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JACKSONVILLE, FL-The $13-million sale of a 200-unit apartment complex could spell a turnaround for the local multifamily market. Southern Pines Apartments was recently purchased by Nashville-based Covenant Capital Group from Dallas-based BH Management Services LLC.

Until now, only lower-grade apartment properties had been trading hands in Jacksonville, according to Hector Rivera, market analyst with locally based Walchle Lear Multifamily Advisors, which represented the seller in the Southern Pines transaction. He notes that the $65,000-per-unit price is well below replacement value for the 20-year-old, class B rental complex, which attempted a condominium conversion in recent years, yet is also far above the local average of $26,000 so far this year.

“The multifamily market is probably the one commercial sector that has not seen as much of a slump,” Rivera tells GlobeSt.com. “This deal is important because it represents the type of value that buyers and lenders are looking for.”

Nearly $43 million worth of apartment transactions, including the Southern Pines deal, have been completed thus far in 2009, tracking slightly ahead of last year’s $80-million total, Rivera says. The cap rate for Southern Pines was nearly 8%, though most deals so far this year have ranged between 6.75% and 8.5%, depending on asset class and location, he says.

“We’ve seen quite a bit of activity recently,” Rivera says. He points out that buyers are focusing on distressed opportunities in attractive locations and submarkets, while lenders are dictating which deals get done.

A recent research report by CB Richard Ellis states that Jacksonville’s multifamily market has remained relatively in balance over the past decade because of strong population and job growth. Local apartment occupancy averaged 84% through the first quarter, with monthly rents averaging $774, CBRE notes.

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