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Rental Prices: Up Or Down?

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Washington’s Blog

Preface: Rental prices are important not
only for renters and apartment owners, homeowners and the building
industry, but also because they greatly influence the consumer price
index (see this and this). As the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco noted today:

Part
of the drop in measured core inflation is undoubtedly due to the
deceleration in the price of housing. The declines in housing inflation
have been more profound than in core inflation. The 12-month percentage
change in rents and owners’ equivalent rents has come down from 4.5% in
February 2007, at the height of the housing bubble, to 0.3% in February
2010. This decline in the rate of housing price increases reflects
reduced upward pressure on rents, which in turn is due to historically
high vacancy rates for rental properties. Because house price inflation
is now below core inflation, it drags down the overall level of core
inflation.

There are many factors which affect
rental prices, including: (1) the general health of the economy; (2)
demographics; (3) housing strength; (4) population growth; (5)
migration patterns; and (6) wealth distribution.

The General Health of the Economy

The
relation between housing sales and rentals cannot be examined in a
vacuum. The general health of the economy is important as well.

For example, as the Newark Law Review notes:

During
the depression years, there was a widespread tendency among tenants to
seek reduction of the previously established rental for the premises
they occupied, basing their pleas on a general shrinkage of incomes.
Many of these requests were complied with, landlords realizing that
rentals stipulated in boom days before the crash were far above the
price for which other premises were available.

This is not just of historical interest, given that many financial experts think this could be worse than the Great Depression. And see this.

In addition, banks still are not lending to most individuals (indeed, the Fed is intentionally tying up excess reserves so they won't be circulated in the economy). So for now, the credit crunch is still playing a role.

The effects of a credit shortage are complicated.

As USA Today noted in 2008:

Several factors are driving up demand for rentals:

 

***

 

•Renters are finding it harder to buy. Many
renters can't qualify for an affordable mortgage because of stricter
lending rules that call for larger down payments and excellent credit.
The days of getting a home with no money down or with other
unconventional loan structures are gone.

 

Lenders have turned
more cautious for good reason: Foreclosures are up, and each of them
costs lenders an estimated $50,000, on average, in processing fees,
liquidation-sale price cuts and other costs, according to the Center
for Responsible Lending.

 

"We've seen demand for rental housing
go up," says Mark Obrinsky, chief economist at the National Multi
Housing Council. "The ownership side is retrenching, and we're seeing
the demand going to the rental side. There's a lot of hesitancy to buy.
Others can't get (financing), so they're remaining renters longer."

Another writer listed other potential effects of a credit shortage:

People
who can't sell their home may try to rent it out. (Pushes rental prices
down.) [and] People who buy cheap homes for investment purposes may
rent them out until the market recovers. (Pushes rental prices down.)

On the other hand, if the economy improves more quickly than most imagine, rental prices might be pushed up along with everything else.

Demographics

The American population is rapidly aging.

As I wrote in October:

As I have previously noted,
Japan's population is rapidly aging, and the U.S. age pyramid - while
not as bad - is not nearly as young as that of Brazil or India's:

Which countries have the best demographics?

 

Let's
start by looking at the "age pyramid" for the United States. The
following 2 charts from the National Institutes of Health shows that
the population is aging:

This graphic (courtesy of Ed Stephan) shows the U.S. age pyramid from from 1950 through 2050:

male female
Population of the United States, by Age and Sex,
1950-2050 (millions)
information source: International Data Base, U.S. Census Bureau;
supplied pyramids were modified using Canvas, GraphicConverter and GIFBuilder.

 

[If you can't see the dates at the bottom of the pyramid, click here].

 

As NIH notes:


The
first of the postwar baby boom cohort, born 1946–1964, will turn 55
years in 2001. In just three decades, an extraordinary change in the
age structure of the United States is anticipated. By 2030, one in five
persons (20% of the U.S. population) will be aged 65 or older,
increasing from the present ratio of one in nine persons (12.8%). The
number of persons in the 65 and older age group will more than double,
increasing from the current 34 million persons to 70 million persons.
Moreover, within the older segment of the population, because of longer
life expectancy and additional persons reaching older ages, there will
be age shifts resulting in the 85 and older population more than
doubling in size from 4.3 million persons to approximately 8.9 million
persons.

An aging U.S. population means less productive workers, less big-spending consumers, and more dependent elders...

 

Brazil has a much younger age demographic.

 

And India's is even younger than Brazil's.

