Apartment upgrades aim to increase property values

From the outside, Applecross Community apartments may not look much different today than when Joe Mullins' company, Mullins Management, purchased the multi-family unit property in 2015. But while subtle, major internal changes have taken place at the dilapidated complex and more external improvements are on the way.

A year into owning the Martinez complex off Washington Road, Mullins says they have hired a totally new management and maintenance staff, removed trouble tenants and have completed upgrades in approximately 20 of the more than 50-unit complex.

Some upgrades include the installation of new floors, appliances and construction of new closet space inside each unit to house its own washer and dryer. New roofing and a paved parking lot are also planned. The biggest upgrade will be in the new exterior facade crews will be installing soon.

"We are going to put siding up and be giving it a wall look, instead of a shingled roof look," Mullins said, adding that the satellites that clutter the lawns and sides of the buildings will also be removed.

Mullins said that after purchasing new properties like Applecross Community, their method is to let things run as they have previously for the first year, but that did not last long, he said, citing trouble with vandalism and theft.

Mullins said some units that had been remodeled when the property was first purchased, were now trashed by its previous occupants. One such apartment had boarded up windows that had been busted out, and the rock used to do the damage was inside unit, which was in even worse shape. Holes punched in sections of the walls and those surfaces left in tact were covered in stains, and dirt and debris covered broken fans and appliances.

"Part of the problem is that people don't want to call us to report maintenance issues because they don't want us finding out what's going on inside," Mullins said, adding that one, two-bedroom unit had 12 people living in it. "We now do monthly checks with pest control, so we're finding out a lot of stuff that's going on and happening here."

Mullins said reward signs had to be posted throughout the complex for information on who was deliberately throwing trash outside the dumpsters in the complex. Fire extinguishers and porch lights that were repaired or added in the breezeways between units were also vandalized and stolen.

"One of the challenges we had in the beginning, as quick as we fixed stuff, fixed windows and repaired things, some of the kids and some of the neighbors would bust them out," Mullins said. "So we kind of pulled back a little bit on the renovations and continued to do our weeding process and now we've gotten to the point where we are about to begin major renovations."

Mullins said safety regulations such as no grills on porches will also be implemented for safety and that the parking lots throughout the community will be paved.

An increase in rent has also taken place in the past year, Mullins said, from $400 to nearly $600 and will continue as the complex is updated and renovated.

But residents will not be turned out, Mullins said, adding that increase in rent will be gradual and that his company will offer assistance with rehoming some residents who may need the help.

"We are going to allow (current renters) to stay in there at a lower rent as long as there is no trouble or no problems, and as long as they keep up the place, we work with them and gradually move it over a period of time," Mullins said. "As long as it's a suitable living condition and they're not causing problems, we will work with them. And as the rents increase we work to relocate them. We've got some properties that are pretty good in some nice areas that fit their budget a little more. Ultimately, we do try to work with them as much as we can."

Mullins said the ultimate goal is to increase the rent to somewhere in the $900 range and is looking to add more amenities like a swimming pool, community center and home gym to make it suitable for young professionals.

And while Mullins said the property has come with major challenges such as a mold problems through much of the complex, old heating and cooling units, among many other issues, the promise of profit is there. And it's all due to old complex's location.

"Profit wise in Columbia County, this property value could be five times what it is today, the land is worth a fortune," Mullins said. "The fact that you have apartments in a community that has a yearly moratorium on building them, is worth a fortune, so they need to be fixed up and done the right way, so I see a lot of profit ahead, probably making five times the value of the property today," Mullins said.

Mullins said he purchased each roughly 1,000 square-foot unit at about $30,000 each. And with an estimated completion date of "this time next year," Mullins said he estimates the final price tag including purchase price to be a little more than $4 million.

But it's work that Mullins said will improve property values for the townhomes and residences that surround the complex, some of which are worth up to $100,000 or more.

And with the upgrades, will eventually come a new name, Mullins said. He hinted at calling the complex Southern Grace West, after Southern Grace, a property similar to Applecross, formerly known as Brandywine in Augusta, that Mullins also purchased and updated.

"We will end up changing the name of the complex because we want a whole new history with it," Mullins said of renaming Applecross Community.

"This is me believing in Columbia County and I know what Columbia County can have to offer and I know what values it has," Mullins said. "So this is me seeing the vision of Columbia County."