The "Grave Dancer" is also the lord of the rents. Sam Zell (whose unofficial nickname springs from his buying and turning around moribund properties) is at the head of the conga line at Equity Residential, one of the largest apartment owners in the US by sales and units. A real estate investment trust (REIT), the company wholly owns more than 400 garden-style, high-rise, and mid-rise multifamily communities with some 115,000 units in large metropolitan areas. Equity Residential also owns two military housing complexes and partially owns about two dozen other apartment properties totaling around an additional 10,000 units. Its properties are spread across 15 states and Washington, DC.
Based in Chicago, Equity Residential strategically operates property management offices in each of its nearly 20 markets.
Equity Residential generates most of its revenue from rental income. It's reported through four segments based on geographic region. With the Northeast region representing its largest segment, they include Northeast, Northwest, Southeast, and Southwest.
Equity Residential has logged positive revenue growth since 2010. An increase in average rental rates charged to residents and slightly higher occupancy helped the REIT post a 7% revenue increase in fiscal 2012 vs. 2011. Properties acquired in both fiscal 2012 and 2011 spurred increases among its non-same store operating revenue, as well, during the same reporting period.
Despite its sales growth, however, the company's profits slid some 6% in 2012 as compared to 2011, thanks to rising expenses, such as property and maintenance, real estate taxes and insurance, property management, fee and asset management, depreciation, and general and administrative costs.
Sales and Marketing
Equity Residential focuses on growth regions throughout the US that have higher-than-average single-family home prices, employment growth, and high standards of living. Equity Residential's core markets are Boston, New York, Southern California, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, DC.
In recent years Equity Residential has repositioned its portfolio from low barrier to entry/non-core markets to high barrier to entry/core markets. The company has sold more than 133,000 apartment units since 2005 primarily in its non-core markets (for an aggregate sales price of approximately $11 billion), acquired 44,000-plus apartment units in its core markets (for about $10 billion), and began about $3 billion worth of development projects in its core markets.
It looks to acquire and develop assets in Boston, New York, Southern California, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, DC, while it exits Atlanta, Phoenix, Orlando, and Jacksonville to raise capital to complete the Archstone transaction. As part of its strategy, Equity Residential purchases completed and fully occupied apartment properties, as well as partially completed or partially occupied properties or land on which it can construct apartment properties.
The company sold a portfolio of assets to a joint venture of the Real Estate Principal Investment Area of Goldman, Sachs & Co. and Greystar Real Estate Partners LLC for $1.5 billion. The transaction, which valued the 27 properties at approximately $187,000 per apartment unit and a capitalization rate in the mid to high 5% range, was completed in early 2013 through two separate closings. As part of the deal, Equity Residential made significant progress selling assets in its exit markets and non-core assets in primary markets to fund its share of the acquisition of Archstone.
Equity Residential is banking on the coming-of-age "Echo Boom" generation -- the children of Baby Boomers -- for whom it believes homeownership is no longer an integral part of the American dream. Echo Boomers typically are more likely to rent than own a home and be renters for longer than previous generations. Members of this generation also value the ability to walk to work, restaurants, coffee shops, public transportation, and parks. Multifamily housing often caters to those needs.
Mergers and Acquisitions
AvalonBay Communities and Equity Residential completed their $16 billion acquisition of Archstone Enterprise LP from Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. in 2013. As part of the partnership, AvalonBay gets 40% of Archstone's properties, which equates to 60 apartment communities, including thousands of apartment units in the Washington region. Equity Residential gets the remaining 60%, or 78 properties.
The Vanguard Group owns about 10% of Equity Residential.