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O.C. BUSINESS PLUS | HEARD ON THE BEAT / REAL ESTATE

Major Apartment Owner Foresees Rents Increasing at a Slower Pace

March 22, 2001|DARYL STRICKLAND

After several years of sharply rising rents throughout Orange County, some renters could see the pace slow down.

One of the county's largest landlords, Western National Property Management, forecasts that its rents will rise about 5% to 6% this year, or roughly 2 percentage points less than a year ago, said Stephen Donohue, the Irvine landlord's president.

The majority of Western National's 18,000 units are in Anaheim, Fullerton and other north Orange County cities that command lower prices than newer units in South County. Moreover, apartments in older parts of Orange County areas have rents "at the upper edge of the market," which should keep a lid on price hikes, Donohue said.

The company's average rent in the county is $975.

Overall, rents countywide rose 10% last year to $1,086, the steepest increase in more than a decade, according to Research Network Ltd. in Rancho Santa Margarita. Some analysts expect to see similar increases this year across the county.

But Donohue projects 3,500 apartments will open this year in Orange County, and the extra units will absorb some new tenants and hold down price increases.

"But it will just be an anomaly," Donohue said, because fewer units are expected to be built in the county next year, and high demand will mean sharply rising rents once again.

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Daryl Strickland covers real estate for The Times. He can be reached at (714) 966-5670 and at daryl.strickland@latimes.com.

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