Single-Family Rental Securitizations Here To Stay?

photo by David McBee

Kroll Bond Rating Agency has released Single-Borrower SFR: Comprehensive Surveillance Report. It has lots of interesting tidbits about this new real estate finance sector (it has only been four years since its first securitization):

  • Six single-family rental operators own nearly 180,000 homes. (3)
  • Of the 33 SFR securitizations issued to date ($19.2 billion), nine deals ($4.6 billion) have been repaid in full without any interest shortfalls or principal losses. (4)
  • the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), which regulates Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, announced that it had authorized Freddie Mac to enter the single-family rental sector on a limited basis to provide up to $1.0 billion of financing or loan guarantees. Freddie Mac reportedly is expected to focus on small-scale and midsize landlords that invest in SFR properties that the GSE considers to be affordable rental housing, not institutional issuers such as Invitation Homes, which owns and manages nearly 50,000 SFR properties. (5)
  • The largest five exposures account for 39.4% of the properties and include Atlanta (11,822 homes; 13.0%), which represents the CBSA with the greatest number of properties, followed by Tampa (6,374; 7.0%), Dallas (6,199; 6.8%), Phoenix (5,780; 6.3%), and Charlotte (5,733; 6.3%). (6)
  • The highest home price appreciation since issuance was observed in CAH 2014-1, at 30.7%. On average, collateral homes included in the outstanding transactions issued during 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 have appreciated in value by 25.0%, 18.0%, 8.7% and 3.2%, respectively. It is worth noting that the rate of the home price appreciation on a national basis and in the regions where the underlying homes are located has slowed in recent years. (7)
  • Since issuance, the underlying collateral has generally exhibited positive operating performance with the exception of expenses. Contractual rental rates have continued to increase, vacancy and tenant retention rates have remained relatively stable, and delinquency rates have remained low. Servicer reported operating expenses, however, continue to be higher than the issuer underwritten figures at securitization. (7)

Analysts did not believe that single-family rentals could be done at scale before the financial crisis. But investors were able to sweep up tens of thousands of homes on the cheap during the foreclosure crisis and the finances made a lot of sense. It will be interesting to see how this industry matures with home prices appreciating and expenses rising. I am not making any predictions, but I wonder when it will stop making sense for SFR operators to keep buying new homes.

New Landlord in Town

Lionel Barrymore as Mr. Potter in "It's A Wonderful Life"

Lionel Barrymore as Mr. Potter in “It’s A Wonderful Life”

Bloomberg quoted me in Wall Street, America’s New Landlord, Kicks Tenants to the Curb. It opens,

On a chilly December afternoon in Atlanta, a judge told Reiton Allen that he had seven days to leave his house or the marshals would kick his belongings to the curb. In the packed courtroom, the truck driver, his beard flecked with gray, stood up, cast his eyes downward and clutched his black baseball cap.

The 44-year-old father of two had rented a single-family house from a company called HavenBrook Homes, which is controlled by one of the world’s biggest money managers, Pacific Investment Management Co. Here in Fulton County, Georgia, such large institutional investors are up to twice as likely to file eviction notices as smaller owners, according to a new Atlanta Federal Reserve study.

“I’ve never been displaced like this,” said Allen, who said he fell behind because of unexpected childcare expenses as his rent rose above $900 a month. “I need to go home and regroup.”

Hedge funds, large investment firms and private equity companies helped the U.S. housing market recover after the crash in 2008 by turning empty foreclosures from Atlanta to Las Vegas into occupied rentals.

Now among America’s biggest landlords, some of these companies are leaving tenants like Allen in the cold. In a business long dominated by mom-and-pop landlords, large-scale investors are shifting collections conversations from front stoops to call centers and courtrooms as they try to maximize profits.

“My hope was that these private equity firms would provide a new kind of rental housing for people who couldn’t — or didn’t want to — buy during the housing recovery,” said Elora Raymond, the report’s lead author. “Instead, it seems like they’re contributing to housing instability in Atlanta, and possibly other places.”

