentrate their investments in core markets, prompting Home Properties to divest Mill Company apartments at 121 Margaret St. after a 10-year hold. It was a similar reason that recently led Chicago-based Equity Residential to harvest two apartment communities in nearby Yarmouth, explains Cushman & Wakefield Inc. executive director Simon Butler, whose multifamily team negotiated all three deals. “REITs have been strategically exiting a number of tertiary markets,” says Butler, who anticipates more REIT sales will occur in the coming months in Greater Portland.

Butler says the new owners of the South Portland asset will be resuming a renovation program that Home Properties had been undertaking, an effort that has resulted in 40 of the units being upgraded. New kitchens and bathrooms will be part of the overhaul, Butler says. Port Property Management has indicated it will seek to incorporate operational efficiencies into the development.

All one-bedroom units averaging 543 sf, the Mill Company housing stock consists of 24 two-story, wood-frame buildings on a 3.4-acre waterfront parcel overlooking Downtown Portland. “It’s a nice spot,” Butler says of the complex, constructed in 1943.

About half of the $70 million of multifamily properties brokered by C&W in the first quarter involved assets in Greater Portland, with Butler and C&W executive director Biria St. John completing six deals totaling 740 units. While a drop in the bucket up against the $1.25 billion sold by C&W’s New England team last year, the opening frame offered a measure of hope, says Butler, especially given the sharp drop in commercial property transactions. “It was kind of as we expected,” he says, adding the opening quarter tends to lag for apartment sales in general. C&W’s capital markets group has several deals in progress, he says, expressing confidence that the pace of closings will pick up by midyear.

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