The Franklin Johnston Group

When choosing where to live, the factors a renter will mostly consider are cost, location and space. However, in Virginia Beach, Va., an in-house bowling alley might be the bonus feature that wins a renter over. Developed and maintained by The Franklin Johnston Group, the two-lane bowling alley in the Spring Water Apartments’ clubhouse is only one example of the company’s focus on exceptional features. “We cater with amenities you can’t normally get when you buy a house,” Director of Design and Development Murray Kirk says. 

Completed in August 2013, Spring Water Apartments took only 13 months to build. It has 252 residential units and is located in the hub of several military bases. With that in mind, it was designed to give military families and others a place to relax.  Each apartment is upgraded with stainless steel appliances, granite countertops and full-size washers and dryers, but the fun part is what’s outside the apartment.

The clubhouse area includes a huge swimming pool with poolside cabana daybeds, built-in grills and a fire pit. Residents can work out in the 1,200-square-foot fitness center and then enjoy the massage and tanning rooms. Families love the playground, dog park and, of course, the bowling alley. “We provide everybody with something they would like without having to maintain it,” Kirk notes. Spring Water Apartments, along with other Franklin Johnston-maintained rentals, are highly popular. According to Kirk, the company’s apartments in Virginia are at higher than a 90 percent occupancy rate.  

New with Experience

Franklin Johnston’s success is due in part to the rental market. Kirk believes overall, many people in Virginia – where most of the company’s rental properties are – prefer to rent rather than own. “Years ago, people rented because they had to,” he says. “Now people choose to rent because they want that lifestyle.” Capitalizing on this market has proven to be a smart move for the company.

Founded in 2013, Franklin Johnston Group is technically a new company, but the group refers to itself as “the most experienced new multifamily management and development company in America.” Last year, the team broke off from a major realty company to solely specialize in the development and management of multifamily residences, carrying over a large portfolio. In the short time since the business launched it has taken on three additional major projects. It currently manages 5,250 units in North Carolina and Virginia, and is in the process of developing another 1,100.  

Not only is the rental market growing, but Franklin Johnston combines that good fortune with extensive specialized market knowledge for a winning combination. Wendell Franklin – the head principal – had been with the original company for more than 35 years, and the other principals – Tom Johnston, Taylor Franklin and Steve Cooper – had been there between 10 and 20 years.

Kirk says what differentiates the company from other developers is that Franklin Johnston builds apartments to keep them, unlike many others who build to sell. “We make sure when we build them we’re going to be able to maintain them for the next 30 to 40 years,” he notes. That speaks to the quality of construction.

Housing for Different Incomes

Franklin Johnston’s projects fall mainly under two categories: market rate and tax credit.  Market-rate apartments tend to follow the area’s going rate for rental fees and tax credit housing is intended for residents who qualify as having a restricted income. All market-rate apartments have stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, and tiled kitchen and bathroom floors. Dog parks seem to be the new thing in amenities and the company has been incorporating those into all its market-rate developments, as well. 

 “There is always a demand for low-income family housing,” Kirk notes. “It’s a matter of finding a good location and working with the city.” This category can take longer to build. There is a stigma attached and some neighborhoods are resistant, but the developer builds them to look as good as the market-rate apartments. In some areas, where the company has found the market can sustain it, tax credit units have been built with tile floors, stainless steel appliances and granite countertops. 

Whether an apartment building is classified as tax credit or market value, the amenities include a clubhouse with meeting rooms, resort-style swimming pool and an exercise facility fully furnished with the latest equipment, in addition to high-efficiency plumbing and electrical features. 

Keeping Busy

As Franklin Johnston focuses its efforts in Virginia, its most recently completed project is Shorehaven Apartments in Dumfries, which started occupying units at the end of December 2013. This new tax credit apartment complex has all the upgraded amenities the developer is known for, and is centrally located for a 30-minute commute to Alexandria or Washington, D.C. 

The company also recently broke ground on a tax credit waterfront property in Norfolk called Pickett Farms which will release 300 units under two phases. It will be followed by another tax credit development (still unnamed) in the same city. In Purcellville, yet another tax credit project is in the works, called Catoctin Creek. Keeping busy with no signs of slowing down, the company is also looking at another market-rate project in Virginia Beach.

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