American Homes 4 Rent, one of the nation’s largest operators, and HavenBrook filed eviction notices at a quarter of its houses, compared with an average 15 percent for all single-family home landlords, according to Ben Miller, a Georgia State University professor and co-author of the report. HavenBrook — owned by Allianz SE’s Newport Beach, California-based Pimco — and American Homes 4 Rent, based in Agoura Hills, California, declined to comment.

Colony Starwood Homes initiated proceedings on a third of its properties, the most of any large real estate firm. Tom Barrack, chairman of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration committee, and the company he founded, Colony Capital, are the largest shareholders of Colony Starwood, which declined to comment.

Diane Tomb, executive director of the National Rental Home Council, which represents institutional landlords, said her members offer flexible payment plans to residents who fall behind. The cost of eviction makes it “the last option,” Tomb said. The Fed examined notices, rather than completed evictions, which are rarer, she said.

“We’re in the business to house families — and no one wants to see people displaced,” Tomb said.

According to a report last year from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, a record 21.3 million renters spent more than a third of their income on housing costs in 2014, while 11.4 million spent more than half. With credit tightening, the homeownership rate has fallen close to a 51-year low.

In January 2012, then-Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke encouraged investors to use their cash to stabilize the housing market and rehabilitate the vacant single-family houses that damage neighborhoods and property values.

Now, the Atlanta Fed’s own research suggests that the eviction practices of big landlords may also be destabilizing. An eviction notice can ruin a family’s credit and make it more difficult to rent elsewhere or qualify for public assistance.

Collection Strategy?

In Atlanta, evictions are much easier on landlords. They are cheap: about $85 in court fees and another $20 to have the tenant ejected, according to Michael Lucas, a co-author of the report and deputy director of the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation. With few of the tenant protections of places like New York, a family can find itself homeless in less than a month.

In interviews and court filings, renters and housing advocates said that some investment firms are impersonal and unresponsive, slow to make necessary repairs and quick to evict tenants who withhold rent because of complaints about maintenance. The researchers said some landlords use an eviction notice as a “routine rent-collection strategy.”

Aaron Kuney, HavenBrook’s former executive director of acquisitions, said the companies would rather keep their existing tenants as long as possible to avoid turnover costs.

But “they want to get them out quickly if they can’t pay,” said Kuney, now chief executive officer of Piedmont Asset Management, a private equity landlord in Atlanta. “Finding people these days to rent your homes is not a problem.”

Poor Neighborhoods

The Atlanta Fed research, based on 2015 court records, marks an early look at Wall Street’s role in evictions since investment firms snapped up hundreds of thousands of homes in hard-hit markets across the U.S.

Researchers found that evictions for all kinds of landlords are concentrated in poor, mostly black neighborhoods southwest of the city. But the study found that the big investors evicted at higher rates even after accounting for the demographics of the community where homes were situated.

Tomb, of the National Rental Home Council, said institutional investors at times buy large blocks of homes from other landlords and inherit tenants who can’t afford to pay rent. They also buy foreclosed homes whose occupants may refuse to sign leases or leave.

Those cases make the eviction rates appear higher than for smaller landlords, according to Tomb, whose group represents Colony Starwood, American Homes 4 Rent and Invitation Homes. The largest firms send notices at rates similar to apartment buildings, which house the majority of Atlanta renters.

Staying Home

Not all investment firms file evictions at higher rates. Invitation Homes, a unit of private equity giant Blackstone Group LP that is planning an initial public offering this year, sent notices on 14 percent of homes, about the same as smaller landlords, records show. In Fulton County, Invitation Homes works with residents to resolve 85 percent of cases, and less than 4 percent result in forced departures, according to spokeswoman Claire Parker.

The Fed research doesn’t say why many institutional investors evict at higher rates. It could be because their size enables them to negotiate less expensive legal rates and replace renters more quickly than mom-and-pop operators.

