The U.S. employment recovery accelerated in May, but recent gains were still below economists’ expectations. Employers added almost 560,000 jobs in May, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). April’s disappointing gains were revised up to 278,000 jobs from the initially reported 266,000 jobs and March’s data was revised up by 15,000 jobs to 785,000 jobs gained as the factors hindering a stronger jobs recovery continue to be debated.
U.S. apartment rents and occupancy are climbing rapidly in 2021, and May’s performance results show a continuing acceleration of momentum. Effective asking rents for new leases jumped 1.7% during the month, taking annual change to 4.2%. The last time annual rent growth topped 4% was in the middle of 2016. It now wouldn’t be surprising if rent increases this year surpass the last economic cycle’s peak annual growth of 5.4% seen in 2015.
In a year when employees gained more freedom to work remotely, population shifts gravitated away from the expensive gateway areas, toward more affordable parts of the country. As a result, some of the nation’s big gateway markets saw dramatic population declines in 2020, while many Sun Belt markets were magnets for in-migration. Weakening performance among the nation’s gateway apartment markets has been a common theme in the past year
The rise of remote work over the past year has allowed many office workers to relocate, and a specific type of apartment market seems to have benefited from this change: beach towns. Among the core 150 markets tracked by RealPage, the list of areas with the most significant growth in occupied apartment units between April 2020 and April 2021 reads like a list of vacation hot spots.
All five of the major Texas apartment markets ranked among the nation’s worst occupancy performers in April – but it’s not as bad as it sounds. While Texas markets have a reputation for having lots of apartment demand, it’s typical for occupancy in the big five – Houston, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and Fort Worth – to run behind the national average.
Student housing operators must have breathed a collective sigh of relief in April. Or maybe they were just out of breath from processing all the signed leases that came through that month. Either way, they’re finding that the pace finally picked up after months of lethargy that came as students dropped their signing pens and sat on their hands until university administrators provided some clarity around their campus’ COVID-19 plans.
After apartments in U.S. gateway metros suffered big price cuts in much of 2020, effective asking rents are beginning to inch up again on a month-to-month basis. While the return of some momentum is encouraging, the path to full recovery of rents in these areas will be influenced quite a bit by how quickly properties can retreat from free rent periods for new leases.
As with conventional multifamily transactions in 2020, student housing investment softened during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, investment activity is coming back to the sector. In total, some $5.8 billion worth of assets traded in the year-ending March 2021, according to Real Capital Analytics.
While Chicago’s apartment sector has taken a big hit compared many other U.S. markets during the pandemic, the first signals of progress are beginning to appear. Rents jumped 1.4% and occupancy climbed 0.4 points month-over-month in April, the third straight month of improvement for both metrics. With that progress, Chicago is in better shape than other gateway markets like Bay Area, New York, Seattle and Boston.
The National Multifamily Housing Council reports that 80% of households living in the country’s stock of professionally managed market-rate apartment properties have paid rent for May as of the 6th. The latest results essentially match the 80.2% share of households making payments through May 6, 2020.
April proved to be the strongest month so far in the student housing sector’s Fall 2021 leasing season, bringing significant improvement in several key metrics. As schools announce reopening plans for the Fall 2021 academic year with a heavier emphasis on in-person learning, students and their parents appear more confident in committing to a lease.
In the affordable housing segment, rent collections in April 2021 surpassed April 2020 levels, reflecting widespread improvement in jobs, incomes, household savings and consumer spending. Nationally, affordable housing operators collected 86.9% of rent due in April by the end of the month. That’s up 50 basis points (bps) from April 2020. We’re still off 2.8 percentage points from 2019, which is consistent with recent trends.
U.S. apartment rent growth is back in a big way, now that the country’s reopening local economies are fueling household creation and stimulating robust demand for all types of housing.
Despite obvious challenges, the U.S. apartment demand performance was business-as-usual in the past year, aligning with the strong average absorption volumes the market was logging in the years before the COVID-19 pandemic downturn. The U.S. apartment market absorbed a healthy 316,000 units in the year-ending 1st quarter 2021.
Continuing the progress seen during the first few days of April, there’s a bump in the share of households meeting their rent obligations as of mid-month. The share of households paying April rent through the 13th is up by 0.9 percentage points from the year-earlier level, according to RealPage statistics from multifamily community owners and operators using the company’s property management software. Influencing the rise in collections, accelerating job growth is boosting the number of workers earning paychecks. Also, stimulus payments that were authorized under the American Rescue Plan are improving the financial situations of struggling households.
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.