The stability, durability and continued capital flows into multifamily investing permeate today’s headlines, with industry pundits believing apartments to be the most popular product type with real estate investors in 2018, second only to industrial. Mixed signals abound among varying markets, and it’s important to dissect and triangulate the real data as the analytics don’t always tell the full story.
A first quarter report from Fannie Mae cited:
- Positive, but slowing net absorption in 2018 compared with 2017 (CoStar)
- Surging apartment development, peaking at over 440,000 units nationwide and up 16 percent from 2017 (Dodge Data & Analytics)
- Rising nationwide vacancy rate predicted to approach recent historical average of six percent by year-end (Fannie Mae)
With concessions ticking up and rent growth slowing, is it time to question or finetune allocation levels and strategies in multifamily investing? Two principal factors are worthy of consideration here: geography and investment horizon.
Nationally, development is projected to keep pace with net absorption, as Fannie Mae projects net rental demand of 380,000 to 460,000 units in 2018. However, parsing geographies more discerningly reveals that new multifamily construction has been heavily concentrated in America’s largest cities, where pockets of oversupply are projected. New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco present some of the highest unit construction per capita in the country, yet are all projected by Moody’s Analytics to experience job growth in 2018 that lags the national forecast of 1.5 percent.
All markets do not bear these metrics though, especially in select secondary markets where Fannie Mae reports the ratio of projected population and employment growth to rising apartment inventory is more favorable. Cities such as Houston, Dallas, Austin, Texas, Salt Lake City and Portland, Ore., even while seeing brisk construction, are forecast to increase job growth between two to three percent amid continued rental escalation. Two markets worth investigating include Phoenix, where projected 2.6 percent employment growth forecasts the demand for 10,000 units against projected 2018 delivery of 8,000 units, and Las Vegas, where projected 2018 absorption is double the number of units under construction.
Development nationwide should peak in 2018, as planned units in comparison to those under construction taper off, even in cities with the most active pipelines. This suggests that investors with a longer hold horizon may see their patience rewarded when new supply is absorbed and vacancy rates level off. Several long-term demographic trends also bode well for multifamily absorption and rental rates:
- Householders continue to delay marriage and childbirth, thus tending to remain in apartments
- Population growth in many areas, particularly in the Southwest, is being fueled by immigrants who tend to be renters
- Real household income growth is occurring only in the upper 20 percent of earners, rendering home ownership less affordable for many
- Student loan debt, which doubled as a percentage of GDP between 2006 and 2012, stymies home ownership for younger households
- Conversely, the 65+ baby boomer generation, America’s most rapidly growing domestic cohort, is demanding more rental housing as they age out of owned homes and reevaluate their investment and retirement options
In our view, investors who choose their geographies wisely and take a long-game approach should see their properly selected multifamily investments buoyed by these market and demographic trends, while enjoying relatively predictable cash flows in the interim.
Robert Brunswick is the co-founder and CEO of Buchanan Street Partners, a real estate investment management firm that focuses on real estate investing through direct acquisition of commercial and multifamily properties in addition to originating and funding debt for third-party owners of real estate.