GlobeSt Article

February 4, 2009

LA Buyer En Route To 1200 Unit Ownership

By Amy Wolff Sorter

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The Madeline

DALLAS-A little more than a year after entering the market with its first buy, Learning Links Centers acquired the 292-unit foreclosed Ashley Apartments from Capmark Financial Group. The SoCal buyers have changed the complex's name to the Madeline and are investing approximately $1.5 million on upgrades.

Also part of the plan for the asset at 9855 Shadow Way is the addition of a Resource Room, a place where school-aged children can receive one-on-one tutoring, mentoring and personal attention outside the school room. Learning Links, headquartered in Los Angeles, is taking a model that worked well in lower-income areas in Los Angeles, and is bringing it into Texas.

The model involves acquisition of class B and C assets in lower-income neighborhoods, investment of money to upgrade them, then the addition of the Resource Rooms, which are overseen by Learning Links' partner Education Advantage Foundation. The latter, also headquartered in Los Angeles, finds teachers to staff the Resource Rooms. The results, comment Learning Links co-founders and partners Joe Killinger and George Pino are turnarounds for the complexes, and hopefully, the neighborhoods.

Pino tells GlobeSt.com that when Learning Links made its first Dallas buy, a 71-unit complex at 14000 Maham Rd. a little more than a year ago, it needed a lot of work. "Occupancy at the time was a little over 18%," he explains. "We did a heavy interior refurbishment on the vacant units, and were able to get the vacancy rate down to about 3% within a few months, while increasing rents by about 12%."

Pino goes on to say that, in addition to stabilizing the property and renaming it Teruko Springs, he and Killinger are working with the area municipality to stabilize the area by implementing a community watch program and asking local police to patrol. In that area, "our building has the lower crime rate," he comments.

Killinger tells GlobeSt.com that what's even better about Teruko Springs is the Resource Room, which has two regular teachers and two assistants who donate their time. "There are a lot of kids in the program in that building," he remarks. "They show up regularly now, and the teachers can catch some of the kids who need the help." He goes on to say that in Los Angeles, where the model has been in existence for about five years, vacancies have improved and one of the children from the program is now attending college with help from an Education Advantage Foundation scholarship.

Meanwhile, back in Texas, the partners are looking for more apartment complexes to renovate and, in turn, more children in need to help educate. Pino says the best investments are class B and C assets, as they allow for better rates of return. The partners plan to acquire 1200 units in Dallas over the next year or so, if the financial markets cooperate.

Killinger says Dallas was the logical next step for this model because of his and Pino's familiarity with the market. He says he and Pino know many area real estate professionals, including property managers, meaning a network was already in place to launch the program. In addition, "when we looked at different economies in different submarkets, we decided Dallas was one of the best ones to weather the economic crisis," Pino adds.

Though the partners have their hands full in Texas, they're looking ahead to the next venture. "We want to do 1200 units in Dallas, and continue to grow our platform. We don't want to overextend ourselves until we get a good base in Dallas," Killinger says. "Then we'll go on to New York."