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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

NMHC Quarterly Apartment Survey: Occupancy Continues to Decline, but Pace Slows

by Calculated Risk on 8/04/2009 10:49:00 AM

Note from NMHC: "Market Tightness Index reading above 50 indicates that, on balance, apartment markets around the country are getting tighter; a reading below 50 indicates that market conditions are getting looser; and a reading of 50 indicates that market conditions are unchanged."

So the increase in the index to 20 implies lower occupancy rates and lower rents - "looser" apartment conditions - but at a slower pace of contraction than the previous month.

From the National Multi Housing Council (NMHC): Apartment Market Conditions Stabilizing, But Not Improving, According to NMHC Quarterly Survey

The apartment market continues to struggle, but shows early signs of possibly stabilizing, according to the National Multi Housing Council’s latest Quarterly Survey of Apartment Market Conditions.

All four of the survey's market indexes covering occupancy, sales volume, equity finance and debt finance remained below 50 (indicating conditions were worse than three months ago), but three of the four increased from the last quarter, with only the debt index recording a decline.

“Apartment demand remains tethered to an economy that continues to shed jobs at a fairly rapid pace,” noted NMHC Chief Economist Mark Obrinsky. “Financing is beginning to stabilize, but the market is still a long way from ‘normal’.”

“The survey also suggests that transaction activity is mainly being restrained by uncertainty in apartment property values—whether they have ‘bottomed out’—and not financing constraints. Only when this uncertainty fades are we likely to see a significant upturn in apartment transactions.”

Fears of future property value declines are behind the difficulty apartment firms are having in obtaining equity financing. In a special survey question, 67 percent of respondents said potentially falling property values best explained the lack of equity availability.
The Market Tightness Index rose from 16 to 20. This was the eighth straight quarter in which the index has been below 50, but it also the third straight quarter in which the index measure has been rising, as greater shares of respondents are reporting that vacancies are unchanged from the previous quarter rather than even looser.
emphasis added
Apartment Tightness Index
Click on graph for larger image in new window.

This graph shows the quarterly Apartment Tightness Index.

A reading below 50 suggests vacancies are rising. Based on limited historical data, I think this index will lead reported apartment rents by 6 months to 1 year. Or stated another way, rents will probably fall for 6 months to 1 year after this index reaches 50. Right now I expect rents to continue to decline through most of 2010.