Greystar Real Estate Partners is gearing up to launch its first rental property in Shanghai, just nine months after the company reached a first close of $450 million on its Asia Pacific rental housing fund.
The US-based real estate fund manager’s Managing Director for China, Charles Ma, told Mingtiandi that, Greystar’s maiden China fund, which is understood to have since grown to over $500 million in capitalisation, has purchased a former serviced apartment building and is busy repositioning the asset as a high-end rental residential property.
Due to be launched formally during Chinese New Year, the 470-unit project, which was known as the Belvedere All Suites under its former ownership, is the first in a series of new Greystar rental accommodation products that will eventually cater to a broad spectrum of rental classes from top-tier to mass market, according to Ma, who previously served with top mainland developer China Vanke.
“The Belvedere will be a flagship asset targeting the upper tier of the rental profile,” said Ma, who indicated that the company will rebrand the project. “With this as our first, trophy project in Shanghai, we will go on to leverage this to create a brand portfolio that covers a wider market segment with the next two to three institutional-grade high quality assets.”
Snapping Up a Vacant Property in the Inner Ring
The US apartment fund manager, developer and operator purchased the building from local commercial real estate investment manager Go High through its Greystar Asia Pacific vehicle for around RMB 1.7 billion, according to people familiar with the matter.
The multifamily fund, which Greystar established in 2018 as a joint venture with a unit of Australia’s Macquarie Group, reached its first close thanks in part to commitments from Dutch fund managers APG Asset Management NV and Bouwinvest Real Estate Investors nine months ago.
A source familiar with the company’s operations told Mingtiandi that the investment vehicle has reached commitments of over $500 million to date following a new contribution from Saudi Aramco’s direct investment arm Wisayah, which will be the energy giant’s first direct real estate investment in China.
The Belvedere property, which overlooks Zhongshan Park inside Shanghai’s inner ring road, was purchased vacant after the former owners, who had planned to convert the building into luxury condos, backed out following the implementation of regulations barring Chinese citizens from other cities from buying homes until they had paid five years’ worth of city taxes, according to Ma.
Renting No Longer Just a Temporary Solution
Located at the junction of Changning Road and Yuyuan Road, two stations west of Jing An Temple on Shanghai’s metro line 2, the 260-unit building is currently being reconfigured to add a further 210 units across its 36,000 square metres (387,500 square feet) of gross floor area.
Most of the units will be en-suite studios with a kitchen or one bedroom apartments, with a host of amenities available for residents to share including a 300 square metre gym and a 1,500 square metre podium level communal area for private dining and events.
Ma told Mingtiandi that the property is targeted at the growing number of sophisticated professionals from Shanghai or white-collar workers who have moved to the city from other cities. In the 35-plus age range, these people are looking for high quality rental accommodation with the opportunity to connect with like-minded people, according to Ma.
The Zhongshan Park property will borrow some features familiar from trendy co-living and co-working operators – such as regular happy hours with free beer on tap, a flexible office area, and a communal lounge with a projector for film nights – but Ma is keen to highlight that Greystar’s venture has some major differences.
“It’s not like co-living where people are forced together – it’s going to be more balanced and will be more suited to a mature audience, as well as being of a very high quality,” Ma said. “Given that housing prices are not appreciating, people aren’t desperate to buy a home anymore and renting is no longer seen as a temporary solution.”
To achieve the right balance between community and privacy, Greystar is investing in what Ma describes as world class facilities within the property, which will even include a pet wash and pet park within 1,000 square metres of grounds, while collaborations with art galleries and pop-up stores will make the communal aspect of the brand more dynamic.
“We’re creating a unique high quality rental community to set the gold standard in the sector,” Ma said.
Standing Out from the Rental Crowd
Greystar is stepping into the market as government policy has given a boost to the rental sector, growing the market to the point where 40 percent of the current population in Shanghai is renting, according to Ma.
The growth potential of China’s rental housing market has lured numerous startups into the market. Just under two weeks ago, Morgan Stanley-backed Qingke, which operates Qingke Apartments, raised $45 million through a NASDAQ IPO.
But the sector’s rapid growth has been offset by a string of companies shutting down or defaulting since the beginning of 2018. In August of this year, three-year-old rental housing operator Lejia announced that it had “ceased operation, closed down all business, and let go of most of its staff.”
Companies such as Qingke do not own the properties themselves but simply sub-let the units to tenants, while Greystar aims to develop or acquire buildings which it designs and operates for lease to individual tenants.
“Whereas these asset-light operators sometimes sacrifice quality for quantity in the mass market, Greystar will be offering much higher quality through continuous investment as a property owner, with the assets growing in value over time,” Ma said.