U.S. Multifamily Market Spotlight Q3 2020
- U.S. multifamily rent growth fell 1.2% year-over-year, yet renters have kept up with payments.
- Vacancy rose to 5.0%, up from 4.6% one year ago, although remained in line with long-term averages.
- Investment activity dropped to half the volume from at the same time last year.
While not immune to the effects of the recession, the multifamily real estate market has shown resilience thus far in the pandemic, compared with other property sectors. Rent payments have held steady, although rent growth slowed and vacancy increased. Investors showed caution, with sales volume and lending activity declining compared to last year. Additional assistance to support renters through the remainder of the pandemic would solidify the stability of the sector.
Multifamily Market Rent Growth
Rent growth in the U.S. multifamily market showed further declines in the third quarter, as the COVD-19 recession dug deeper into the U.S. and put the brakes on a strong 10-year run for the sector.
Moody’s Analytics REIS reported that effective rent growth fell 1.2% year-over-year, down from an increase of 3.7% in 2019. A 1.9% decrease was measured for the third quarter alone, which was the steepest decline on record. The declines in rents have been primarily driven by Class A properties, which fell 1.7% year-over-year. In comparison, Class B/C properties fell 0.6% year-over-year. Overall, rent growth is forecasted to decline by a record 2.6% in 2020, steeper than the declines posted during the Great Recession, and is expected to continue to decline in 2021 before turning positive again in 2022.
The U.S. vacancy rate rose to 5.0%, up from 4.6% one year ago, and reaching its highest level since 2011. However, the vacancy rate remained in line with long-term averages, as the market was starting from a strong point. REIS forecasts that the vacancy rate could increase to 6.5% by the end of 2021. The vacancy rate for Class A buildings jumped to 6.4%, from 6.0% at the end of 2019, while Class B/C properties increased only slightly, to 3.7% from 3.6%.
Despite the overall market downturn, a few markets were able to post positive results. Indianapolis posted the strongest rent growth year-over-year, at 3.1%. According to the REIS COVID-19 impact tracker, the rate of job decline in Indianapolis has been better than most Midwest metros. The city’s diverse employment base and well-educated work force will help accelerate the Indianapolis recovery.
Additional Midwest markets also were among the national rent growth leaders, such as Cleveland (up 2.8% year-over-year), Kansas City (up 2.6%), and St. Louis (up 2.6%). Last year’s growth leader Phoenix increased 2.3%. The high-priced coastal markets continued to post the largest declines. The San Francisco multifamily market dropped 9.6% year-over-year, while the New York Metro fell 7.4%.
Thus far, an overwhelming majority of renters have been able to keep up with rent payments throughout the pandemic. The National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC) Rent Payment Tracker found 94.8% of apartment households made a full or partial rent payment by the end of October, down slightly from 96.6% one year ago. With the CARES Act benefits expiring on December 26, the NMHC warns that the federal government will need to deliver additional stimulus to protect the stability of the nation’s rental housing sector.
More than 13 million workers were being supported by pandemic unemployment benefits at the end of October. Renter households could see a bigger impact from the expiration of the extended benefits, since renters tend to be more cost burdened than homeowners. Renters are not the only ones who will struggle. Without rental income many landlords will be unable to pay property expenses, such as taxes and utility bills.
Investment activity continued to slow, as a price disconnect remained. Through the first three quarters of the year, multifamily sales volume dropped to $81.3 billion, half the total from at the same time last year, according to data from Real Capital Analytics (RCA).
Cap rates for multifamily transactions remained at historic lows, averaging 5.3%, and were in line with the level measured at the end of 2019. Multifamily cap rates remained the lowest among the major property types, followed by industrial (6.1%), office (6.6%), retail (6.6%) and hotel (8.7%).
RCA also reported that their Commercial Property Price Index increased 7.2% for the apartment sector, down from an 8.8% increase one year ago. However, the rate of increase remained significantly higher than the U.S. overall rate of 3.6%. The industrial index was the only segment to post a higher increase than apartments, rising 8.5%
Refinances accounted for 74% of apartment loans through the first nine months of the year, which was the highest level of year-to-date refinance activity on record. Through the same time period in 2019, refinances accounted for 63% of multifamily lending, which was in line with the five-year average.
Historically low interest rates spurred the high percentage of refinance activity. RCA reported that the average multifamily mortgage rate fell to 3.4% in August, sliding from 4.1% at the same time last year, and the lowest on record.
The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) projects multifamily originations will fall to $288 billion for this year, down 21% from 2019’s record total of $364 billion. Going forward, MBA forecasts an increase in multifamily lending volume for 2021, rising to $305 billion.
The economy made strong gains in employment over the summer, although through October total employment was still down over 10 million jobs since the start of the pandemic, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The unemployment rate finished at 6.9%, a significant improvement on the COVID peak of 14.7%. However, this figure remained higher than the pre-COVID rate of 3.5%.
The Department of Labor reported that a total of 21.1 million people were receiving unemployment benefits in October, including 13.1 million receiving extended pandemic assistance. Jobless claims still remained elevated, with more than 700,000 people per week filing claims. Prior to the pandemic, the previous record weekly high was 695,000 for the week of October 2, 1982. Claims have eclipsed that 40-year record every week since March 21st.
Gross domestic product jumped an annualized 33.1% in the third quarter, yet total production remained a net 3.5% below pre-pandemic levels. The GDPNow model estimate from the Atlanta Federal Reserve for the fourth quarter was 2.2% as of the end of October.
Ultimately, the duration of the recession will be determined by the course of the pandemic. Recent vaccine news has been encouraging, although timelines for widespread accessibility of an effective vaccine still remain unknown. With COVID-19 cases surging as the country heads into winter and no sign of additional fiscal support from Congress, a clear timeline of recovery remains unknown.