 

The following chart
shows that Japan has the worst demographics of all, with a staggering
percentage of elderly who need to be taken care of by the young:

 

Chart 2: Old Age Dependency Ratios for Selected Countries

clip_image002[5]

Source: http://data.un.org/

The chief economist for Standard and Poor's is now confirming the importance of national demographics:

But
I don't think [a lost decade in the U.S. is] as likely over here. For
one thing, one of the problems in Japan was the demographics. And we
don't have the problem of a declining population to deal with, although
the labor force is going to slow down considerably as soon as the baby
boomers retire.

In other words, America's age demographics aren't as bad as Japan's, but they aren't helping, either.

Seniors
have less income from wages, but have had longer to save money and
invest.

However, a report by the Center for Economic and Policy
Research shows that most baby boomers have accumulated little to no wealth.

No wonder:

David
Rosenberg from Gluskins Sheff expects Americans to retrench ferociously
as 78m baby boomers face the looming threat of penury in old age.

In addition, pensions are getting killed, and because the states are already experiencing massive budget deficits that cannot cover education and other expenses, something has to give (more here).

I am not convinced that pensioners are going to get paid 100% of what they were promised. Same with social security benefits.

Does
that mean people will receive drastically reduced benefits compared to
what they were promised, that taxes will skyrocket, or both? Any way
you look at it, the American population is quickly greying, and a high
percentage of seniors won't have much to spend on housing.

As the above-quoted Forbes article states:

Pittsburgh
has the country's cheapest metropolitan area rental units. Lessees
there pay a median monthly rent of $608, less than half of San Jose's.

 

This
is partly because Pittsburgh has struggled to rebuild its economic base
after the loss of its steel industry, and residents are aging or leaving the city.

 

"The
bottom line is that Pittsburgh is undergoing a sea shift in its
economic base," says Susan Wachter, a real estate professor at the
University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. "Rents are relatively low because it's in a state which is losing population, and it is simply not doing well."

One final factor: long-term care facilities for seniors are growing like gangbusters:

Assisted
living facilities are a relatively new housing phenomenon. Although
they were extremely rare even ten or fifteen years ago, they've become
the fastest-growing and most popular elderly residential product type.
Although actual numbers are sketchy, an estimated one million seniors
currently reside in approximately 40,000 assisted living facilities, as
compared with only 600,000 who did so only ten years ago, when there
were about one-quarter of these projects nationwide. And looking ahead,
experts estimate that by the year 2020, 14 million of us will require
this kind of housing, double the number who do so today.

Such facilities will soak up some of the housing demand for the elderly, which also argues for lower rental prices.

Housing Troubles

Falling home prices are generally correlated with rising rental prices. As Forbes noted in 2008:

Sinking house prices often send rents soaring ...

Moreover,
when there are a lot of foreclosures in a given area, a lot of people
are evicted from their homes, and must scramble to find rentals. This
usually leads to higher rental prices, as surging demand chases a fixed
supply.

As the above-quoted USA Today pointed out:

The
most brutal real estate slump in decades is reverberating through the
rental market. Renters in properties that are being foreclosed on are
being evicted. Homeowners forced into foreclosure are becoming tenants
again and driving up rents. And renters not yet ready to buy a home —
shut out by stricter lending rules or hoping to buy after prices fall
still further — are creating a dynamic shift: Even as real estate is
sputtering, the rental market is surging.

On the other hand, as CNN noted in 2008 that foreclosures may make more rental properties available, thus tending to reduce rental prices:

"The
major factors having an impact on housing prices are foreclosures,
which make more rental property available," said Owen Johnson,
president of Investment Instruments, "and also foreclosures that are
not happening."

 

In the latter case, according to Johnson, many
speculators bought properties to "flip," selling them quickly in a
rapidly appreciating market. In some Sun-Belt areas, investors bought
condos and other properties while they were still in development, to
sell when a project finished.

 

Other investors bought existing
single-family homes or other properties, intending to do cosmetic
improvements and then sell them at a profit. But before they could do
that, the slump hit, and home values dropped. Instead of selling at a
loss, investors of all stripes are now renting them out.

So how is housing going to do?

Well, as the Washington Post noted last week, things aren't all rosy:

 

The
[Case-Shiller] report is "mixed," David M. Blitzer, chairman of the
index committee at Standard & Poor's, said in a statement. The
"rebound in housing prices seen last fall is fading." And given the
data, he said, "we can't say we're out of the woods yet."

 

Housing
analysts are worried that an expected increase in foreclosures hitting
the market could put pressure on prices this year. Also, a Federal
Reserve program that has kept interest rates low ends Wednesday. If
mortgage rates rise later this year as expected, some potential buyers
might stay on the sidelines.