“Lots of small landlords, when they have good tenants who don’t cause trouble, they’ll work with someone who has lost a job or can’t pay for the short term,” said David Reiss, a Brooklyn Law School professor who specializes in residential real estate.

Supply and Demand in a Hot Market

photo by Subman758

The Asheville Citizen-Times quoted me in Apartment Occupancy Dropping, but Rents Not Budging Yet. It reads, in part,

Tell Marie Kerwin the city’s apartment vacancy rate has dropped a few notches – meaning a lot more units should be available – and she may beg to differ.

“There’s not a lot of options,” said Kerwin, “It took me months to find an apartment. I actually was calling every complex, every day.”

Kerwin and her husband, Christian, relocated to Asheville a year ago from Jacksonville, Florida, both taking jobs with the Earth Fare supermarket. Kerwin said they “got lucky” in finding a place at The Palisades, a 224-unit complex off Mills Gap Road in Arden that opened last summer.

For renters like the Kerwins, it might not seem like it, but the city’s apartment vacancy rate — famously pegged at 1 percent in a consultant’s report published a year-and-a-half ago that looked at Buncombe and three other counties — is dropping, meaning more units are available. That also should mean, theoretically, rents will decline, but that hasn’t happened.

A tight apartment market has dominated local discussions about affordable housing and livability in the Asheville area for nearly two years. But while that vacancy rate is dropping to a more livable range of around 6 percent, rents likely won’t fall over the next couple of years, experts say.

‘A very tight market’

“Typically, Asheville is a very tight market,” said Marc Robinson, vice chairman of Cushman & Wakefield, a global company that tracks apartment trends, including occupancy and rents.

Whether rents will drop with new apartments being built is “a hard call,” he added, “because on the one hand there is a supply entering the system, and that market has really seen lot of supply at one time — more supply than it would have historically seen. But in many markets, including Raleigh, Charlotte and Atlanta, absorption (of new units) has been better than expected.”

Robinson’s company, Multi Housing Advisors, now part of Cushman & Wakefield, issues quarterly reports on the apartment market. Its “MHA Market Insight” first quarter report for Asheville noted:

• “Properties built from the 1980s to the 2000s are maintaining an average vacancy rate in the 6 percent range, compared to 3 percent for properties built in 1970s or earlier.”

• “The average vacancy for properties built after 2009 is approximately 19 percent, which is skewing the vacancy rate upward,” in part because in a smaller market “additions to supply have an amplified effect.”

Robinson said his company’s figures from about two months ago show the Asheville area has “about a 3 percent vacancy, and in real time it may be a little higher.” In North Carolina, the rental vacancy in the first quarter stood at 8.2 percent, according to U.S. Census data.

By some estimates, the Asheville area, including surrounding Buncombe County and Fletcher, has had or will have in coming months about 2,200 new units coming online, well short of the 5,600 units the consultant recommended be built to meet demand.

“The pipeline of new construction (of rental properties) over the next three to five years will still not meet the forecasted demand so for the short-term we can expect to see the rental rates remain high, vacancy rates to remain at record lows,” said Greg Stephens, chief appraiser and senior vice president of compliance for Detroit-based Metro-West Appraisal Company.

Several firms track such information, including Real Data, a Charlotte-based real estate research firm. Using market surveys rather than sample data to compile its statistics, Real Data found the vacancy rate among apartment complexes with at least 30 units in Asheville, Buncombe County and Hendersonville was 6.9 percent in December.

Theoretically, all this should mean rents will come down, as people move from older apartments to newer ones, and apartment companies have to make concessions, such as lowering rents.

Apartments under construction has been a common sight in the Asheville area in the last two years, and that has eased vacancy rates some, experts say. This complex, the Avalon, went up in 2014 off Sweeten Creek Road and is now open.

