Tenants Surprised by $34.75 Million Sale of AvalonBay Apartments on Danbury Rd.; Now Called ‘White Oaks at Wilton’

Residents of Avalon Wilton on Danbury Rd. got a bit of a shock last Thursday, Dec. 17, when they were notified by letter that Lincoln Property Company had taken over management responsibilities for the apartment complex earlier that day. The development was previously owned by AvalonBay Communities, Inc.

The letter, signed by Senior Community Manager of AvalonBay Communities Mike Pasick, said that effective immediately, the buyer assumed all obligations under the lease. For some tenants, the note left on their front doors was the first they’d heard that the development was even on the market.

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CBRE represented AvalonBay Communities in the sale to real estate investment company Clarion Partners for $34.75 million.

The 100-unit development will be rebranded as “White Oaks at Wilton.”

While the initial letter from Pasick also stated that the company “transitioned management and ownership responsibilities [emphasis added] for Avalon Wilton on Danbury Rd. to Lincoln Property Company,” the latter enterprise is actually only responsible for property management, and Clarion Partners is the new owner of record.

Lincoln Property Company is the second-largest management company in the country, with over 200,000 units under management.

Having separate management and ownership arms is a different structure than AvalonBay Communities, which both owned and managed the property. However, Sara Reyes Bickell, a business manager at Lincoln Property Company, told GOOD Morning Wilton there has been no discussion of major structural or operational changes, although all on-site staff but one maintenance tech has changed with the transition.

Reyes Bickell added it was not unusual for tenants to be first notified on the day of the ownership switch.

“What the residents are experiencing on site really should be no disruption to their services,” she said. “There’s still somebody on-call 24 hours a day and they can get a hold of us and we’re here for regular maintenance emergencies, for regular maintenance service requests, and as well as for emergencies.”

However, that’s not what one tenant of almost four years at the property said. The tenant (who asked to remain anonymous due to concerns her comments could impact her relationship with the new owners) expressed some concerns about how the transition was handled. She said she received the letter from Avalon Bay on her doorstep the evening of the sale, and despite multiple efforts to call what the letter said was the number for the new management company, she could not reach anyone from either company until the next morning, when she received a second letter, this time from Lincoln Property Company.

“My initial reaction was just, ‘Well, why did they have to leave a note on our door and announce it at a time that nobody could be contacted?” she said. “I think we’re all living in a very unsettled world right now and it certainly gave me a sense of anxiety.”

The tenant described her experience as one that “definitely declined a little bit over those four years,” specifically citing services that had started to decline in quality. Though she had suspected a switch in management and ownership was a possibility, given recent inspections and people taking photos of the property, she didn’t understand why they were notified so late.

“They clearly knew, and they had told us that they were transitioning to a new computer system so that we weren’t able to use the Avalon access portal, but that was clearly part of all of this,” she said. “I’m not really sure I understand what the harm would have been in them giving us some kind of reassurance.”

Her experience was confirmed by another resident who related similar accounts, that none of his neighbors knew the change in ownership was happening. He asserted that Avalon gave residents no prior notice and only a few small clues, including a routine inspection a few weeks ago and the temporary disabling of the residential portal (for making payments and maintenance requests).

He also said tenants weren’t even told about the development’s name change, and other than that second letter from the new management dropped on doorsteps the day after, they haven’t heard anything else from the new company as of yet.

Employees of Lincoln Property Company moved into a Wilton office this week, and plan to have a resident portal system where service requests and payments can be made in January. The first tenant expressed frustration about needing to contact the company directly for service requests and payments until the new portal is up and running.

She is also concerned about other potential changes the new management or owners could make and noted that she had already heard about one rumored difference–that maintenance would no longer happen on Saturdays.

Another big concern was about whether the new owner would increase the rent.

Reyes Bickell said that though she is not familiar with what Avalon did regarding rent increases, she said that, in general, tennants could experience some increase or “increase offer” annually, depending on the local rental real estate market.

“It really depends on what’s going on in the market but there’s no like major plans to go in and immediately increase rents or push people out,” she said. “That’s definitely not the goal.”

Reyes Bickell added that she thinks the residents will be “pleasantly surprised” by the new company.

“Our intention is to take care of people,” she said, “I don’t believe it’s a negative transition and I hope that they can see that in time.”

This sale is one of two large sales AvalonBay Communities made in Connecticut this week, selling Avalon Stratford, a 130-unit complex, to Merion Realty Partners.

Two weeks ago AvalonBay Communities announced a new president. The company also recently saw a 2.93% decline in its stock, Equities News reported last Friday.

AvalonBay Communities did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday. Avalon Wilton on River Rd. was not affected by the sale.

The story has been updated to add additional information from other tenants.