Apartment retention rates are soaring back to lockdown-era highs, as more renters are determining that staying in place is often the best and most affordable option – given a remarkable lack of alternatives for all types of housing and for all price points. The share of renters choosing to renew expiring leases in August 2021 surged 4 percentage points year-over-year, the largest increase on record. That brought the overall retention rate to 57.2%, just shy of the historical peaks set during the height of the lockdowns in April and May 2020.
August brought yet another set of new records for U.S. apartment rent growth and occupancy. Effective asking prices for new renters jumped 1.8% just in the month of August, driving asking prices up 10.3% year-over-year. The country’s average monthly rent for new residents just moving in reached $1,582. Rents also are up significantly for those staying in place when initial leases expire, but the pace of price growth is slower than for those moving from one property to another. Those signing renewal leases in August experienced price increases averaging 5.2%.
Apartment demand in Texas markets has been exceptional, but so has construction of new units, resulting in stubbornly limited occupancy, despite all the leasing activity. Apartment demand has been solid across the Lone Star State, with three of the big five Texas markets ranking among the nation’s best absorption performers in the year-ending 2nd quarter. But these markets have been on developer’s radars for a while now, and have delivered new units as fast as renters could rent them.
As we predicted last month, the decrease in annual building permit levels in June foretold a decrease in annual starts in July. U.S. housing starts decreased by 7% to 1.534 million units in July after a 5.3% decrease in building permits the month before according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The seasonally adjusted annual rate for total residential building permits in July was at 1.635 million units, up moderately (+2.6%) compared to June, so look for starts to tick back up next month.
With the nation’s occupancy tightening to record levels – an incredible 96.9% as of July 2021 – many of the nation’s markets are seeing subsequently strong rent change. Overall, the nation’s annual effective asking rent change as of July landed at 8.3%, the biggest increase since at least 2010. As 2021 progresses, apartment operators are shifting their focus towards budgeting for 2022. As one might expect, there have been a lot of questions about 2021’s strength and whether that momentum could carry into 2022.
While the U.S. apartment market as a whole is posting record-setting occupancy and rent growth, performances generally remain just lukewarm in high-rise properties. There’s certainly improvement in the stats for high-rise projects viewed relative to what was seen in the 2020 to early 2021 slump, but the results for towers are trailing the achievements realized in mid-rise and garden properties across several key measures of performance.
Several of the top 10 markets for job gains in the U.S. added more jobs in the year-ending July than they did in June, according to data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This uptick in job gains in half of the top 10 markets slowed the downward trend of combined gains that we have seen over the past several months. Still, we expect combined annual job gains to return closer to historical norms (between 500,000 and 600,000 jobs) among the top 10 markets by late 2021 or early 2022.
Big shifts in U.S. apartment construction patterns that some anticipated when COVID-19 first emerged never materialized, leaving today’s ongoing building totals just slightly below the volumes seen in late 2019 and early 2020. Furthermore, while there are some meaningful shifts in activity on the metro or neighborhood level, those movements mostly seem to be reflections of local influences, rather than big-picture changes.
Eviction bans are appealing in concept. It makes sense: Evictions are bad, so let’s stop it from happening. But reality is more complicated – and the collateral damage includes the very same people who policymakers are sincerely trying to protect. In the darkest moments of COVID-19 last year, policymakers from city halls to the White House rushed to introduce unprecedented eviction moratoriums. Those bans were ostensibly about limiting spread of the virus
The performance momentum seen in the nation’s apartment market continued in July, when both rent growth and occupancy reached new all-time highs. Effective asking rents jumped 2.2% just in the month of July, driving prices up 8.3% year-over-year. That annual rent growth shot past the previous record set in the 2000-2001 time period. The country’s average monthly rent has reached $1,549.
