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RealOp Investments enters the Build-for-Rent market with purchase of shovel-ready subdivision in Lady Lake

Lake Ella Estates, a shovel-ready 229-lot subdivision, is one mile east of The Villages.
Lake Ella Estates, a shovel-ready 229-lot subdivision, is one mile east of The Villages. (FHC Development)

A South Carolina-based private equity firm with a newly formed division aimed at single-family rental homes has paid $4.9 million for a fully permitted subdivision about a mile from The Villages.

RealOp Investments has assembled a development team and plans to start construction on the 232-lot subdivision on Lake Ella Road in the Town of Lady Lake.

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Chief Investment Officer Rajib Das told GrowthSpotter the firm set a goal to build a portfolio of 5,000 single-family rental homes within three years across its core markets in Charlotte, Atlanta, Orlando, Tampa, Charleston and Greenville, South Carolina.

“This is our first Build-for-Rent project in Florida, but we also have active projects in the Carolinas that are in development or under contract,” Das said. “We have 1,000 units in development now.”

Lake Ella Estates will be a purpose-built rental subdivision with homes on 50-foot and 60-foot lots.
Lake Ella Estates will be a purpose-built rental subdivision with homes on 50-foot and 60-foot lots. (Align Commercial Real Estate)

He said they see the project as part of The Villages ecosystem. It provides attainable workforce housing for people who are under the age of 55 and rental options for seniors who don’t want to pay the high CDD fees that come with living in the nation’s largest retirement community.

“It’s a stone’s throw from The Villages, so you can access the community if you want to play golf,” Das said.

Yog Melwani at Align Commercial Real Estate brokered the sale of the 67-acre property. The sellers, Orlando developers Frank Cawthon Jr. and Robert Holston, had secured permits and engineering plans for the development, called Lake Ella Estates.

“I was happy to pay a commission because he introduced me to the buyer,” Cawthon said. “We did not know the RealOp guys. Yog told us they wanted to find a whole subdivision that was shovel-ready to do a Build-for-Rent community.”

Cawthan and Holston had owned the project since 2007.

“We bought it right before the end of the last recession, and it was almost fully permitted at the time, but we had to sit on it,” Cawthon said. “When the market came back to life, the permits had expired and the development codes had changed, so we had to re-engineer the project.”

The redesigned subdivision has a lower density, but the lots are larger and there’s more open space and trail connections, he said. “The new design I like better,” Cawthon said. “We ended up with an 8-acre park and a mixture of 50-foot and 60-foot lot sizes. We lost lots, but they’re worth more, and we ended up with a better subdivision, as far as responsible development and livability.”

RealOp has assembled a local team to develop and construct the neighborhood. Paving contractor JMHC will handle the horizontal construction and site work, and Bullhorn Construction will be the general contractor.

National Real Estate will manage the community and oversee the lease-up.

Find out how the nation's largest Build-for-Rent operator was able to make the numbers work for a 222 purpose-built rental subdivision despite Osceola County's high impact fees.

Single-family rental homes are among the fastest-growing asset classes in the residential homebuildng industry now. RealOp joins American Homes 4Rent and D.R. Horton in building large-scale, BFR subdivisions in greater Orlando.

“Florida’s ever-growing population creates a strong demand for more housing, as does the changing demographic trends,” Melwani said. “This asset type appeals to younger Baby Boomers, those in their 50′s and 60′s, as they decide to cash out and go from owning a home to renting; as well as Generation Ys and those who continue to migrate to Florida, due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, leaving urban areas for more space and single-family rentals (SFR). It is estimated that this asset type will grow to 700,000 units nationwide, of which 13,000 units will be in Central Florida.”

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at lkinsler@GrowthSpotter.com or (407) 420-6261, or tweet me at @byLauraKinsler. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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