 

Home sales have been weak since a
tax credit for first-time home buyers was initially scheduled to expire
in November. Existing-home sales have fallen 23 percent since then, for
example. Congress extended the tax credit, giving buyers until April 30
to sign a contract for a home, and expanded it to more buyers. But "the
second credit, up to now, is having minimal effects," said Patrick
Newport, an economist with IHS Global Insight.

 

Many buyers at
the tipping point of making a home purchase probably took advantage of
the tax credit the first time, Dye said. "That group now has been used
up. I would expect to see a smaller marginal effect from the tax credit
going forward," he said.

 

Even if home prices rise during the
spring buying season, they are likely to fall again during the second
half of the year, analysts said. IHS Global Insight is expecting prices
to fall another 5 percent this year. "There is some turbulence out
there that I am concerned about," Dye said.

Indeed, the S&P Case Shiller Futures Index forecasts that housing won't bottom until May 2011:

Specifically,
the Case Shiller Futures Index assumes that housing prices will remain
strong for the first half of the year - while various Fed programs are
still in effect - and then fall sharply until they hit bottom in spring
2011.

And - contrary to what many assume - the foreclosure crisis is far from over.

As I wrote in September:

The foreclosure problem in American is not just subprime mortgages. True, banks have been holding on to their foreclosed properties for months, but now they're getting ready to release them
onto the market, which could depress prices for existing homeowners,
further driving them underwater. But that's not what I'm talking about.

 

There are huge tidal waves of defaults on option arm, alt-a, and other types of loans coming (see this and this).

 

But even that is arguably not the main problem.

 

Perhaps the biggest problem is that the crash in real estate and rising unemployment together form a positive feedback loop. As McClatchy and the Associated Press note, foreclosures rise as jobs and income drop.

As former chief IMF economist Simon Johnson points out, there is a vicious cycle also exists between unemployment and property foreclosures:

Unemployment
is always a lagging indicator, and given the record low number of
average hours worked, it will turn around especially slowly this time.
Until then, people will continue to lose their jobs and wages will
remain flat, and any small rebound in housing prices is unlikely to
help more than a few people refinance their way out of unaffordable
mortgages. So unless the other part of the equation – monthly payments
– changes, the number of foreclosures should just continue to rise.

Indeed, the Washington Post notes:

The country's growing unemployment is overtaking subprime mortgages as the main driver of foreclosures,
according to bankers and economists, threatening to send even higher
the number of borrowers who will lose their homes and making the
foreclosure crisis far more complicated to unwind.

And see this.

 

Some
economists give 5% as the magic number: when unemployment declines to
5%, then unemployment will no longer be such a huge contributor to
foreclosures.

 

But Moody's forecasts that unemployment will not go back down to 5% until 2014.

Similarly,
the the chief economist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce - Martin
Regalia - "thinks that it could be five years before the U.S. economy
generates enough jobs to overcome those lost and to employ the new
workers entering the labor force", according to McClatchy.

Indeed, unemployment could be a problem for many years to come.

And see this article from Time, this chart from Credit Suisse:

[YouAreHere.jpg]

And this chart from Agora Financial's Daily Reckoning:

Indeed, as David Rosenberg writes:

There
were over 158,000 bankruptcy filings in the personal sector in the U.S.
[in March] (that’s 6,900 per day!) which was a 35% surge over
February’s result and up 19% from last year’s elevated levels. This
also shows the extent to which fewer people are attempting to save
their homes. They realized that their mortgage payments are not
affordable and their attitudes towards residential real estate as a
viable retirement asset have been altered permanently as many now see
their house as nothing more than a debt-laden ball and chain.

(Rosenberg also points out that while skyrocketing unemployment might be slowing, wage deflation is just beginning).

Finally, Calculated Risk writes today:

From Diana Olick at CNBC: Let the Short Sales Begin

I'm
... starting to hear rumblings among the number crunchers that the wave
of foreclosures we keep hearing about is about to hit with a thunderous
roar.

Servicers are ramping up the mod process and pushing those who don't qualify out the door more quickly than ever.

I don't know about a "thunderous roar", but I do think we will see more
distressed sales soon. Most trustee sales seem to be "postponed" each
month, and perhaps the lenders were just waiting for the HAFA short
sales program to begin. That program started today ...

On The Other Hand ...

In
really bad times, people who are evicted from their houses will not
rent. Instead, they will move in with friends or family for some time.

As the Wall Street Journal explained last October:

Driving
the change [i.e. large numbers of rental vacancies and lower rents] is
the troubled employment market, which is closely tied to rentals. With
unemployment at 9.8% -- a 26-year high -- more would-be renters are
doubling up or moving in with family and friends during periods of job
loss. Landlords have been particularly battered because unemployment
has been higher among workers under 35 years old, who are more likely
to rent. Nationally, effective rents have fallen by 2.7% over the past
year, to around $972.

