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Bottom Line: Wall Street investor buys up Lebanon condos with rental in mind

Valley News Business Writer
Published: 8/28/2021 9:39:06 PM
Modified: 8/28/2021 9:39:06 PM

The smart money has just placed a big bet on the upscale Lebanon rental market.

A Wall Street investment banker and Dartmouth alum, in a single swoop, snatched up 32 units in the new Treetops condo complex on Etna Road in Lebanon for a total of $10.5 million, according to city real estate records.

Av Bhavsar, a 1992 graduate of Dartmouth and co-head of U.S. fixed income sales at investment bank Goldman Sachs, purchased the units from Investors Corp. of Vermont, the Burlington-based developer which built the $12.4 million, 75-unit building that opened last year.

Treetops is one of a spate of new apartment buildings and condo complexes going up in Lebanon, which like all Upper Valley communities has a severe housing shortage. But as the base of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center — the Lebanon hospital has some 8,400 workers connected with it — the need for apartments in Lebanon is acute.

But what’s a New York investment banker doing buying 42% of the apartments in Treetops?

Bhavsar, who bought the condo units on his own account and not in his role at Goldman Sachs, didn’t return a phone call seeking comment, but through a Goldman Sachs spokesperson said via email that he’s familiar with the Upper Valley and has strong ties here.

“I went to Dartmouth, have a vacation home there and have a family connection to the area,” Bhavsar said in the email. “The condo portfolio is an investment in area rental properties.”

Based on the demand for Treetops’ condos, it looks like Bhavsar may have made a savvy investment.

Evan Pierce, a broker with Four Seasons Sotheby’s in Hanover who is representing developer ICV in the sale of the building’s condos, said Bhavsar began negotiating with the company during the building phase after he had expressed an interest in “buying a big chunk” of the planned units.

Although Bhavsar probably does well enough as a Wall Street banker, he nonetheless, like any average home buyer, took out at a loan to swing the deal: Documents filed with the Grafton County Register of Deeds office show that the LLC through which Bhavsar owns the condos was issued a $7 million loan from Mascoma Bank in connection with the purchase.

Begun in 2018, construction wrapped up last fall, although occupancy began earlier in the year. The original expectation was that 80% of the units would be sold by June 2021, Pierce said, with the remainder in 2022.

That timeline turned out to be overly conservative.

“We just sold the last unit,” Pierce said. He said that prices for one-bedrooms have been ranging from $280,000 to $310,000 and two-bedrooms between $390,000 to $470,000.

“It became a sense of urgency,” Pierce said about buyers vying for the apartments in the wake of Bhavsar’s taking 32 of them off the market. “That’s the nature of somebody coming in and buying up 32.”

And the rental agent evidently thinks they are a hot property, too, especially when the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Grafton County is currently $1,462 per month, according to New Hampshire Housing.

Bhavsar’s Treetops apartments are being managed by Lebanon firm Real Property Management, which last week was listing three of the units for rent — all two-bed/two-bath apartments — for between $3,200 to $3,500 per month.

One new resident said buying at Treetops was the right move.

Jaimie Seaton, a freelance writer and editor who grew up in Hanover, said she initially was “very worried” about exchanging her house in Hanover for a one-bedroom unit, but now she’s “really happy” living there.

“It’s a great place and has a very positive vibe,” Seaton said. “It’s almost fully occupied and very quiet,” she added, noting the other residents appear to be “a lot of young people.”

Seaton said her ex-husband, with whom she remains on good terms, had initially questioned the financial wisdom of going from house to condo — until she informed him that a senior Goldman Sachs executive had bought up almost half the units in the building.

She said her ex-husband paused for a moment, let that sink in, then laughed, “Well, I guess you’ve made a smart move after all.”

Biotech business builder plans incubator

Tillman Gerngross is best known as the iconoclast Dartmouth Thayer School of Engineering professor who also has launched several Upper Valley biotech businesses worth, eh, a few hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s fair to say he spends much of his time traveling and dealing in rarified technology and business circles.

But since moving to the Upper Valley to take a teaching job at Dartmouth in 1998, Gerngross has also involved himself in less glamorous (and likely less profitable) aspects of the Upper Valley, most notably with his purchase in 2013 of the former Canaan Fair Speedway, in which he spent more than $2 million revitalizing and today operates as the Canaan Motor Club.

Now Gerngross has acquired another notable Upper Valley property: the former League of NH Craftsmen building on Lebanon Street in Hanover. The League closed its Hanover fine craft gallery last summer as the pandemic was surging, citing it as the breaking point in what had already been a “changing retail environment” in downtown Hanover.

Gerngross, who paid $1.19 million for the three-floor, 5,369-square-foot building, said he and his wife, architect Sylvia Richards, see great potential in the property and plan a bottom-to-top renovation of the building, which will serve as a sort of combination “family office” and “incubator” brought together in a single place.

The purchase price was almost exactly the building’s assessed value of $1,082,000.

“I have a lot of companies and my chief of staff will be there,” Gerngross explained, adding that it will also serve as space for himself and others where teams can work on new companies. “It’s an interesting building but it needs a lot of help.”

Another reason Gerngross said he and his wife bought the building was to deter a fate that often befalls storefront property.

“My fear is that it would become another knickknack store,” he said.

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.




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