Apartment resident retention rates went on a wild ride during the course of the past year or so, but the ability to hold onto renters at lease expiration now is returning to more typical levels for the country as a whole. Looking at what happened for leases that expired in 1st quarter 2021, 53.7% of households opted to stay in place, rather than move. That figure exactly matches results seen when averaging the share of households renewing their leases in the initial quarters of 2018, 2019 and 2020.
The National Multifamily Housing Council reports that 79.8% of households living in the country’s stock of professionally managed market-rate apartment properties have paid rent for April as of the 6th. The latest results are up by 1.8 percentage points from the 78% share of households making payments through April 6, 2020. However, collections have started off a bit slower in April than a month ago in March, when 80.4% of households paid in the initial week of the month. The findings come from the National Multifamily Housing Council’s Rent Payment Tracker research, compiling information provided by five technology firms, including RealPage, Inc., for more than 11 million market-rate apartment units.
U.S. apartment occupancy remains in great shape as of March 2021. In turn, healthy occupancy is allowing rents to climb in most places, although the differences in pricing power from metro to metro – or even from neighborhood to neighborhood – are unusually big. Apartment occupancy across the country’s 150 largest metros stands at 95.5% in March. There’s been minimal movement in results of late, with occupancy bouncing around between 95.2% and 95.8% since late 2019.
Renter demand for U.S. apartments proved solid in 1st quarter 2021, exceeding typical results for what’s normally a slow leasing period. Demand for 52,661 apartments registered across the country’s 150 largest metros during 1st quarter. That’s a solid performance given that leasing activity tends to be limited in the cold weather months. Product absorption in 1st quarter 2021 topped the year-earlier volume of 29,657 units by a sizable margin. Early 2021 demand more than doubled the average 1st quarter demand of about 25,000 units recorded over the previous 10 years.
Both multifamily building permits and starts were down in February compared to January’s annual rates. After growing for three consecutive months, building permits for the construction of multifamily projects faded after a major winter storm had widespread impacts across the United States. Permits fell to an annual level of 495,000 units in February 2021, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s monthly building permits survey. Although that was down 11.6% from last month, multifamily permitting is up 24.1% from February 2020. Multifamily starts slipped to 372,000 units in February, down 14.5% from January’s annual rate and down 27.6% from last year.
While the Biden Administration’s American Rescue Plan will provide a sizable block of funds to help households struggling to meet their rent obligations, a modest block of renters living in professionally managed apartments continue to fall behind on rent payments as of mid-March. The share of households paying March rent through the 13th is off by 2.8 percentage points from the year-earlier level, according to RealPage statistics from multifamily community owners and operators using the company’s property management software.
As with so many things, then, the U.S. apartment market entered a fundamentally different period one year ago today. Starting on March 12 and then proceeding through most of April, many apartment renters froze in place. Searches for new accommodations dropped drastically from year-earlier levels, and new-resident lease signings plunged. At the same time, retention of existing renter households at initial lease expiration soared to record heights. Said bluntly, people stopped moving and hunkered down. One year later, key stats for the apartment market are in much better shape than what was initially feared back in March 2020.
After deep rent cuts in some markets and notable growth in others, the affordability gap among the major California markets tightened in the past year. San Francisco usually claims the title of the most expensive apartment market in California by a very large margin. While the market still holds that rank, its lead has closed notably.
The National Multifamily Housing Council reports that 80.4% of households living in the country’s stock of professionally managed market-rate apartment properties have paid rent for March as of the 6th. The latest results are off by 4.1 percentage points from the 84.5% share of households making payments through March 6, 2020. These findings come from the National Multifamily Housing Council’s Rent Payment Tracker research, compiling information provided by five technology firms, including RealPage, Inc., for more than 11 million market-rate apartment units.
The U.S. saw job gains in February come in well above most economist’s expectations, signaling that the labor market could be emerging from both the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns and the big chill of the winter months. About 379,000 jobs were added to employers’ payrolls in February, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). And while December’s job loss of -227,000 was revised down to -306,000, the modest gain of 49,000 in January was bumped up to 166,000, resulting in a net increase of 38,000 for those two months.
Conventional apartment sales slowed amid the pandemic, but transactions surged in the last three months of 2020. Nearly $56.7 billion changed hands with roughly 2,300 conventional apartment properties transacted during 4th quarter 2020, according to Real Capital Analytics (RCA). That activity compares to $15.4 billion in transactions in 2nd quarter, following the onset of the pandemic. In 3rd quarter, RCA reported $26.3 billion in transactions.
Multifamily permits got quite a boost in January, surging to the highest level in nearly five years. Building permits for the construction of multifamily projects hit an annual level of 557,000 units in January 2021, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s monthly building permits survey. That is the highest annual permitting level since June 2015 and represents a 28% increase from December’s annual rate. Compared to last year, multifamily permitting was up by 7.9%.
Utah’s largest apartment market typically flies under the radar, but Salt Lake City’s steady pace of late is attracting more attention. Salt Lake City is among one of the few major markets that has avoided rent cuts during the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic. Only about a third of the nation’s 50 largest markets have avoided rent cuts since March 2020. As of December, rents in Salt Lake City were up 2.4% year-over-year.
Baltimore made the short list of apartment markets that have seen a big improvement during the unprecedented months of the COVID-19 health crisis. The metro saw one of the most improved occupancy rates in the nation in the last year, as occupancy improved 90 basis points (bps) to stand at 95.8%. Occupancy here is only a few ticks ahead of the national norm (95.5%), but even that gap is significant, given the market has run behind the U.S. norm by an average of about 60 bps point over the past four years.
Even as the economy is showing signs of slow improvement, unemployment insurance claims climbed to a four-week high. During the week-ending February 13 (the most recent reporting period), a total of 861,000 Americans filed initial jobless claims, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. That was an increase of 13,000 filings from the previous week’s level which was revised up by 55,000, from 793,000 to 848,000 claims.
Preliminary statistics for January show that average rents for U.S. apartments now are within a hair of the all-time highs seen in early 2020, as more individual metros are moving back into price growth mode. Across the country’s largest 150 metros, effective asking rents for new leases in January 2021 came in only 0.3% below the rates seen at the start of 2020, before the spread of COVID-19 and the resulting economic struggles led to rent cuts.
U.S. apartment rent collections as of late January continue to run moderately behind year-ago levels, according to the latest statistics from RealPage, Inc. Nationally, the share of households paying January’s rent through the 27th is off by 2.1 percentage points from year-earlier results. However, in some good news, there are signs of stabilization in the month-to-month data comparisons.
The National Multifamily Housing Council reports that 88.6% of households living in the country’s stock of professionally managed market-rate apartment properties have paid rent for January as of the 20th. The latest results are off by 2.5 percentage points from the 91.1% share of households making payments through January 20, 2020.
The student housing market is still feeling the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Pre-leasing for Fall 2021 got off to a slow start as students lack certainty about what the coming months will bring. The first three months of the Fall 2021 pre-leasing season lagged previous years. As of December, 26.8% of beds at the 175 core universities tracked by RealPage had been pre-leased, falling short of the year-ago rate of 33.3%.
After the U.S. apartment market turned to rent cuts amid the economic recession of 2020, how long will it take for rents to recover? At the end of 2020, annual effective asking rents for the nation overall were cut by 1.1%. Moving forward, however, pricing is expected to reach the breakeven point in the last half of 2021, and then growth could return, getting higher than 3% by the end of calendar 2022.