As Zack's Investment Research writes:

A
smaller percentage of Americans owned their own homes in the 4th
quarter of 2009 than at any time since 2000. In the 4th quarter 67.2%
of Americans owned their own home, down from 67.6% in the third quarter
and two full percentage points below the peak set in the fourth quarter
of 2004.

As the first graph below shows (from Calculated Risk) ...:

So
where have all these people gone who are no longer homeowners? It does
not appear that they are moving into apartments or rental housing. As
the second graph shows (also from Calculated Risk), the rental vacancy
rate is now at 10.7%. While that is down from the record level of 11.1%
in the third quarter, it is up from 10.1% a year ago, and the 7-8%
range that was normal for most of the 1990s ...

 

***

It
thus appears that many of the people who used to own their homes, and
no longer do, are doubling up with friends and family. This is probably
not their first choice of living arrangements, but they are doing so
because they have no other choice economically.

In other words, the correlation between falling home prices and rising
defaults, on the one hand, with increasing rental demand and higher
rental prices, on the other hand, doesn't hold in a really tough
economy.

American Population Growth is Slowing

The U.S. Census Bureau notes:

The U.S. population growth rate is slowing.

Despite
these large increases in the number of persons in the population, the
rate of population growth, referred to as the average annual percent
change,1 is projected to decrease during the next six decades by about
50 percent, from 1.10 between 1990 and 1995 to 0.54 between 2040 and
2050. The decrease in the rate of growth is predominantly due to the
aging of the population and, consequently, a dramatic increase in the
number of deaths. From 2030 to 2050, the United States would grow more
slowly than ever before in its history.

A lower
population growth rate would tend to argue for lower rental prices,
since it means less new residents looking for housing.

Indeed there is somewhat of a "reverse migration" occurring. For example, last year there were many stories of immigrants returning to their native countries. Of course, if the American economy substantially strengthens, this trend will stop.

"Dust Bowl in Reverse"

A "dust bowl in reverse" has also occurred, where people are moving out of the West and back to the mid-West.

As California state senator George Runner pointed out last year:

A
recent Sacramento Bee article cites a reverse migration to the
Mid-west. This marks a stunning reversal of the historical trend of
migration into California - especially during the Dust Bowl that sent
hundreds of thousands of Midwesterners west toward the Golden State.

 

During
the Dust Bowl, people left states like Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma
because a drought left the once fertile soil barren and bone-dry. The
livelihoods of the farmers shriveled with the crops, and families found
themselves in destitution. They sought the greener pastures of
California. But where the Dust Bowl of the Great Depression sent a
massive migration of Midwesterners to California, the current economic
hardship is now driving residents back to the Midwest.

In
fact, between 2004 and 2007, California lost 275,000 residents to the
former Dust Bowl states that were once responsible for the state’s huge
population growth. While California was once seen as the place of hope
for a better life, Californians are now looking elsewhere for
opportunity...

Indeed, a lot of people are moving to places like Oklahoma. As Michael Roston writes:

The Tulsa World noted in December:

The state added 43,025 residents from July 2008 to July 2009, the largest annual increase this decade.

The annual increase also reverses the one-year dip when the population failed to increase more than it did the previous year.

Overall,
the Census Bureau estimates the Oklahoma population was 3,687,050 in
July 2009 compared to 3,644,025 in July 2008. The annual population
increase was 39,780 in 2007 and 34,238 in 2008.

Most of the
overall population increase was fueled by persons moving to Oklahoma
from other states, defined as domestic migration.

Domestic
migration accounted for 18,345 new residents to the state with
international migrants accounting for 5,340 additional people.

It’s
not quite gangbusters, but it shows that the state known more for the
Dust Bowl than for economic opportunity has turned itself around in a
lot of ways. The Oklahoman’s crack Database Editor Paul Monies put together some visualizations of the differences in population between the Oklahoma of the Great Depression and the the Oklahoma of the Great Recession. His newspaper went on some months later to reflect triumphantly in an editorial:

Time
was when Oklahomans fled to California in great numbers, so much so
that the Golden State tried to put a stop to it. Now Californians are
moving east; some of them are landing in Oklahoma. Cox says that in every year during the 2000s, Oklahoma gained net domestic migrants from California.

The South has also been hit hard. As the Wall Street Journal noted last month:

The
recession has halted the dominant migration trend of recent decades,
turning once-hot destinations such as Las Vegas and Orlando, Fla., into
some of the country's losers.

