Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Reis: Apartment Vacancy Rates fell sharply in Q1, Lowest in almost three years

by Bill McBride on 4/06/2011 08:55:00 AM

From Reuters: U.S. apartment vacancies fall in Q1, rents edge up

Reis Inc's quarterly report showed the vacancy rate dropped to 6.2 percent in the first three months of the year, down from 6.6 percent in the fourth quarter. It was the steepest fall since the commercial real estate research firm began tracking the market in 1999.
[CR note: the vacancy rate was 8 percent in Q1 2010].
And from Bloomberg: Apartment Vacancies in U.S. Fall to Lowest in Almost Three Years
Apartment owners had a net increase in occupied space of more than 44,000 units, the most for a first quarter since 1999 and almost double the number from a year earlier, Reis said. The first quarter tends to be a slow period for rentals since more leases are signed in the warmer months, the company said.

About 6,000 units came to market during the first quarter, the fewest since Reis began compiling data in 1999.
This is a very large decline from the record vacancy rate set a year ago at 8%. This decline fits with the recent survey from the NMHC that showed lower apartment vacancies. Reis is just for large cities, but this decline in vacancy rates is happening just about everywhere.

A few key points we've been discussing:
• Vacancy rates are falling fast (the excess supply is being absorbed). Note: The excess housing supply includes both apartments and single family homes.

• A record low number of multi-family units will be completed this year (2011). Only 6,000 apartments came on the market in Q1 (in the Reis survey area).

• This will push up effective rents. Via Bloomberg:
Effective rents, or what tenants actually pay, increased in 75 of the 82 markets Reis tracks, to an average $991 a month from $967 a year earlier and $986 in the fourth quarter.
However, when I was at the NMHC conference earlier this year, it sounded like rent growth is mostly coming from reductions in concessions and not from the top line (i.e. not from rent increases). (my short notes from conference here and here). Still, any increase in effective rents will push down the price-to-rent ratio for homes.

• Multi-family starts are increasing, and that will help both GDP and employment growth this year. These new starts will not be completed until 2012 at the earliest, so vacancy rates will probably decline all year.

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