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Here's a Unique Real Estate Company That Should Be on Your Radar

By Matthew Frankel, CFP® – Oct 27, 2021 at 6:41AM

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It's not quite a REIT and it's not quite a developer.

The Howard Hughes Corporation (HHC -0.16%) is one of the most interesting real estate companies in the stock market, and it's one that most investors aren't too familiar with. In a recent episode of "The Rank," Fool.com contributor Matt Frankel had a chance to sit down with Howard Hughes' CEO, David O'Reilly, who was happy to share a quick overview of what the company does.

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Matt Frankel: For those who don't know what Howard Hughes does, you're in a unique spot in real estate. You're not quite a REIT, you're not quite real estate developer, can you give just a brief overview of what you do?

David O'Reilly: Absolutely, and it is very unique and definitely unique within the public markets. But what we are is, we're really a large scale master planner. We have communities across the country where we are a dominant landowner.

Those communities are the Woodlands and Bridgeland in Houston, which represents 28,000 and 11,000 acres. The Woodlands is roughly one and a half times the size of the island in Manhattan. Downtown Colombia in Maryland, 22,000 acres known as Summerlin, just west of the Las Vegas Strip, Ward Village in Honolulu, and the Seaport in New York City. Really what we do at the end of the day is we play SimCity.

Within these master-planned communities, we decide where the mixed-use urban environments of tomorrow should be built. We do develop where housing is, public infrastructure, fire stations, police, as well as office, retail, hospitals, really creating a place where people and companies want to live, work, and play. It really drives some unique financial synergies for us, in that the proceeds that we get from the sale of residential land, the homebuilders, and the recurring income from our rent collections entirely self-fund over a billion dollars of development a year.

That development that we try to build an outsize risk-adjusted returns, it just further amenitize our communities, making them more desirable to live in. Since we've spun out and became a public company 11 years ago, we built that operating portfolio by developing commercial acres, into over 8 million square feet of office, 3 million square feet of retail, and over 5,300 apartment units. We have an extensive pipeline with 50 million square feet of entitlements that will allow us to develop not just for years, but for decades to come.

Frankel: What's most attractive about that type of business model? In other words, why not just develop office buildings, if that's where you see an opportunity?

O'Reilly: Absolutely. I think what really sets us apart and what makes us unique and gives us competitive advantages is the unique influence that we have over such large swaths of land. If we were just building an office building, we'd make a great office building, but we wouldn't have the impact or the care for the surrounding environment.

In Howard Hughes, we're looking at the big picture. We're developing the office, the shopping, the hotels, we're focused on the parks and trails in between the interstitial spaces that drives great communities. Our business is really formed around what we think is a virtuous cycle of value creation, where we take land, sell it to homebuilders. We build homes, residents move in, those residents demand commercial amenities. We build those commercial amenities, which in turn make the residents' homes more valuable, make our remaining land more valuable, and continues to drive on and on.

I think one of the most rewarding parts of working at Howard Hughes is when a Howard Hughes employee comes to work every day, we're defining our success by improving the lives of our residents, consumers, and tenants. If we give them better schools, better trails, better access to nature, better places to work, better places to shop, it drives value for us, and that's an incredibly rewarding aspect of our business and something that we take great pride in every day.

Matthew Frankel, CFP owns shares of The Howard Hughes Corporation. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends The Howard Hughes Corporation. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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