More 'multifamily' ownership of units or apartments, for the purpose of renting them out to earn income is on the way, says Simon Felton, investment property specialist with Colliers International.

Felton believes so-called 'multi-family ownership' could become one of our largest property asset classes and offer a solution to our serious housing problems.

Instead of selling apartments off the plans, multifamily developers will design, build and keep the entire development complex, with the intention of renting all the units out to individuals or families.

A mature asset class in the United States and Europe, multifamily is rapidly emerging in the United Kingdom, multiple Asian regions and Australia, says Felton.

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"The market is considered attractive because, similar to aged care facilities, it is one of the few commercial asset classes that offers exposure to the residential sector.

"This type of real estate has been shown to perform exceptionally well in tightly-held residential markets, where the cost of entry for a single dwelling is particularly high."

Felton references the well documented shortage of rental accommodation in the Auckland market.

"Multifamily offers a solution to that problem, while also being scalable to a level that substantial global investors are looking for."

In the world's largest securitised market, the US, the sector is the second largest real estate investment class, accounting for over US$100 billion (NZ$137.4b) worth of transactions annually.

"Individual companies in America can own up to as many as 100,000 individual units, with the largest syndicators having generated exposure to near double this number."

Alden Torch Financial is the largest of these companies, with approximately 183,000 residential units owned through its share schemes.

Felton has had substantial firsthand experience with multifamily property during his residence in Florida — one of the largest regional multifamily markets. "Management and administration costs become proportionately smaller the larger the complex is, so owning a large number of units can create economies of scale benefits for a single owner.

"With efficient operation, multifamily can generate a resilient income stream that the overseas market considers one of the safest in the industry. People will always need somewhere to live, and in major areas these complexes have almost no vacancy, which is the most attractive part of this investment sector."

Felton foresees three major hurdles that the investment class will have to overcome before it can become widely adopted in New Zealand.

"The main challenges in the sector's application to the New Zealand market include a lack of concept familiarity, a prohibitive cost of construction/compliance, and the high individual value of residential apartments, which incentivises developers to sell the units down individually."

But that doesn't mean it can't have a place. Australia's first private developer to embrace the concept is Salta Properties, which announced its intentions to develop and retain ownership of 699 La Trobe St — a 27-level, 260-unit complex in Melbourne's Docklands, designed by architectural firm Fender Katsalidis.