With a spate of big-ticket sales, the apartment market is rumbling out of the economic chasm that captured transactions nationwide over the past two years. In Phoenix, for example, a 629-unit apartment complex sold earlier this month for $45.5 million.

Continental Realty Advisors, a multifamily property owner based in Denver, bought The Canyons Luxury Apartment Community and plans to invest nearly $2 million in renovating the apartments over the next two years.

The apartment owner had sold its holdings in the Phoenix market in early 2007 and is glad to return, says David Snyder, chairman of Continental Realty Advisors.

“Continental’s greatest asset in the current market is the ability to close on an all-cash basis within very quick time limitations,” adds Jason Rosa, director of research at Continental Realty Advisors.

Nationwide, in the first half of 2010, $11.6 billion in multifamily property transactions were recorded, significantly higher than the $7.7 billion total registered in the first half of 2009, according to preliminary figures from Bethesda, Md.-based research firm CoStar.

That amount is expected to rise as more transactions are counted, the company notes. However, the 2010 volume is still projected to be 74% lower than in 2007, according to CoStar.

The nation’s hottest market for transactions is Washington, D.C., says Ari Firoozabadi, vice president of investments for Marcus & Millichap Real Estate Investment Services.

“We have closed more apartment transactions going into July of 2010 than we did in all of 2009. So I expect the number of transactions to triple this year.” His group, based in Washington, closed two multifamily property deals for $7 million and $2 million. However, planned renovations bring the total investment to near $20 million for both deals, he says.

Firoozabadi recently listed a 159-unit apartment complex in Greensboro, N.C., Lake’s Edge Apartment Homes, priced at $4.2 million. Located near Guilford College, the complex’s listing has already drawn 23 responses from potential buyers, although no offers have been made, says Firoozabadi. “I think it’ll take us around 45 days to effectively market the property,” he adds.

“The market has improved over the last 180 days,” Firoozabadi says. “We’re seeing larger deals getting done this year because the pension funds and the insurance companies are back in the market. They’ve got equity and they’re putting it to work.”

After the long period when few deals were done, the market is abuzz with pent-up demand, he says. “What I’m hearing from investors is that there is another 12 months of buying opportunities.” The market is improving to such an extent that the best deals may evaporate in a year, he explains.

The Phoenix sale involving Continental Realty Advisors is another sign showing the market’s steadily improving health, says Firoozabadi. “Phoenix got hurt pretty badly with the downturn of the economy. Now, you’re seeing investors moving into markets like Phoenix.”

The transactions are a good sign, he says. “When there’s activity it’s healthy. If it’s transacting, it’s health.”