***

The reversal of
migration in former housing-boom cities could aggravate their
real-estate downturns. A separate report released by the National
Association of Realtors on Tuesday showed that February real-estate
sales and prices were hit harder in the West and South—areas that have
seen big reductions in migration.

The shifts represent a radical
departure from the migration patterns that had made cities such as Las
Vegas and Orlando some of the country's fastest-growing. For decades,
people have been leaving colder Northeastern and Midwestern states,
either to retire or to chase better weather and jobs in the South and
West.

"It's unprecedented to see areas like Las Vegas and
Orlando, just blue-chip destinations for anybody who wanted to move, to
stop and stay stopped over a couple of years," said William Frey, a
demographer with the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.

On the other hand, the Journal notes:

In
many cases, cities in the Midwest and Northeast are gaining because
residents are locked in place. With depressed home prices and a dearth
of out-of-state job offers preventing departures, even a modest number
of people moving in can drive gains. The Boston area, for example,
swung to an inflow of about 6,800 in 2008-2009 from an outflow of about
46,000 in 2004-2005. The Chicago area's outflow narrowed to about
40,400 from about 77,400.

The
most-recent official U.S. Census Bureau population growth rates for
different states - between July 1, 2008 to July 1, 2009, and for
earlier periods - are available
here, and here is a summary.

This factor weighs in favor of higher rental prices in the Midwest and Northeast, and lower rental prices in the West and South.

Back to the Country?

For hundreds of years, people have migrated from rural areas to the cities in search of better employment.

Will this change?

Sean Riskowitz argues that it already has:

Data released by the U.S. Census Bureau reveals a reverse urban migration trend in the country.

This interactive graph paints the picture.

The
recession has played a big role in determining migration trends in the
U.S., with most people either staying where they are or returning to
where they came from, particularly in big cities. The New York area
lost a net 100,000 people in 2009, (down from 220,000 in 2007) while
Los Angeles lost a net 80,000 (down from a massive 222,000 in 2007).
Chicago lost a net 40,000 residents which is in line with the 52,000
the recession sent packing in 2007. This runs contrary to historical
data which shows a net migration of people to big cities, rather than away from them.

Reverse
urban migration will decrease the supply of labor and consumers in the
cities which could result in lower prices in terms of real estate and
consumer goods, not to mention services such as restaurants.

Again, even if Riskowitz's interpretation of the data is correct, such a trend might be reversed if the economy strengthens.

But there may also be longer-term trends arguing for counter-urbanization.

Oxford University's Geography Dictionary defines counter-urbanization, and gives some good arguments for it:

The
movement of population and economic activity away from urban areas. The
push factors include: high land values, restricted sites for all types
of development, high local taxes, congestion, and pollution. The pull
factors offered by small towns are just the reverse: cheap, available
land, clean, quiet surroundings, and high amenity. Improvements in
transport and communications have also lessened the attractiveness of
urban centres, and commuters are often willing to trade off increased
travel times for improved amenity. Furthermore, with the ageing of
populations in the West, many no longer need to travel to work.

In
advanced economies, there have been swings in the directions of net
migration between metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas, although the
timing of these shifts varies spatially. The USA, for example, saw
counter-urbanization the 1970s, and concentration in the 1980s,
followed by further deconcentration in the 1990s (Lewis, Geography 85).
The migration balance will also be affected by government policy which
suggests that 60% of new housing should be on brownfield sites, and 40%
on greenfield (Department of the Environment 1996 Household Growth).

Some argue that technology will encourage counter-urbanization. However, Bill Gates has famously said:

I
thought digital technology would eventually reverse urbanization, and
so far that hasn't happened. But people always overestimate how much
will change in the next three years, and they underestimate how much
will change over the next 10 years.

If the U.S. economy
really tanks to the point that distribution systems are disrupted, then
people may either move out in the country (to grow their own food and
locate their own water) or into the middle of the big cities (where
they can get by without gas, and pool resources with others).

Obviously,
if it occurs, counter-urbanization would lead to a decrease in demand
for urban rentals. But it is too early to know how these trends will
play out.

Wealth Distribution

The polarization of America's wealth distribution is more extreme
than it is has been for many decades. In other words, not only have the
rich gotten richer and the poor gotten poorer, but much of the middle
class has disappeared.

So most people have less to spend on
housing. The wealthy are likely going to buy, not rent, so they
shouldn't play a part in the analysis.

That may argue for low-income and modest rentals doing well as most people become more frugal.

Other Factors

Obviously, many other factors influence how desirable a given locale is.

