Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Reis: Apartment Vacancy Rate declined to 4.3% in Q1 2013

by Bill McBride on 4/03/2013 01:06:00 PM

Reis reported that the apartment vacancy rate fell to 4.3% in Q1, down from 4.5% in Q4 2012. The vacancy rate was at 5.0% in Q1 2012 and peaked at 8.0% at the end of 2009.

Some data and comments from Reis VP of Research Victor Calanog:

Vacancy fell by 20 basis points in the first quarter, dipping to 4.3%. Over the last four quarters, national vacancies have declined by 70 basis points, a far faster pace than any other sector in commercial real estate. The vacancy rate has now fallen by 370 basis points since the cyclical peak of 8.0% observed right after the recession winded down in late 2009. By contrast, office sector vacancies have only fallen by a paltry 60 basis points since fundamentals began recovering five quarters ago.

The sector absorbed over 36,000 units in the first quarter, a relatively healthy rate comparable to the rise in occupied stock from one year ago (in 2012Q1). Deliveries have remained modest at 13,706 units, representing roughly the same pace of inventory growth as previous first quarter periods over the last two years.

Apartment landlords have another quarter or two to enjoy tight supply growth before a large number of new properties come online. Over 100,000 units are expected to enter the market, most scheduled to open their doors in the latter half of the year. With home prices recovering and mortgage rates staying low, it remains to be seen whether demand for apartments will continue to push vacancies down once inventory growth ramps up.

Asking and effective rents both grew by 0.5% during the first quarter. This is the slowest rate of growth for both asking and effective rents since the fourth quarter of 2011; every single quarterly data point in 2012 showed stronger asking and effective rent growth versus what was observed in the current quarter. What does this mean?

Optimists will point out that the first quarter tends to be weak, as most households move during the second and third quarters and bolster leasing activity and rent increases. The seasonal waxing and waning in rent growth was evident in the prior year, when the strongest periods centered around the second and third quarters.

However, given how tight vacancies have become, rent growth ought to be stronger (for perspective, in prior periods when vacancies were in the low to mid‐4s, annual rent growth was well above 4%). Analysts have wondered how rents could keep climbing when jobs are being created at a sluggish rate and wage growth has been relatively stagnant: all of Reis's major markets now boast rent levels well beyond peaks achieved prior to the recession. One answer is that the moribund housing market left households with little choice but to absorb rent hikes, but with the housing market now recovering, does that mean the tide is turning against landlords?

The next few quarters will test the robustness of apartment fundamentals in the face of rising supply growth and rent levels that may have climbed to unsustainable levels.
Apartment Vacancy Rate Click on graph for larger image.

This graph shows the apartment vacancy rate starting in 1980. (Annual rate before 1999, quarterly starting in 1999). Note: Reis is just for large cities.

This was another strong quarter for apartments with the vacancy rate falling and rents rising. With more supply coming online later this year, the decline in the vacancy rate should slow.

Apartment vacancy data courtesy of Reis.

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