But this is Asheville, where millennials keep moving in and retirees are drawn to great weather, arts and restaurants. From March 2015 to March 2016, Asheville saw the highest spike statewide in the average cost of renting an apartment, a 7.6 percent jump.

For the first quarter of 2016, MHA Market Insight found the average rent for one-bedroom apartments in Buncombe, Henderson, Haywood and Madison counties was $821, representing a 6.2 percent one-year growth in rent. A two-bedroom went for $964, 4.3 percent growth.

Kerwin said she and her husband are paying $1,095 a month for their two-bedroom, two-bath, 1,125-square-foot apartment. In Florida they paid $1,100 a month for an 1,800-square-foot three-bedroom.

“It’s definitely more expensive to live here,” she said.

Rising vacancy rates combined with rising rents is a national phenomenon, said Jonathan Miller, the New York-based co-founder of Miller Samuel, a residential real estate appraisal company, and the commercial valuation firm Miller Cicero.

“New development that skews to high-end rentals has been overplayed,” Miller said. But moderate rental development stock “has remained largely static.”

*     *     *

Solutions far off

That is not what some members of Asheville City Council want to hear right now. Councilman Gordon Smith, who’s on the city’s Housing and Community Development Committee, said the city has formulated a comprehensive affordable housing strategy and has talked about an “all of the above approach.”

That includes increasing zoning density to allow more units per acre and encouraging developers to use city-backed incentives to build apartments.

The city is also in the midst of calling for a voter referendum on a $74 million bond issue, with $25 million of that potentially earmarked for affordable housing. If passed, it could include a $5 million addition to the existing revolving loan fund for private developers to build affordable rental housing, and $10 million for land banking or repurposing city-owned land, which would involve offering that land to developers for construction of affordable housing.

Rusty Pulliam heads Pulliam Properties, a commercial real estate firm that has become active in the apartment industry in recent years, building the 280-unit Weirbridge Village in Skyland and the 180-unit Retreat at Hunt Hill. This year the company also received approval to build a 272-unit complex on Mills Gap Road in Arden, which will include 41 units designated as “affordable,” a number Pulliam agreed to bump up at council’s urging.

Pulliam said he can still make money at the Mills Gap site because demand is so high that he can build a “premium complex” and charge high enough rents to make it work. But in the long run, he said, solving the apartment crunch does not require a Ph.D.

“If we were building middle-of-the-road apartments, we couldn’t do it. But until we put out there, as the Bowen report stated, 5,600 units in the marketplace, I don’t see that rents are going to come down, especially when see we’ve got a (3.5) percent unemployment rate and rents went up 7.6 percent, even when a lot of units did come on line.”

Unemployment in Buncombe County dropped to 3.5 percent in May, the lowest in the state.

People have always loved moving to Asheville, a trend that essentially never abates. Our region continues to grow not because of the birth rate but because of in-migration.

The U.S. Census Bureau projects Buncombe County’s population to grow to 300,000 by 2030, up from 253,178 in 2015. While the mountains are known as a retirement haven, millennials are coming here, too, with growth in that segment over the past five years outpacing that of baby boomers, people of ages 50 to 69, and Generation X, which includes ages 35 to 49.

In short, that’s a lot of apartment demand.

Other cities the challenge facing Asheville, said David Reiss, a professor of law and the research director at the Center for Urban Business  Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School in New York.

“During the Great Recession nothing got built,” Reiss said. “The same thing happened in New York.”

Some economists believe that “when vacancy rates are below 5 percent, you have the ability to raise rents significantly,” he said.

The MHA Market Insight first quarter report noted that “fewer than 700 units are currently under construction at five properties” in Asheville, so we’re still a long way from that 5,600 units figure.

Reiss said a full-court approach such as the one Asheville is taking can be useful, but he also urged caution.

“Whatever they decide the solution is, it takes years to implement those ideas,” Reiss said. “Whether it’s a developer or the city government, it takes a long time to get a solution in place.”