Silicon
valley rental prices boomed during the dot com era. Washington D.C. is
currently booming, due to the increased government involvement in the
economy. As the Wall Street Journal writes:

Some
cities accustomed to losing people are showing net gains. The
government's growing role in the economy has benefited the Washington,
D.C., area, which drew 18,200 residents from other states, its first
net gain since 2002.

If the "next big thing" is centralized in one or a few areas, then rental prices could skyrocket in those areas.

Forbes points out that areas with a high number of apartment-to-condo conversions have higher rental prices:

Signing a lease is also costly in some Florida areas. Miami and Orlando fetched monthly rents of $1,031 and $981 respectively.

The
race to build condos is partly to blame, says Sean Snaith, director of
the Institute for Economic Competitiveness at the University of Central
Florida.

"Miami and Orlando were two pretty hot areas when the
housing market was raging for conversion of apartment stock into
condominiums," he says of the mid-decade housing boom. "So that reduced
supply."

And factors such as the amount of crime,
how good the schools are and percentage of public housing will always
affect rental prices.

Where To From Here?

The Wall Street Journal writes:

Apartment
rents rose during the first quarter, ending five straight quarters of
declines and signaling the worst may be over for the hard-hit sector.

 

Nationally,
the apartment vacancy rate stayed flat at 8%, the highest level since
Reis Inc., a New York research firm, began its tally in 1980.

 

Reis
tracks vacancies and rents in the top 79 U.S. markets, and rents rose
in 60 of them, led by Miami, Seattle and New York—all cities that have
notched big rental declines in the past year.

 

Rents increased
1.6% in the first quarter in Miami and 0.9% in New York. The gains came
during what is usually a seasonally weak period for apartments and
suggested that landlords may have some momentum heading into the peak
spring and summer leasing season.

 

"Deterioration seems not to
have just been arrested but reversed," said Victor Calanog, director of
research for Reis. "Several markets have bottomed and may be on track
to recovery," he said.

 

Nationally, effective rents,
which include concessions such as one month of free rent, rose 0.3%
during the quarter compared with a 0.7% decline in the fourth quarter
of last year and a 1.1% drop in the first quarter of 2009. Vacancies
are tied to unemployment, because many would-be renters move in with
family members or double up during a downturn.

 

"We clearly hit
an inflection point in all of our markets in January and February,"
said Jeffrey Friedman, chief executive of Associated Estates Realty
Corp., which owns and operates 12,000 units in the eastern U.S.

 

Renters
are also staying put longer: the average renter now stays for 19
months, up from an average of 14 months, said Mr. Friedman, and despite
low mortgage rates and greater home affordability, fewer renters are
leaving to buy homes.

"This is the first time in many, many
years that it feels like even people who could afford to buy are making
the investment decision not to," Mr. Friedman said.

 

Difficulty
in obtaining financing for new apartment construction, meanwhile, has
limited the supply of new units that will be added in the coming years.
Those fundamentals have landlords and investors excited about the
potential for rents to pop once the economy gathers steam.

 

Still,
Mr. Calanog said that a "slow recovery" was likely and that landlords
shouldn't expect "galloping rental growth" until the job market firms
up, particularly because younger workers that are more likely to rent
have borne the brunt of job losses.

Others warned that gains were fragile and that landlords could continue to offer concessions to fill units.

 

"Rent
reductions are not over yet," said Hessam Nadji, managing director at
real-estate firm Marcus & Millichap. He said he didn't expect to
see sustained rental growth until the second half of the year.

 

Barely
half of the 22,000 units in buildings that opened their doors last
quarter were filled, and landlords may cut deals because they face
deadlines to pay back construction loans. "That's where renters are
going to find deals," Mr. Calanog said.

Calculated Risk comments on the Wall Street Journal story, noting:

The Reis numbers are for cities. The overall vacancy rate from the Census Bureau was at a near record 10.7% in Q4 2009.

Rents
plunged in 2009 by the most in the 30 years Reis has been tracking
rents - and with vacancies at record levels, the slight increase in Q1
2010 rents doesn't mean the rent declines are over.

But why were there so many vacancies in the first place?

As discussed above, unemployment is causing people to double-up with others. And as the Wall Street Journal explained last October, there was overbuilding in some of the prime markets:
The
housing bust has also flooded some of the most overbuilt housing
markets with new apartment inventory as developers have converted
unsold condominium developments into rentals.

