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Twelfth Institutional Investor Symposium Slide Show

Duncan (L) and McIntyre before the discussion. 1 / 8 Photo: Jolene Oldham
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WASHINGTON, DC-Gone are the days, at least for now, when developers would race each other to the next speculative suburb in the middle of nowhere to build a mixed-use center. In-fill projects near mass-transit centers are currently the hot ticket, now that gas prices have are on a seemingly unending climb, said experts here on a recent panel.

The event was the Transwestern/Real Estate Forum Twelfth Institutional Investor Symposium. Steve Pumper, Transwestern’s executive managing director of investment services, and Michael Desiato, Real Estate Media’s group publisher, moderated the panel. Real Estate Forum is published by Real Estate Media, which also publishes GlobeSt.com.

“It makes a lot of sense to be close to the metro,” said Michael Zammitti, managing director of Hartford-based Cornerstone Advisors, pointing out that more and more people will try to live or work around such developments in order to drive less.

Just as enormous gas prices have impacted the consumer, so have, of course, plummeting housing costs, which have brought about other opportunities for investors. “We’re doing a lot of apartment development,” said Pat Duncan, president and CEO of USSA Real Estate Co., based in San Antonio. “That’s a great market to get into.”

But other than those two property types, the panel had little consensus on a safe bet in today’s economy. As it was put by Gary Kauffman, managing director of Parsippany, NJ-based Prudential Real Estate Investors, “the markets around the country are different, and the property types in the markets are different.”

For his part, John Gerber, vice president of real estate in the Fort Wayne, IN, office of Delaware Investments is looking at infill assets around major medical sites.

Nearly all of the panelists agreed that Florida is in a recession, retail is the sector getting hit the hardest and greenfields are no longer ripe for development. “We are taking a hard look at all of these platforms,” said Ken McIntyre, a managing director and director of capital markets at MetLife in Morristown, NJ. “We are not doing any deals that we consider frontier land deals.”

Expect overall transactions to be down in 2008, from $500 billion in sales last year to about $150 billion this year, said Rod Vogel, director of acquisitions at Principal Real Estate Investors, in Des Moines. “The thing that has to happen is more sellers being forced to sell,” he said.

Added Pumper, “this could be a good time for REITs to get back in the game a little bit more. I think what there is right now is a flight to quality and a flight to safety.”

The CMBS crash has also created more lending opportunities for divisions of insurance firms Northwestern Investment Management Company of Milwaukee, pointed out David Clark, that outfit’s director of real estate. “It’s kind of nice to be liked again,” he quipped.

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