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(Carl Cronan is editor of Real Estate Florida.)

ORLANDO, FL-Despite the prospect of increasing apartment vacancy due to slowing job growth, multifamily real estate brokers believe the time is right to take their properties to market, or at least make improvements to their assets. Several rental complexes are coming to market lately, with buyers looking to make deals that are beneficial to both sides.

Cushman & Wakefield of Florida says it is marketing two apartment properties on behalf of Northwestern Mutual Life. The 428-unit Gates of Harbortown, in Orlando’s MetWest submarket, has an asking price of $54.6 million or $127,700 per unit, while 424-unit Osprey Links at Hunter’s Creek, on the city’s south side, seeks $53.6 million or $126,400 per unit. Both were built at least a decade ago and have received upgrades in recent years.

“These are good, solid assets that represent a good buying opportunity in our market,” Jay Ballard, senior director of Cushman’s Orlando office, tells GlobeSt.com. He says that Northwestern Mutual is attempting to sell the properties now as a way to “get ahead” of 2009, adding that there is plenty of interest from institutional and private-equity investors.

Apartment investment transactions in the Orlando metropolitan area have slowed by half over the past 12 months, according to a third-quarter report by Marcus & Millichap Real Estate Investment Services. Sales of failed condominium conversions and assets held by highly motivated sellers have stood out among completed deals, with buyers typically categorized as individuals and institutions from outside Florida.

“For owners reluctant to sell in a market where tenant demand for rental housing has slowed, the coming months offer an opportunity to either maintain or improve asset performance in advance of the inevitable upturn in fundamentals,” says Bryn Merrey, Orlando regional manager of Marcus & Millichap. He notes that cap rates for class B and C rental assets appear to be stabilizing in the low 8% range, though softening operating fundamentals have virtually stalled deal flow and made values difficult to discern.

The local median price for apartment deals recorded over the past year was $63,100 per unit, down 2% from the same time frame in 2007 and 15% from its peak three years ago, Marcus & Millichap reports. Also, employment growth in the Orlando metro area has measured only 2,000 jobs this year, compared to 11,200 in 2007.

Orlando apartment vacancy will approach nearly 10% by the end of this year, while asking rents are forecast to tick up 1.4% to $888 per month, Marcus & Millichap estimates. Approximately 3,000 new rental units are scheduled to come online areawide this year, more than twice the number that opened in 2007, expanding inventory by 2.6%.

Marcus & Millichap is marketing two neighboring apartment complexes on Curry Ford Road, with Pendleton Park Villas and Carlyle Court totaling 310 units with a listing price of $20.7 million, or $66,758 per unit. Stephen St. Clair, vice president of investments and director of the firm’s National Multi Housing Group in Orlando, is representing a Massachusetts-based private investment group in the sale.

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