 


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cheap uggs for sale's picture

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Tue, 04/06/2010 - 14:22 | Link to Comment kwvrad
kwvrad's picture

my 2 cents.... I feel the Japanese sacrificed the corporate greed(profit) for

the betterment of teir people, here I think they are thinking longer term and society as a whole.... wherein the U.S is strictly profit driven at any cost..with no regard to its citizens

Tue, 04/06/2010 - 14:23 | Link to Comment ZerOhead
ZerOhead's picture

Down for now and heading lower... only to rise with the coming inevitable hyperinflationary event.

Great work G.W.!

Tue, 04/06/2010 - 13:24 | Link to Comment Dirtt
Dirtt's picture

Outstanding work.

One wonders with the level of cognizance and intelligence expressed at ZH on a daily basis how in the hell did we let the psychopaths take over.

Tue, 04/06/2010 - 17:50 | Link to Comment Buck Johnson
Buck Johnson's picture

I would like to call it the CRAZY FAMILY MEMBER SYNDROME, and thats the reason why the psychopaths have taken over.  Lets say you have a family member or two (all of us have) that has "issues" and/or problems with this or that or race or gender whatever.  We do everything to keep them on some form of path because we love them and at the same time we are scared of them (a person who is unstable is dangerous).  Many times the person who finds a calling for something can become a zealot of it's teaching and will place the above issue over everything in life including rational and logical thinking.  Thats why you see people defending the undefendable, because their ideology is their whole life (race hatred, religion, free market, etc. etc. et.).

We have allowed the crazies and the zealots to have a soap box in which to spew their theories or hatreds or whatever.  And the republicans and/or democrats have stirred them up, and don't know how to control them.  The horrible thing is that these people will not only sell the rope to hang themselves with it, but will think it's a good idea from the standpoint of the person buyer of the rope.

Tue, 04/06/2010 - 13:51 | Link to Comment Cyan Lite
Cyan Lite's picture

Two Words:  American Idol.

Tue, 04/06/2010 - 04:39 | Link to Comment bingocat
bingocat's picture

David Wyss’ (S&P economist) comments about why the US will not have a lost decade like Japan's because of Japan's declining population were a bit off-base. This is not to say that the result is wrong – just the reasoning. Japan's population started declining AFTER the lost decade was basically done with. The structural issues facing Japan during the period were different, but there are some parallels to the recent US experience. For Japan, the issues were:

  1. The entrenched and over-protective nature of Japan's bureaucracy. Japan’s enforced socialism has provided a safety net at the expense of capitalist's returns. This safety net for individuals, implemented through measures to support both individuals and institutions, has created the current “slow-moving train wreck of government debt.”

  2. The great deflationary move of the last 20 years has affected Japanese corporate margins to an extent perfectly unbelievable to those outside looking at the great corporate profit margin boom of the last twenty years in the West. Japanese profit margins peaked around 1990, and were heavily influenced by construction, real estate, and leverage. Subsequent de-leveraging on the part of the private sector caused margin contraction, and GDP contraction, and structural expectations of deflation across a wide swath of consumption patterns.
  3. The real estate overshoot (prices & lending) in the late-80s/early-90s was so huge that any return to normalcy involved significant pain. When the deemed land value of the Imperial Palace (a tract of land in central Tokyo about 2x the size of Central Park) was ‘worth’ more than the state of California (which the Japanese were buying at outlandish prices at the same time) and metropolitan Tokyo was theoretically “worth” more than all of the United States, one knew things were going to end badly at some point.  It did.

Why is any of this important for the US?

  1. The US gov’t is doing the same swap – cushioning private shock for public debt. The only way out of significant debt vs GDP is significant saving vs GDP, or significant asset price reflation (unfortunately, someone else, with money, has to buy the asset so the debtor can deleverage). The only way to make GDP grow when the net savings rate grows significantly is when that saving is applied to investment in non-deflationary capacity. There are very few markets like that, and continuing ‘mercantilist’ tendencies shown by US trading partners – in developed nations and otherwise – make this a difficult prospect.
  2. In a demand-constrained de-leveraging environment where consumption growth is supposed to be lower than GDP growth, product price deflation for high-margin consumer products is a serious risk. Margins will drop unless they are generated overseas. Read-through = significant decline in the purchasing power of a dollar and structural productivity growth as US employment does not see a V-shaped recovery.
  3. The overshoot of real estate prices and supply followed by a move to substantial deleveraging, and fall in average income growth combined to create deflationary expectations in Japan across all income brackets and all purchases. For fifteen years now, Japanese consumers have been taught by markets that prices don’t rise and have expected to have to learn to live with less. The US overshoot does not look that different, except that Japan has enjoyed a large current account surplus whereas the US starts from the opposite end of the spectrum. Banks in the US will clear their issues faster, but it will be at the expense of under-performing savings in mortgage-backed bonds, or further bailout of the mortgage market (and therefore higher public debt liability). Either way, USD-denominated savers have more to “lose” and those who lose most will be those with the savings (rich people will be taxed to pay the deficit/debt) or their savings will disappear as FNM/FRE mortgage bonds are redeemed in physical form. Everyone benefited during the great run-up (on average, everyone benefited more than they should have given the long-term averages) and everyone will be ‘de-rated’ during the fall. Read-through = long-term weaker dollar.

