October 21, 2015
James Mills, Raven Molloy and Rebecca Zarutskie have posted Large-Scale Buy-to-Rent Investors in the Single-Family Housing Market: The Emergence of a New Asset Class? to SSRN. The abstract reads,
In 2012, several large firms began purchasing single-family homes with the stated intention of creating large portfolios of rental property. We present the first systematic evidence on how this new investor activity differs from that of other investors in the housing market. Many aspects of buy-to-rent investor behavior are consistent with holding property for rent rather than reselling quickly. Additionally, the large size of these investors imparts a few important advantages. In the short run, this investment activity appears to have supported house prices in the areas where it is concentrated. The longer-run impacts remain to be seen.
I had been very skeptical of this asset class when it first appeared, thinking that the housing crisis presented a one-time opportunity for investors to profit from this type of investment. The conventional wisdom had been that it was too hard to manage so many units scattered over so much territory. The authors identify reasons to think that that conventional wisdom is now outdated:
To the extent that technological improvements, economies of scale, and lower financing costs have substantially reduced the operating costs of buy-to-rent investors relative to smaller investors, large portfolios of single-family rental property may become a permanent feature of the real estate market. As such, the events of the past three years may signal the emergence of a new class of real estate asset. A similar transformation occurred in the market for multifamily structures in the 1990s, when large firms began to purchase multifamily property and created portfolios of professionally-managed multifamily units that were traded on public stock exchanges as REITs. (32-33)
Nonetheless, the authors are cautious (rightfully so, as far as I am concerned) in their predictions: “only time will tell whether the recent purchases of large-scale buy-to-rent investors reflect the emergence of a new asset class or whether the business model will fail to be viable over the longer-term.” (33, footnote omitted)| Permalink