June 26, 2008 / 9:10 AM / 11 years ago

Residential land cheap enough to buy

Michael Pralle, President and COO of JER, speaks at the Reuters Real Estate Summit in New York June 25, 2008. REUTERS/Jamie Fine

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The United States housing slump, entering its second year, has rendered residential land prices irresistibly cheap, the president of J.E. Robert Companies, a real estate private equity firm, said on Wednesday.

J.E. Robert’s Michael Pralle wouldn’t say the housing market has hit bottom, but his firm has still started buying, snapping up ready-to-build lots in the Southeast at a 60 percent discount, he told the Reuters Real Estate Summit in New York.

“The pricing was just phenomenal,” said Pralle, adding that other firms are buying, too.

J.E. Robert, which has nine funds and publicly traded specialty finance company JER Investors Trust Inc JRT.N, can wait awhile for its profit, Pralle said. The residential market won’t reach normal levels for two or three years, he said.

But not just any land will do. The appealing parcels are in growing parts of the country, and not too distant from cities.

“I think that’s absolutely critically important,” Pralle said. “With energy prices where they are today, the cost of distance has become much higher.”

Reporting by Helen Chernikoff, editing by Gerald E. McCormick

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