Long-term, there’s no way around it. The question is only whether the pain is experienced slowly or quickly. Very few students of history see the slow method as anything other than delaying the pain, but very few true students of history would actually wish for societal shock on the scale which would be involved in the quick way.

Tue, 04/06/2010 - 08:33 | Link to Comment yourapostasy
yourapostasy's picture

Read-through = long-term weaker dollar.

Weaker as compared to what? If it is compared to currencies in environments that are not demand constrained, then that would imply economies not moribund from debt loads, but with young demographies. I don't see any economies of significant size that match that description, so we're likely to see overappreciated currencies in the smaller economies that do match that description.

Tue, 04/06/2010 - 22:19 | Link to Comment bingocat
bingocat's picture

I cut it "short" :^)

I expect that the "weaker vs what" will be partly the BRI of BRIC and a collection of other Asian nations with both significant population, low average age, and relatively high population growth rates (Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand) aided by a vast swath of the world that most people ignore now but where political changes and growth has a chance to totally upset the current balance of what people expect for 2050 (the fastest growing population center (as a portion of world population) over the next 40 years will be Africa). Couple significant population growth with excellent land fertility and a startlingly low basis, and Africa will be the China of the second half of this century.
All things told, the weaker dollar would be vs what it buys, and if that means lower margin growth for US domestic companies, it means stagflation for most Americans. The resulting income gap will create socialist pressures which are visible now, and won't get any better.

Mon, 04/05/2010 - 23:43 | Link to Comment Chopshop
Chopshop's picture

great piece, GW.  thanks for it.  important to remember the outsized weight of rent within CPI metrics and how the shelter components themselves are constructed.  yet again, is the trend and 1-3-5 year outlook inflationary or deflationary ? 

Consumer Price Indexes for Rent and Rental Equivalence

Rent of primary residence (rent) and Owners' equivalent rent of primary residence (rental equivalence) are the two main shelter components of the Consumer Price Index (CPI). The Shelter index includes the items shown below with the relative importance of each index. The relative importance is the weight of the specific index relative to the All items index. These data are for the U.S. city average CPI for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) as of December 2006:

Item

Relative Importance

Shelter 32.776    Rent of primary residence 5.930    Lodging away from home 2.648    Housing at school, excluding board (2) .154

   Other lodging away from home including hotels

    and motels (3)

2.493    Owners' equivalent rent of primary residence 23.830    Tenants' and household insurance .369

The index for an aggregate, such as the Shelter index, is the weighted average of the component indexes. As a matter of fact, the Lodging away from home index is also an aggregate index, the weighted average of its two indented components (see above). Expenditures for each of these 5 components of the Shelter index are estimated directly from data reported by sampled households in the Consumer Expenditure (CE) Interview Survey. Both renters and homeowners are included in the CE sample. In fact, homeowners constitute roughly 66 percent of the CE sample in urban areas.

Rent and rental equivalence weights for index aggregation

The expenditure weight in the CPI for rent is obtained by directly asking sampled renter households the following question:

What is the rental charge to your CU for this unit including any extra charges for garage & parking facilities? Do not include direct payments by local, state or federal agencies. What period of time does this cover?

However, the expenditure weight in the CPI for rental equivalence is obtained by directly asking sampled owner households the following question:

If someone were to rent your home today, how much do you think it would rent for monthly, unfurnished and without utilities?

Item Structure and Publication Changes to the Consumer Price Indexes for January 2010
Tue, 04/06/2010 - 11:54 | Link to Comment the grateful un...
the grateful unemployed's picture

and in the end they throw all that data out (read the fine print) and they make a judgement, which supports their basic thesis that there is no inflation, ergo no cola's for government workers, no TIP premium payments, and no political backlash.

It's a lot like the census, tell us all about yourself, so we may continue to avoid representing you and your interests.

and of course rents would be a lot higher, without government subsidizing renters, (section 8) as the demand would overwhelm the supply pretty quickly. according to the LA time article people are being placed in foreclosed homes, using government subsidies (sec 8). 

bottom line rental prices are falling slower (or not at all) while housing asset values are crashing, which is relative inflation.

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