As the national landscape for apartment performance improves, the forecast in the trio of South Florida markets looks sunny. While Miami and Fort Lauderdale report strong occupancy and rent change, West Palm Beach is the clear darling of the region as of June. By some metrics, the three markets report very similar performances. As of June, occupancy across Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach varied by only 30 basis points (bps). Although occupancy looks similar on the surface, West Palm Beach has showed the strongest improvement, climbing 340 bps since last June.
U.S. apartment construction volumes are elevated, and a handful of familiar markets make up the bulk of activity. As of 2nd quarter 2021, over 623,500 units were under construction in the 150 largest U.S. apartment markets. This marks the 11th consecutive quarter of apartment construction activity exceeding 600,000 units. While the latest construction number doesn’t quite match up to the over 690,000 units that were underway a little over a year ago in 1st quarter 2020, it still is one of the highest construction numbers on record.
As the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and recession continues, annual gains in employment that had spiked in May are beginning to temper toward more normal levels. The U.S. gained 6.3 million jobs in the year-ending June, according to data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This pace is down from the 8.6 million jobs gained in the year-ending May, and below the 10 million jobs added in April.
Apartment demand rebounded in the nation’s gateway markets in 2nd quarter, after fundamentals in these regions suffered throughout much of the past year. U.S. apartments saw a burst in renter demand in 2nd quarter 2021, logging higher absorption than the nation has seen since RealPage began tracking the market back in the early 1990s. While the Sun Belt markets – areas that have proven resilient throughout much of the COVID-19 pandemic
For the first time, Fall 2021 pre-leasing surpassed the year-ago rate in June, a positive sign that suggests students are preparing for a business-as-usual academic year. From May to June, pre-leasing jumped 8.6%, the fifth strong preleasing rate jump in as many as months. As of June, 76.9% of beds at the core 175 universities tracked by RealPage have been leased for the Fall 2021 semester. That rate comes above June 2020’s pre-lease rate of 75.3%, marking the first time this season in which pre-leasing stood above last year’s figure.
First the good news in student housing: after a brief stumble earlier in the pre-lease season, rent growth is back on more solid (though still modest) footing as of May. Though Fall 2021 appears to be more usual with in-person learning, some pandemic-era trends are still in place. The worst of the pandemic-induced hangover appears to be in the rearview, but one years-long trend has been altered at least for the short term. Properties closest to campus have previously been the strongest performers in terms of rent growth, but now drag down overall rent change.
With apartment shortages seen across much of the country, rents are climbing at the fastest pace seen in decades. Effective asking rents jumped 2% just in the month of June, driving up prices 6.3% year-over-year. That annual rent growth is the biggest 12-month hike recorded since early 2001. The country’s average monthly rent has reached $1,513, topping the $1,500 mark for the first time ever. Pushing rents upward, occupancy is now is in line with the early 2000s all-time highs. Today’s rate is at 96.5%, a figure last registered in the last half of calendar 2000.
Renter demand for U.S. apartments soared to an unprecedented level in 2nd quarter 2021. The number of occupied apartments in the nation’s 150 largest metros climbed by 219,909 units, the biggest quarterly increase seen in the RealPage, Inc. database that goes back to the early 1990s. Illustrating just how drastically the world has changed over the past year, demand for apartments in 2nd quarter 2020 was limited to roughly 33,000 units, given that most households were in lockdown mode at that time.
With the surge of leasing activity in recent months, apartment operators are finding the marketplace is arguably as hot as it has ever been. New leases for individual apartments are going for premiums, with rents rising at the fastest rate in more than a decade. And the incredible momentum is happening just about everywhere, as 35 of the country’s 50 largest metros saw new lease trade-out hit the highest ever mark in May 2021. New lease trade-out, which measures the change in rents when one resident moves out and another moves into the same unit, came in at a staggering 11% for the month of May.
U.S. residential construction rebounded in May but remained below expectations. Total residential permits slipped 3% from April to 1.681 million units, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This is the lowest annual rate in the past seven months but is still about 35% higher than the permit levels from one year ago. Rising material and labor costs, along with high demand, are pushing new home prices up and weakening the confidence of home builders, according to the National Association of Home Builders.