WSJ: Apartment Values on Rise, and Rents Up With Them

From an article in the October 26, 2011 Wall Street Journal:

At the end of the third quarter, 5.6% of the nation’s apartments were vacant, down from 5.9% in the second quarter, and the lowest level since 2006, according to Reis Inc., a real-estate data service…

Effective rents, which include landlord discounts in some markets, rose to $1,004 a month in the third quarter, up 2.3% from a year earlier, according to Reis. Of the 82 major markets that Reis tracks, only Las Vegas saw rents decline compared with a year earlier.

Forecasters say rent increases could slow or stop if the economy weakens further. But for now, these trends are producing outsized returns for real-estate companies, compared with other commercial-property classes…

The apartment sector has been insulated from high unemployment because it continues to inhabit a sweet spot in the economy created by demographic factors and the anemic home sales market. The U.S. is expected to see 1.5 million rental household formations in 2011, a record year, according to Green Street. (emphasis editor’s)

The main reason for the rental increase is a faster-than-expected decline in the home ownership rate, according to Green Street. The nation’s rate came in at 66% in the second quarter, down from 66.4% in the first quarter and 66.9% in the second quarter a year ago, according to the Census Bureau.

Some industry watchers say the rate could fall to as low as 60%. Each 1% decline in the home-ownership rate represents the movement of one million households to rentals…

If another recession hits and unemployment rises, millions of renters could likely double up or move home with their parents, putting a crimp in demand. “People just aren’t going to write bigger and bigger rent checks into infinity,” warns Andrew McCulloch a Green Street analyst.

The high rents are also being supported by a lack of new supply. Developers have scrambled to launch new projects, but most of them won’t start hitting the market until late 2012. Roughly 8,200 new apartments hit the market in the third quarter, the second lowest number since Reis began tracking data in 1999.