Major investors like TIAA-CREF sometimes take unconventional routes to acquire coveted South Florida real estate assets.

The real estate account of the New York financial services giant last week obtained ownership of The Residences at Merrick Park apartment complex in Coral Gables through a $52.25 million transaction, according to Miami-Dade County records. TIAA-CREF on Aug. 1 took title to the complex by assuming a sublease for the underlying land at 4250 Salzedo St.

The county last Thursday recorded the “assignment of leasehold,” in which Merrick Park Apartments Inc. transferred the sublease rights for the land and ownership of the 120-unit apartment complex. The 414,546-square-foot complex also includes an unspecified amount of retail space and a parking garage.

A TIAA-CREF spokeswoman declined to comment.

The company’s real estate account targets “favorable long-term returns primarily through rental income and appreciation of real estate investments,” according to its website.

Merrick Park Apartments Inc. is managed by the Chicago real estate investment firm Heitman. The company in November 2004 acquired the leasehold interest in a nearly $40 million transaction from a company managed by The Related Cos.

Calls to Heitman senior managing director Thomas McCarthy, who oversees the company’s North American Private Real Estate Equity division, were not returned.

West Palm Beach attorney Thomas A. Hanson, a shareholder at Carlton Fields, prepared the lease assignment. Hanson did not return calls seeking comment.

Hefty Price Per Unit

The Residences at Merrick Park complement the Village at Merrick Park retail center, which is being renamed Merrick Shops, according to several published reports. The retail center is owned by General Growth Properties and was not part of last week’s transaction.

The $52.25 million transaction value is based on $313,500 in documentary stamp taxes paid on the lease assignment. At that value, the complex traded for about $436,000 per unit, not including the retail and parking components.

Miami-Dade County’s property appraiser most recently assessed the property at $26.2 million.

The apartment complex is fully leased, according to CoStar Group.

The aggressive price per unit could be based on the expensive monthly rents tenants are paying at the complex, which has one-, two- and three-bedroom units ranging from 853 square feet to 1,874 square feet. Rents range from a low of $1,959 to a high of $4,151, according to CoStar.

A website for The Residences at Merrick Park describes the units as 120 “customized and distinctive oversized rental residences.”

The complex is within two miles of the University of Miami’s main campus.