Monday’s Adjudication Roundup

Friday’s Government Reports Roundup

From Owners to Renters

Frank Nothaft

Frank Nothaft

CoreLogic’s July issue of The MarketPulse has in interesting piece by Frank Nothaft, Rental Remains Robust (registration required). It opens,

A vibrant rental market has been an outgrowth of the Great Recession and housing market crash. Apartment vacancy rates are down to their lowest levels since the 1980s, rental apartment construction is the most robust in more than 25 years, rents are up, and apartment building values are at or above their prior peaks. But the rental market is more than just apartments in high-rise buildings.

Apartments in buildings with five or more residences account for 42 percent of the U.S. rental stock. Additionally, two-to-four-family housing units comprise an additional 18 percent of the rental stock, and one-family homes make up the remaining 40 percent.

The foreclosure crisis resulted in a large number of homes being acquired by investors and turned into rentals.  Between 2006 and 2013, three million single-family detached houses were added to the nation’s rental stock, an increase of 32 percent. The increase in the single-family rental stock has been geographically broad based, but has impacted some markets more than others.

*     *     *

While the growth in the rental stock has been large, so has been the demand. Some of the households seeking rental houses were displaced through foreclosure. Others were millennials who had begun or were planning families, but were unable or unwilling to buy. (1-2, footnotes omitted)

Nothaft’s focus is on the investment outlook for rental housing, but I find that his summary has a lot to offer the housing policy world as well. He describes a large change in the balance between the rental and homeowner housing stock, one that has had an outsized effect on certain communities and certain generations.

Housing policy commentators generally feel that the federal government provides way too much support to homeowners (mostly through the tax code) and not enough to renters. Perhaps this demographic shift will spur politicians to rethink that balance. Renters should not be treated like second class citizens.

Renting in America’s Largest Cities

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Following up on an earlier graphic they produced, the NYU Furman Center and Capital One have issued a report, Renting in America’s Largest Cities. The Executive Summary reads,

This study includes the central cities of the 11 largest metropolitan areas in the U.S. (by population) from 2006 to 2013: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Washington, DC.

The number and share of renters rose in all 11 cities.

The rental housing stock grew in all 11 cities from 2006 to 2013, while owner-occupied stock shrank in all but two cities.

In all 11 cities except Atlanta, the growth in supply of rental housing was not enough to keep up with rising renter population. Mismatches in supply and demand led to decreasing rental vacancy rates in all but two of the 11 cities in the study’s sample.

The median rent grew faster than inflation in almost all of the 11 cities in this study. In five cities, the median rent also grew substantially faster than the median renter income. In three cities, rents and incomes grew at about the same pace. In the remaining three cities, incomes grew substantially faster than rents.

In 2013, more than three out of every five low-income renters were severely rent burdened in all 11 cities. In most of the 11 cities, over a quarter of moderate-income renters were severely rent burdened in 2013 as well.

From 2006 to 2013, the percentage of low-income renters facing severe rent burdens increased in all 11 cities in this study’s sample, while the percentage of moderate-income renters facing severe rent burdens increased in six of those cities.

Even in the cities that had higher vacancy rates, low-income renters could afford only a tiny fraction of units available for rent within the last five years.

The typical renter could afford less than a third of recently available rental units in many of the central cities of the 11 largest U.S. metro areas.

Many lower- and middle-income renters living in this study’s sample of 11 cities could be stuck in their current units; in 2013, units occupied by long-term tenants were typically more affordable than units that had been on the rental market in the previous five years.

In six of the cities in this study, the median rent for recently available units in 2013 was over 20 percent higher than the median rent for other units in that year, indicating that many renters would likely face significant rent hikes if they had to move. (4)

While this report does an excellent job on its own terms, it does not address the issue of location affordability, which takes into account transportation costs when determining the affordability of a particular city. It would be very helpful if the authors supplemented this report with an evaluation of transportation costs in these 11 cities. This would give a more complete picture of how financially burdened residents of these cities are.