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French Insurance Giant AXA Plans To Put More Money In D.C. Real Estate

Fresh off a $140M Bethesda acquisition, French insurance giant AXA is looking to buy more properties in the D.C. region. 

Montgomery Tower, a 12-story building at 4550 Montgomery Ave. in Bethesda

The head of AXA's North American real estate investment arm, Stephen McCarthy, told Bisnow he hopes to make at least one more D.C.-area purchase before year-end.

AXA set a goal of investing $800M in U.S. properties in 2017, McCarthy said, and it is about 75% of the way there. The company plans to match that investment total in 2018. AXA manages about $70B in assets globally, with roughly $2B of that in the U.S.

The six primary markets AXA is looking to invest in are D.C., New York City, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco. McCarthy said he is also interested in markets such as Seattle, Portland, Charlotte, Atlanta and Dallas. 

In D.C., AXA sees a market that experienced a delayed post-recession recovery because of roadblocks like sequestration and BRAC.

"We're seeing an uptick in the Washington, D.C., market that is attractive, and it will continue to be a market we focus on going forward," McCarthy said. 

He said AXA is looking for D.C. deals with a purchase price between $50M and $200M. It is focusing on core-plus opportunities, buildings that do not need renovations and can be leased up quickly.  

The investor is setting its sights on properties in the central business district or close-in suburbs like Bethesda, prioritizing transit-accessible locations. 

AXA Investment Managers Real Assets Head of North America Stephen McCarthy

The French investor entered the D.C. region in March, teaming up with PRP Real Estate Investment Management to buy a 298-unit apartment community in Gambrills, Maryland, roughly 20 miles from the eastern edge of the District. 

AXA then made a deal with MRP Realty to acquire Montgomery Tower, part of the Bethesda Crossing office complex. MRP spent $30M in 2013 to renovate the 1960s-era complex. The 366K SF Montgomery Tower is roughly 94% leased, with a third of the space coming available next year.  

"What attracted us to the asset is its position in the Bethesda market, very close to the Metro station," McCarthy said. "MRP has done a terrific job of renovating the asset and we believe it is well-positioned to capture good tenants and rents moving forward." 

The investment in D.C. comes after AXA cashed out of its New York City office holdings last year, selling two Manhattan properties for a total of $3.55B. In January 2016, it sold 787 Seventh Ave. for $1.9B, and in May it sold 1285 Sixth Ave. for $1.65B. 

"They sold those assets largely to take advantage of where we are in the investment cycle," McCarthy said of the Manhattan deals. He expects the market will continue to see steady growth, but said AXA is investing in stable properties it thinks could weather a downturn. 

The French investor's entrance to the D.C. market comes as foreign investors continue to drive the District's investment sales volume. Roughly 69% of the $3B invested in D.C. office properties through the first three quarters of 2017 came from foreign investors, according to CBRE. One Japanese investor, Unizo Holdings, has dominated the market since its March 2016 entrance, buying nine buildings for $1.4B. 

Related Topics: CBRE, MRP Realty, Bethesda, AXA, Unizo Holdings