Contributed by Dave Sorter, Axiometrics
The expected moderation that occurred in the national apartment market during the past two quarters was the result of many factors – a wealth of supply entering the market, regional economic conditions and unsustainably high rent growth among them.
When annual effective rent growth and occupancy rates decline, it can be difficult to remember that just a few months earlier, the sector was in the midst of its strongest period since at least the start of the Great Recession.
Just as a presidential election is, with the Electoral College, the aggregation of 51 state/federal-district elections, national apartment performance is a compendium of hundreds of metro markets throughout the country. Obviously, larger cities have more apartments and have greater weight in the national averages.
The recent moderation has been largely the result of sharp decline in many of the largest metros in the nation. Some of them, such as Houston, have suffered from economic woes combined with a glut of new supply. Others, such as San Francisco and Denver, also experienced lower job growth near the end of 2015, but had such high effective rent growth that it had to decrease eventually.
And the largest market, New York, has also sustained significant rent-growth decline in the past half-year. Other very large metros, such as Atlanta, Dallas and Los Angeles, have neither increased nor decreased significantly. In fact, no really primary market is in the fast lane of growth.
As rent growth in these metros declined or maintained, however, the metrics started surging in smaller markets. Sacramento has seen an exceptional increase in annual effective rent growth in the past six months, and Salt Lake City has made its way into the top 10 among metros with the highest rent growth. Long Island and Newark are no longer playing second fiddle to the Big Apple.
A look at year-to-date effective rent growth in some of these markets tells the story of how some larger markets have moderated while some smaller markets have strengthened.
San Francisco, for example, combined with Bay Area neighbors Oakland and San Jose to comprise three of the five highest rent-growth metros for much of the first half of 2015. But the chart below shows that, come September, 2015 YTD rent growth for San Francisco apartments dropped from the second-highest figure since the recession to the lowest. As of March, 2016 YTD rent growth also is at a post-recession low.
Denver had a similar end to 2015, finishing with its lowest YTD rent growth of the recovery – though 5.6% was fairly robust. Things were looking the same through the first two months of 2016, with negative YTD rent growth in January, though a strong March rebound moved Denver apartments out of the post-recession basement.
Houston apartments, still sustaining minimum job growth as a result of a weakened oil industry, had negative YTD rent growth in March for the first time since the recession ended. This following a 2015 that beat out only 2010 among the post-downturn years.
Sacramento is on the other end of the spectrum. After experiencing some lean years during the early part of this decade, this metro’s 2014 and 2015 were the strongest of this cycle. This year is on the same track, with March’s YTD effective rent growth for Sacramento apartments some 80 bps above the next-highest March, in 2012.
And while Salt Lake City’s March 2016 YTD rent growth is the third-highest of the post-recession period, it was the highest since 2013 and continued the trend started in the second half of 2015, when the metro avoided the common fourth-quarter dip and climbed to tie for the highest year-end rate of the decade for Salt Lake City apartments.
With annual effective rent growth either declining or relatively stable in most major markets over the past half-year, it follows that the national market would mimic that trend. The smaller markets are somewhat offsetting the moderation of their bigger brothers and are on pace to continue to do so, as national rent growth is forecast to average 3.5-4% this year.
Dave Sorter is an award-winning journalist who spent 30 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining Axiometrics. He oversees all Axio blogs and newsletters and serves as senior editor of all Axio publications.