Never faltering from its corporate commitment to enhance the lives of its residents, AvalonBay Communities Inc. has earned a leading position among multifamily residential real estate corporations operating in the United States. Headquartered in Arlington, Va., AvalonBay focuses on acquiring, developing, redeveloping and managing best-in-class apartment communities in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, Pacific Northwest, and Northern and Southern California.
AvalonBay was incorporated in California in 1978 and became a real estate investment trust in 1994. The following year, it was reincorporated in the state of Maryland. As of March 2011, AvalonBay owned or held an interest in 187 high-quality apartment communities containing 55,027 units in 10 states and the District of Columbia. Eleven of these communities were under construction and nine were under reconstruction. In addition, the company has future development rights for 34 communities.
The more difficult the market, the bigger the challenge; and the bigger the challenge, the bigger the reward.
AvalonBay focuses on high barrier-to-entry markets characterized by low supply of zoned apartment land and challenging entitlement processes. Its goal is to become the market leader in each of its chosen core markets. “At AvalonBay, we feel we have the development, construction and property management expertise to be really successful in these markets,” says Scott Kinter, vice president of construction. “The more difficult the market, the bigger the challenge; and the bigger the challenge, the bigger the reward.”
AvalonBay is able to succeed in highly competitive markets because it has one of the strongest balance sheets in the industry, Kinter maintains. “Because of the economic downturn at the end of 2008, 2009 and 2010 – and even as we speak, it’s still a very challenging marketplace – a lot of private real estate development companies stopped building because it was very difficult to get financing for their projects,” he notes. “They had severe cutbacks and many closed their offices in the New England and New York regions.
“All of the infrastructure and personnel they spent years building – and it takes years to establish yourself in these difficult markets – had to be let go,” Kinter continues. “Even some public companies struggled due to their inability to get financing for their projects. But because of AvalonBay’s strong balance sheet, we had the ability to procure land where most couldn’t. This put us in a position to build our projects during a tough economic market and take advantage of a 20 to 25 percent decrease in construction costs.”
AvalonBay’s expertise in construction management bodes well in finding innovative solutions on budget-conscious and schedule-driven projects, Kinter says. The company routinely attracts the best subcontractors in the business “because we have a very tenured staff,” he explains.
“Almost everyone in the construction end of the organization from the senior leadership down to the field superintendents has about 10 years with AvalonBay, which is uncommon for the construction industry,” Kinter points out. “Having that tenure allows the AvalonBay staff to develop and foster great working relationships with our subcontractors.”
“We clearly have the highest expectations of any development company out there and always have,” Kinter says. “But the subcontractors know when they come to work for AvalonBay, they are going to be paid on time, every time, as long as they deliver great workmanship on schedule. And we rarely have a project that finishes behind schedule.
“Once we start a project, we start it with confidence that we’re going to finish it in the duration that we’ve advertised. Subcontractors can predict the profitability, which results in AvalonBay being offered lower prices than our competition.”
This is not the case with AvalonBay, Kinter asserts. The company strives to stay ahead of its competitors by incorporating cutting-edge construction technologies.
Aside from utilizing BIM to more efficiently manage its projects and putting its subcontractor requisitioning on the Web, payments are wired directly into the subcontractors’ banking accounts, he says. This cuts down on subcontractors’ overhead in their accounts receivables departments and eliminates the need to deposit checks at the bank.
AvalonBay’s key partners include Aquaknot Pools Inc., Clem’s Ornamental Iron Works Inc., New England Gypsum Floors, SE&D Inc., Shawnlee Construction LLC, New Haven Drywall, Henry B. Whitaker Inc., Advanced Alarms, Absolute Painting Inc., Firestop Associates Inc., Triangle Building, Hampton Drainage and Monolith Structures LLC.
Avalon Cohasset is a prime example of AvalonBay’s commitment to enhance the lives of its residents as well as its ability to succeed in highly desirable real estate markets, the company says. The 220-unit apartment community faces the northeast shoreline of Cohasset, Mass., which offers residents majestic views of the Atlantic Ocean, says Matt Gendron, senior director of construction.
AvalonBay gifted to the town of Cohasset a portion of its 61-acre land parcel to be dedicated conservation land for future generations. This provides residents with pristine views of preserved wilderness. In addition, a 2,200-foot nature trail was included in the comprehensive permit agreement for the enjoyment of not only residents of Avalon Cohasset, but for the public at large, Gendron says.
Avalon Cohasset – which broke ground in November 2010 and will be completed by March 2012 – consists of 78 two- to three-story town homes and 142 direct-entry garden apartments. The $53 million project – designed by Atlanta-based Niles Bolton Associates – features a four- and six-bay detached garage building with similar architectural features as the apartment buildings to seamlessly blend into the residential community.
Its 5,645-square-foot leasing/community center will feature architectural siding and roofing, synthetic trim and pediments, as well as faux stone embellishment to an elevation of 42 inches around the entire perimeter and full height at the main entry. Avalon Cohasset also will feature a 1,515-square-foot swimming pool, a 564-square-foot cabana and a play area for children, as well as a barbecue and picnic setting, a bus shelter and a recycling center.
One of Avalon Cohasset’s most notable features is its dedication to sustainability, especially with regard to water conservation and energy efficiency, Gendron notes. The project features a self-contained, on-site wastewater treatment facility, and Energy Star and low-water appliances. “This community is not only one of the most residential-feeling community developments we’ve ever built, but is also one of the first energy efficiency-focused, as well,” he says. “Having had the privilege to be a part of this unique build-out really forced a more single-family home focus for the entire construction team.”
