Behind Greystar’s Global Expansion

9 min read

The District Living apartment tower in Vienna’s Donau City offers a new amenity-driven, urban lifestyle concept.

Greystar was founded by Bob Faith in 1993 to provide world-class service in the multifamily real estate business. That mission has broadened to include bringing purpose-built apartments to markets around the world.

Early in his career, Faith recognized that American style multifamily housing isn’t as prevalent outside the U.S. The multifamily model that works here—amenity-driven, purpose-built apartments developed at scale to take advantage of operating efficiencies and run by institutions—is also needed in most major international markets.

In 2013, Greystar expanded to Mexico and the United Kingdom. In 2018, they entered China, Australia, Chile, Spain, France and Germany. In 2019, they opened their first office in Tokyo, the world’s largest city offering a massive pool of potential residents and where net population growth has been outpacing new construction for the past 10 years.

Today, from their headquarters in Charleston, S.C., the firm manages and operates over $221 billion of real estate in 224 markets globally including offices throughout North America, Europe, South America and the Asia-Pacific region. Greystar isn’t alone; competitors are also delivering new units to international markets.

A Development-led strategy

Greystar has already rolled out a proven serviced residential platform for young professionals and students in the UK, Ireland, France, the Netherlands, Germany and Spain. The firm acquired a UK student housing portfolio for $408 million and their European investment strategy now continues with a target development volume of EUR 1 billion. Currently, Greystar is building a portfolio of residential properties in major German-speaking cities including Berlin, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Munich and Vienna.

Greystar describes these as high-quality projects with 100-plus residential units and dedicated on-site teams that provide residents with round-the-clock support. Highly designed amenity spaces where social interactions and co-working can take place are also key.

“Greystar has most of the continental Europe now covered. What you’ve seen in the U.S. is exactly what we do in Europe as well,” said Mark Kuijpers, managing director for Central Europe at Greystar.

“We have a heavy development-led strategy,” noted Kuijpers. “We typically develop a lot of our product ourselves, or we acquire product through forward fund deals where we try to enter as early as possible in the development process to mold the product so it fits our operational strategy and operational model really well,” he explains. “That is typically the approach we have, and across Europe, including London, we’ve now built up over 50,000 units of student and multifamily product already.”

Fully finished and furnished

In June, Greystar opened their first residential high-rise in Vienna, Austria with 832 fully furnished apartments ranging from 161.5 to 505.9 square feet. Developed with S+B Gruppe AG, the 215,278-square-foot DC3 tower, also known as District Living, is located within Donau City, a vibrant mixed-use, transit-oriented development in Vienna’s 22nd District.

District Living has amazing views of the Danube, the Reichsbrücke bridge and the city skyline. A special feature of the architecture is the cantilevered triangular façade sections, which provide residents with generously sized windows, built-in window seats and fantastic views.

“This is a unique building because we have mixed-use for three different clienteles,” said Marco Metge, the firm’s operations director for Germany and Austria. The student apartments are on the lower floors. The serviced apartments are in the middle of the building. Apartments for young professionals are on the top floors. The property is approximately 60 percent leased, and three-month to one-year contracts are available.

Apartments are fully furnished for all three segments and available as studios and one-bedroom units. “What we have here, which is also special, is an all-in rent,” said Metge. Rent includes use of the common areas, all utilities, the gym, Wi-Fi, a fixed-rate service charge and furniture. Everything is included. Residents don’t need to pay anything extra. There are no add-ons except the parking garage and cleaning services, if they are booked.

The 34-story tower includes a three-story base that is elevated so the basement level is actually above ground. “We have big windows and full daylight everywhere—even the laundry room and fitness center. That’s amazing,” said Metge.

“There is a shortage of rental housing in Vienna in all price ranges,” he added. “We are therefore confident that our service-oriented, professionally managed product will be successful in the Austrian capital. Vienna has the largest student population in Europe, after London and Paris. District Living benefits from optimal public transport connections and the property enables us to implement our innovative operating concept, with spacious and high-quality common areas and services.”

The three lower floors feature a spacious reception area with a lobby café, coworking spaces, event and meeting rooms, a garden, a fitness and yoga studio, cycle storage and a laundry room. On the 33rd floor, residents can enjoy the Sky Bar, a roof terrace, a game room and private dining and study rooms.

Forward fund deals

In August, Greystar acquired D90 from Austrian project developer S+B Gruppe for a purchase price of 180 million euros. The 29-floor high-rise project will rise in Vienna’s 20th District Brigittenau. Construction started in September 2022, with completion planned for 2026.

“It’s a forward fund,” explained Kuijpers. “We work with the local developer S+B Gruppe. They essentially hold the land and develop the plan on it, and we engage with them in the early stage of the plans to see what additional changes we could make to the building to make it fit to our operational model.”

The D90 project will offer a unit mix ranging from studios to three-room apartments and an average unit size of 613.5 square feet. D90 is located near the city center right next to the neighborhood development on the site of the former Northwest Station and benefits from direct access to subway and streetcar transportation.

“The Vienna market for rental apartments continues to be undersupplied with high-end, new institutional-quality properties,” said Mark Allnutt, senior managing director for Europe.  “That’s why we’re proud of this project. Not only will this project be a new architectural landmark but it will also provide high quality rental accommodations with a host of resident amenities not seen in the market before.”

Creative cross pollination

Typically in the Netherlands and in Germany, when a for-sale or rental building is delivered to residents, it has concrete floors and walls. The ceiling is mostly plaster. There are no finishes or appliances. Greystar’s studios and apartments are fully furnished.

“There’s a huge demand for that, specifically for the target group that’s only going to live in a certain place for two to three years. They don’t want to have the hassle of having to fully finish and furnish their apartment, so it’s actually ready to live,” said Kuijpers. “That is totally new to the European market, and it has been very well received by (the industry).”

According to Kuijpers, even though Greystar is a global firm, it is still compact in terms of personal relationships between people. “It’s a flat organization,” he said. “Bob and the rest of the executive committee are very committed to what we do here, and they visit us quite often to get to know the people that work here, to get to see our product and learn from it—and also the other way around, to bring new ideas.”

Greystar encourages innovation and frequently it is Faith himself who is rethinking amenity offerings and pushing them to the next level. “In the Netherlands, we have spent a lot of time optimizing floor plans to make sure that we get as much efficiency from every square meter,” said Kuijpers.

“Our colleagues in San Francisco are now looking at our typical floor plans to see if they can bring that to San Francisco because of the affordability challenges that they have there. They want to see, ‘Can we make them a bit smaller, provide more amenities and still have a very cool living product but at an attainable price level?’ So there’s back and forth learning, and that’s really nice to see.”

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