Vacant rental units abundant

By Ed Brock

Managing rental property is in Kristen Diamond-Sneed's blood. The regional property manager for Barrington Group Inc., owners of the new Battle Creek Village townhome complex where several VIPs will gather today for the grand opening, learned the trade from her parents.

Now she manages two properties in Clayton County, including Battle Creek Village, another in Georgia and two more in Indiana. So when Diamond-Sneed says there's trouble in Clayton County's rental property business it might be a good idea to listen.

One sign of the impact the current economic downturn has had is the number of "free rent" specials apartment complexes are offering.

"The rental market today is extremely educated," Diamond-Sneed said. "People walk in the door and the first thing they ask us is what's your special?"

There are 15,447 individual apartment units in the county's more than 100 complexes and about 13,492 of those are occupied, according to the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce.

"There is an overabundance of apartments in this county," Chamber President and CEO Shane Moody said.

Moody, who plans to attend today's event at Battle Creek Village, said they haven't been told that there is trouble in the local rental property industry but he also said that numerous complexes offering specials is a bad sign. One of Diamond-Sneed's competitors who accepted her invitation to the event, Magnolia Park Assistant Manager Rolynda Livery, said there is trouble in the market.

"I'm hoping it recuperates in the next year," Livery said. "Right now it is a bad market for Atlanta. It's something we'd all like to see turned around."

So many of the people attending Diamond-Sneed's grand opening will be there to hear what some of her other guests have to say about the situation. The guest list includes Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, Atlanta Apartment Association President Walt Lamperski and County Commission Chairman Crandle Bray.

Bray is more optimistic about the situation and points to forecasts of continued growth expected in the county.

"It may have a shadow on it right now but these people who are coming have to have a place to live," Bray said.

Another of Diamond-Sneed's competitors, Tara Woods Apartments Manager Denise Castorena, said that while she's heard other complexes aren't doing well they have full occupancy.

"Our traffic seems to be fairly good. A lot of it is from resident referrals," Castorena said.

Castorena added that competing apartment managers often work together.

"When you go and talk to your competition you pick up new techniques and learn about their complexes," Castorena said.

Much of the downturn in the rental market is due to the economic decline the nation suffered after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the more recent war in Iraq, Diamond-Sneed said. Military personnel are a big rental market.

There are other issues affecting the market also.

"Some of the school system drama is not attracting families to Clayton County," Diamond-Sneed said.

Still another issue is the current low-interest, "creative financing" housing market. In fact, Diamond-Sneed said it's too easy to buy a house these days and many of these new buyers end up being unable to pay for their homes or moving out quickly.

One way Battle Creek Village is trying to stand out in the crowd of rental property is by getting away from the trend of building many small apartments in one building and back to building roomy-feeling townhomes that attract families.

"The feel here is to have the amenities without the sardine can," Diamond-Sneed said.