Like Avalon Cohasset, the $112 million Avalon Rockville Centre was developed to enhance the lives of its residents. Located in the village of Rockville Centre on Long Island, N.Y., Avalon Rockville Centre will consist of two buildings with a combined total of 349 apartment units on a 7.1-acre parcel. The buildings will sit atop a one-level parking structure that can accommodate up to 488 vehicles. Construction broke ground in April 2010 and will be completed by August 2012.
Designed by Niles Bolton Associates, the three-story, wood-framed apartment community features an exterior façade consisting of a mixture of exterior insulation finishing system and stone veneer. Its total square footage encompasses 613,136 square feet. The leasing facilities and amenities will be located on the first floor of building one and will feature a clubroom and fitness center with two-story-high ceilings. Both buildings will feature a lush landscaped outdoor courtyard with barbecue areas. The outdoor courtyard for building one will include a heated swimming pool.
“Our main challenges for this project include the coordination and implementation of a brownfield’s clean-up plan in conjunction with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation,” says Steven Spiro, senior director of construction. “The southern portion of the site was contaminated with tetrachloroethylene, a chemical widely used for dry-cleaning.
“We excavated approximately 10,000 tons of hazardous and non-hazardous soils,” Spiro continues. “The final remediation plan calls for a pump-and-treat system with three extraction wells to clean up residual groundwater as required to achieve a track four certification of completion. The coordination of the remediation work with the construction of the north building was a logistical challenge for both the schedule and the budget.”
He praises the subcontractors working on Avalon Cohasset for being able to work through these challenges seamlessly with minimal impact to the budget and schedule. “We were able to use a mix of both union and merit-based contractors that have experience in the Avalon way of production, as well as multifamily housing experience,” Spiro says. “Our relationship with these contractors creates a seamless approach to our aggressive scheduling fundamentals.”
The $110 million project – designed by Niles Bolton Associates – includes amenities such as a clubhouse with a community room, a heated pool, a fitness center and a nature trail. Avalon Green’s one- and two-bedroom units feature spacious layouts, open kitchens with bar tops, wood-burning fireplaces, and central heating and air-conditioning.
Avalon Green is a special project associated with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, which focuses on the research, development and demonstration of energy efficiency for homes. According to AvalonBay, the company is committed to establishing itself as a leader in sustainable apartment communities. “From sustainable development and green community improvements to green office practices, AvalonBay is applying innovative ideas that support environmental sustainability within our communities and beyond,” the company says.
Mitch Forlenza, senior director of construction, says the biggest challenges associated with the Avalon Green project were massive earthwork, large rock cuts within a mountainous terrain and tough weather conditions. He describes the subcontractors’ performance on the project as “good and fair.”
In August 2010, AvalonBay began construction on phase two of Avalon at The Pinehills in Plymouth, Mass., and expected to be completed by June. The $18 million project consists of a four-story, 59-unit building and four two-story, eight-unit buildings. The buildings – designed by Niles Bolton Associates – feature a flat roof constructed using a non-reinforced roofing membrane fully adhered over a polyiso insulation board fastened to oriented strand board roof sheathing and open-web wood trusses. This was completed in the winter, which proved challenging for the construction crew, Project Manager Joe Horrigan notes.
He credits the skills and experience of AvalonBay’s subcontractors for being able to work through the challenges. He adds there was a nice mixture of old and new faces on the project site. “We had the opportunity to utilize a subcontractor base that consisted of both frequently used contractors that have completed thousands of apartment homes for us, as well as contractors that were new to working with AvalonBay,” Horrigan states.
“As a result, we were able to not only strengthen the relationship with past-performing contractors, but also forge new working relationships with qualified subcontractors that were able to provide competitive pricing on future projects,” he notes. “Overall, the performance of the subcontractors was excellent, even for those experiencing an AvalonBay construction project for the first time.”
In the third quarter of 2011, AvalonBay will begin construction on the $95 million, LEED-certifiable Avalon Exeter at the Prudential Center in conjunction with Boston Properties, owner of the Prudential Center. AvalonBay Project Manager Pavel Vancura says construction on the 28-story, 279,000-square-foot tower will be completed by the fourth quarter of 2013. Designed by Boston-based architecture firm Elkus Manfredi Architects Ltd., Avalon Exeter is a cast-in-place concrete and steel superstructure featuring architectural precast with glass and aluminum curtainwall.
The project is being built on a tight site in a high-density neighborhood surrounded by hotels, apartment buildings and department stores. As a result, there is limited access for material delivery. This also created numerous challenges with regard to demolition of existing structures, as well as the relocation of existing utilities. “Utmost preconstruction diligence and a military-like precision in operations are a must,” Vancura says.
Although each AvalonBay regional office has its own subculture, the company’s overall corporate atmosphere is “incredibly warm and family-like,” Kinter describes.
“People want to work for AvalonBay because it’s a company that has experienced incredible growth and has been able to sustain its growth even in a down economy, so the job security is wonderful.”
A company that continues to grow enables its work force to advance in their careers, and AvalonBay is a perfect example of that, he says. AvalonBay recognizes teamwork, as well as individual talents.
“Our philosophy is if you work hard, you add value; and if you add value, you add to the culture,” Kinter explains. “If you strive to be the best you can be, you will continue to be successful in this organization.”
Kinter joined AvalonBay 17 years ago and during this time has risen through the ranks from field superintendent to project manager to regional director. In 2005, he was appointed an officer of the company. Kinter has been involved in the construction of more than 50 projects and more than 12,000 apartments.
“There is always a feeling of autonomy no matter what your position at the company is,” he states.
“You have the ability to make decisions, and that freedom of decision-making creates a feeling of entrepreneurialism. I think that in itself is one of the main drivers for people to not only want to work here, but stay for the long-term.”