Longtime D.C. Developer Launches BTR Arm, Looks To Build Multibillion-Dollar National Platform
Foulger-Pratt has been building apartments and commercial projects for more than half a century, and now the Maryland-based developer is expanding into a new business line: build-to-rent.
The firm has been quietly working on establishing a BTR pipeline in the Carolinas and the D.C. suburbs for around two years, and its executives leading the effort told Bisnow Friday that Fougler-Pratt is officially launching the new platform as its first series of projects have closed and are approaching their lease-up periods.
The five projects total 700 units of for-rent townhouses and single-family homes, and their combined project cost is $250M, Foulger-Pratt Managing Director Joe Clauser said. The projects are all scheduled to begin leasing within the next nine months.
The developer is partnering with a pair of institutional investors, which Clauser declined to name. He said the firm aims to add around 1,000 more units to its portfolio over the next two years and continue to grow from there.
“Our ultimate long-term goal here is to have a multibillion-dollar platform in this space,” Clauser said.
The firm is expanding into the BTR space in part because of how challenging it has become to develop multifamily buildings, with rising interest rates and construction costs making deals difficult to pencil, Foulger-Pratt Vice President Nick Beeson said.
“This really is a matter of shifting demographics,” Beeson said. “We are very bullish about the demand for this housing solution based on family-forming millennials as well as downsizing boomers, so there’s a lot of demographic tailwinds in this space, but also from a return-on-cost basis, these deals tend to pencil better than a lot of multifamily development right now.”
The move also represents Foulger-Pratt’s expansion into the Carolina markets. The Potomac, Maryland-based developer spent decades building around the D.C. area and has previously expanded to California, Utah and Texas. Its portfolio totals 23 multifamily properties, 15 office properties and 12 retail properties, according to its website.
Along with the expansion, Beeson, a North Carolina native, moved from D.C. to Raleigh to lead the execution of the regional expansion while Clauser leads its capital partnerships and strategic direction from Potomac.
“This is the splash, and it's a sizable splash,” Beeson said of the expansion. “We’ve been actively pursuing opportunities in North Carolina for two years now. We were disciplined and judicious in what we elected to move forward on down here.”
The firm’s initial wave of BTR projects consists of four under-construction projects it is acquiring from homebuilders as they are completed, three in Charlotte and one in Raleigh, plus one in the D.C. suburb of Brandywine, Maryland, that it is building from the ground up.
The Brandywine project will be 170 townhouses next to the Brandywine Crossing shopping center and a medical office building that Foulger-Pratt developed.
The project is a rare example in the D.C. area of a build-to-rent community being constructed from the ground up, a strategy that has boomed in the Sun Belt and other regions. Nationwide BTR development hit an all-time high in 2021 with 6,740 new homes completed, according to RentCafe.
The D.C. metro area didn't crack the top 20 largest markets for single-family rental homes in the RentCafe report, but it has begun to see some BTR projects moving forward. Another local developer, American Real Estate Partners, expanded into the BTR sector in August with the acquisition of a 200-unit townhouse community that is under construction in McLean, Virginia.
Clauser said the D.C. area’s high housing prices make it difficult for rental product to compete with new for-sale homes, limiting the growth of the BTR market.
“It was one of rare sites we’d found in the DMV area where we were able to get the land where we could get zoning for townhomes and deliver a product at a cost basis that worked for a rental product,” he said.
In North Carolina, a market that has seen more BTR development, Foulger-Pratt has four projects: a 172-unit community in the Raleigh suburb of Wendell, a 144-unit project in the Charlotte suburb of Gastonia, a 128-unit community next to the Oak Hills Parkland Reserve in Northwest Charlotte and an 86-unit project near Gaston Country Club in the Charlotte suburbs.
Those four projects were all initiated by for-sale homebuilders, and Foulger-Pratt reached deals to acquire them as they are completed and operate them as rental properties. The deals allowed Foulger-Pratt to buy homes at a discount to what they’d go for individually on the open market, and it helped the homebuilders reduce their risk in a for-sale market that has faced uncertainty due to rising interest rates over the last year.
“In late 2022, we wanted to capitalize on the then-softening of the homebuilder market, the home sales market, and we pursued strategic partnerships with homebuilders who had projects underway in some of our target markets, and we found mutually beneficial solutions for them to pivot into the rental execution transaction with us,” Beeson said.
As it works to grow its pipeline, Foulger-Pratt is looking to do more deals with homebuilders, and it is searching in a range of markets. Clauser said it continues to explore the D.C. area and North Carolina, and it is branching out to other parts of the Southeast, plus the Texas and Salt Lake City markets where it has built multifamily projects.
“We want this to be a national platform,” Clauser said. “While we have certain target markets where we’ve been more focused, we view this as something that we develop throughout the Southeast where these tend to pencil best in the ‘smile states,’ and that’s where capital momentum is, as well, in higher-growth markets.”
The single-family rental market has faced some criticism as Wall Street giants have scooped up massive portfolios of homes in existing neighborhoods, but Beeson said there is a meaningful difference between that strategy and the BTR strategy of building new communities from the ground up.
“This is not an asset manager coming in and buying up your grandmother’s neighborhood,” Beeson said. “This is new housing stock. This is bringing more homes to communities that need more residential supply.”