Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Rentals Rule

With the recent news that three of New Haven's newest and fanciest apartment complexes have changed hands at eye-popping prices, it's clear that New Haven has a presence on the national scene for investment potential.  Investors from other places, mainly those priced out of the NY market, have entered our arena with enthusiasm.  Most are institutional investors, who are in it for the long haul, and that shows a confidence in our market that should help us all.

New Haven has, for several years, been at or near the bottom of national lists of rental vacancies, getting as low at one point as 1.5%.  The current situation is not all that different--less than 2% overall, with slightly over 3% vacancy rates at the upper end. Almost every high-end unit that has come onto the market in the past few years is occupied, something that many people doubted would happen.

The really interesting aspect, however, is that the units existing before are still full, and in demand.  In addition, the traditional graduate student housing on Orange Street and environs was expected to fall off in value, as more attractive options lured away those with money, but we haven't seen that occur.  There is still very strong demand for multifamily units in the East Rock neighborhood, as well as in other parts of the city.  Finally, despite all the rental interest, there are not enough condo units to satisfy the demand.  Part of that is because lenders are shying away from financing condominium projects, and that decreases new supply, but, whatever the reason, certain complexes are still in constant demand.

What all of this means is that the number of renters continues to grow.  Some are coming from increasing population, although New Haven is still far from its 1940s peak population.  Student demand is also growing, even as Yale continues to add to its own supply of housing.  We do have a large immigrant influx, and they may be pushing former renters into new areas and developments.  It also appears that New Haven may be achieving its goal of attracting young workers from around the State, who live here for the nightlife and cultural aspects, then commute by train or car to other environs for work.

There is also a heavy influence of baby boomer renters, those who previously owned large homes in the suburbs here or elsewhere, and are downsizing to rentals with amenities.  The traditional stigma against renting, when you could afford to buy, seems to be rapidly disappearing, and the convenience and portability of lifestyle is more important than the tax deduction to many.  We could easily see more of this group if their McMansions in the suburbs would sell more quickly, allowing them to move into the urban core.  While most experts believe that those with young children will eventually choose suburban venues, it does appear that walkability scores may continue to keep those families in cities longer.

What to tell investors?  It's a seller's market for multifamilies and developments, as well as for shovel-ready projects, although there are still opportunities for local people to guess the paths of gentrification, and use them to advantage.  But what about what usually follows?  We haven't yet seen the office and retail that so often accompanies housing, or even precedes it.  While office is years from recovery, and may never reach the pre-telecommuting heights, retail should still be in the wings as a growth opportunity.

And all of this is cause for New Haveners, and those in the region it supports, to rejoice!