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.
Fannie Mae recently completed the first government-sponsored enterprise (GSE) securitization of single-family rental (SFR) properties owned by an institutional investor. This securitization, Fannie Mae Grantor Trust 2017-T1, was for Invitation Homes, one of the largest institutional players in the SFR business. When this transaction was first publicly disclosed in January as part of Invitation Homes’ initial public offering, we wrote an article describing the transaction and detailing some questions it raises. Now that the deal has been completed and more details have been released, we wanted to look closely at some of its structural aspects, examine the need for this type of financing, and discuss SFR affordability. (1, citations omitted)
By way of background, the paper notes that
The 2015 American Housing Survey indicates that approximately 40 percent of the US rental housing stock is in one-unit, single-family structures, with another 17 percent in two- to four-unit structures, which are also classified as single-family. Thus, 57 percent of the US rental stock falls under the single-family classification. Although this share increased from 51 percent in 2005 to 57 percent in 2015, this increase was preceded by an almost identical decline from 56.6 percent in 1989 to 51 percent in 2005.
Most SFR properties are owned by mom and pop investors. These purchases were typically financed through the GSEs’ single-family business. Fannie Mae allowed up to 10 properties in the name of a single borrower, and Freddie Mac allowed up to six properties. Rent Range estimates that 45 percent of all single-family rentals are owned by small investors with only one property and 85 percent are owned by those who own 10 or fewer properties. So the GSEs cover 85 percent of the single-family rental market by extending loans to small investors through single-family financing. Of the remaining 15 percent, 5 percent is estimated to be owned by players with over 50 units, and just 1 percent is owned by institutional SFR investors with more than 1,000 properties.
Institutional investors, such as Invitation Homes, entered the SFR market in 2011. Entities raised funds and purchased thousands of foreclosed homes at rock-bottom prices and rented them out to meet the growing demand for rental housing. Then, they built the expertise, platforms, and infrastructure to manage scattered-site rentals. Changes in the business model have required these entities to search for financing alternatives.(1-2, citations omitted)
The paper concludes that “Invitation Homes was an important first transaction—it allowed Fannie Mae to learn about the institutional single-family rental market by partnering with an established player.” (9) It also notes a number of open questions for this growing segment of the rental market: should there be affordability requirements that apply to GSE financing of SFRs and should SFRs count toward meeting GSEs’ affordable housing goals?
That there would be an institutional SFR market sector was inconceivable before the financial crisis. The fire sale in houses during the Great Recession created an opening for institutional investors to enter the single-family rental market. It is now a small but growing part of the overall rental market. It is important that policy makers get ahead of the curve on this issue because it is likely to effect big changes on the entire housing market.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
The Blackstone Group LP’s recent groundbreaking move to sell bonds secured by single-family rental homes may have created the next securitization blockbuster, but attorneys say the product could attract the same type of litigation that has plagued the commercial and residential mortgage-backed securities markets.
Blackstone is among a growing group of entities that amassed large numbers of foreclosed homes after the crisis and are turning them into profitable rentals. Now some are hoping to take that profitability one step further, extending loans secured by these single-family homes and securitizing them.
This process offers benefits both to players like Blackstone and to smaller landlords that own groups of single-family rentals and can’t get traditional lenders to lend against their assets. Blackstone’s debut product — sold to a syndicate led by Deutsche Bank AG — has been very well-received, but attorneys caution that many questions remain unanswered, and REO-to-rental-backed bonds could pose litigation risks.
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Blackstone’s $480 million deal, in which it pooled 3,200 homes owned by its portfolio company Invitation Homes and used them to secured a single loan that it then securitized, made waves as the first of its kind.
Several other opportunistic real estate investment companies, including American Homes 4 Rent and Colony Capital LLC, are expected to follow suit, but they are treading lightly as the new product is assessed by the market and investors.
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The homes themselves may also be subject to condemnation or landlord-tenant litigation that could encumber the overall loan indirectly by affecting the value of the collateral, according to David Reiss, a real estate finance professor at Brooklyn Law School.
Before the recession, single-family homes were considered too expensive to be managed by a large institution like Blackstone or American Homes 4 Rent because of their geographic diversity and because it was hard to control property management on so many different homes, according to Reiss.
The financial crisis made distressed single-family homes cheaper and more attractive to opportunistic investors, and the low price may compensate for the other issues, he said.
“This is a new asset class, and it is not yet clear whether Blackstone has properly evaluated its risks,” Reiss said. “Time will tell whether these bonds will become a significant new category of asset-backed securities or whether the financial crisis presented a one-time financial opportunity for some firms.”