Trends & Observations:

Residential Market Rising Tide: Exploring Housing Demand in High Growth Markets

As we head into 2021, the U.S. current residential housing market and multifamily markets have remained resilient throughout the pandemic and we expect the same to be true for this coming year. Fueled by record-low mortgage rates, Millennial household formation and a general need for more space, the single-family housing market and housing demand has benefitted from a migratory trend out of urban centers to more suburban settings. However, the unexpected surge in housing demand for suburban homes has led to a tight and competitive residential housing market, likely turning some would-be first-time homebuyers into longer-term renters while they save for a home.

Figure 1: 30-Year Fixed Rate Mortgage

30-Year Fixed Rate Mortgage
30-Year Fixed Rate Mortgage

As the bulk of the Millennial generation begins to enter the 35-44 age bracket (key homebuyer age), housing demand for entry-level homes will continue to be strong, as new households are formed by this cohort made up of over 70mm people.1 While this demand driver has been present for some time, we believe we’re seeing an acceleration of homebuying among this generation due to the pandemic driving them out of urban centers to a more suburban lifestyle. The demand has been so strong that some homebuilders started withholding inventory in the second half of 2020 to ensure they had enough to sell in 2021; many homebuilders are facing a dearth of finished lot inventory relative to demand heading into 2021. Given this, we would expect homebuilders to have healthy profit margins in 2021 – assuming costs don’t increase at the same rate as home prices. Due to the supply-constrained housing market, coupled with record-low mortgage rates, the U.S. saw material home price appreciation (“HPA”) in the 12 months ended November 2020; according to the Burns Home Value Index,2 HPA is up 11% year-over-year and isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.

The demand void in the multifamily space left behind by Millennial homebuyers is projected to be absorbed by Gen Z as they are expected to behave similarly to Millennials in regard to anticipated household formation happening later in life and less financial priority on an initial home purchase. While the Millennial population is currently the largest, Gen Z is close behind with approximately 68mm people,1 propelling sufficient demand in the for-rent space. With the current single-family supply constraints and accelerated HPA, we expect the trend of longer-term renters to continue through this generational transition. Short-term impacts of the pandemic have driven demand and rent growth in lower-cost Sunbelt cities, which may continue depending on the long-term adaptation of remote work environments. Although there are some mitigating factors muting some of the affordability issues – such as HUD recently announcing material increases to FHA limits in December and the Biden administration proposing up to a $15k first-time homebuyer credit at the time of closing – the current housing market conditions likely make a home purchase unachievable in the near term for some hopeful first-time homebuyers. While it is expected that the new administration will continue to pass record stimulus packages in 2021, the quantum of stimulus contemplated will likely help keep people in their current living situation versus helping them buy a home.

Figure 2: Population by Age Cohort

Population By Age
Population By Age

Looking at the well documented migratory trend of people moving out of high-cost of living states such as California and New York to many of the Sunbelt states, we took a deeper dive into four markets (Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Houston and Tampa Bay) across the country that have been the beneficiaries of this migration. As jobs are created across the Sunbelt from companies establishing a larger presence, both residential and multifamily will see the benefits from the stratification of the jobs that are being created and/or relocated.

Propelled by a strong, newly diversified job market and relative affordability, Phoenix has been one of the fastest-growing markets in the country in recent years, adding 239 residents a day in 2019.1 While Phoenix has historically been an epicenter of booms and busts in the housing market, the metro made strides in diversifying its economy in the years since the Great Financial Crisis. An area that was heavily reliant on hospitality, retail and construction is now dubbed “Silicon Desert” due to its large concentration of technology jobs. These jobs span several employment categories, from sales/back office to programming, engineering and manufacturing, but the end result is a more stable, diversified economy driving long-term sustainable housing demand. The Phoenix market was hit hard early in COVID-19 with unemployment jumping up to 12.5% in April of 2020 from 3.8% in February. While still below peak, the market has made a material recovery with unemployment down to 7.2%.3 In addition to large technology and manufacturing giants such as Intel (10,300 employees) and Boeing (4,700 employees), Phoenix is also now home to several high-growth software companies such as Lyft, PayPal, Yelp, GoDaddy and ZipRecruiter. Employment openings in the sector continue to expand, as Phoenix recently announced another 2,000+ technology jobs in 2020 alone.

Figure 3: Phoenix 2020 Technology Job Announcements

Another source of housing demand is the in-migration of residents from high-cost of living areas looking for an affordable alternative.  According to the U.S. Census, the top three counties relocating to Phoenix from 2014-18 are all from Southern California: Los Angeles (12.6% of net residents), Orange County (9.6% of net residents) and San Diego (7.0% of net residents).1 Presumably, these residents are seeking a similar climate and lifestyle but cheaper housing options, favorable tax rates and a business-friendly environment. Home prices and the rent-to-income ratios of all three counties are significantly higher than Phoenix and exemplify why residents are drawn to the area. It is worth noting that in November of 2020 Prop 208 passed, which increased the income tax on incomes above $250,000, or $500,000 for joint filers, from 4.5% to 8.0%. While this tax increase may not affect most new migrants, it may have some potential small business owners looking at alternative options.

Figure 4: Affordability Index: Phoenix vs. Top Net Migration Counties

Historically, single-family home values have pronounced peaks and troughs in Phoenix, with home values dropping 51% from 2006-2011 as a result of the GFC.4 As the data below shows, home prices began to exhibit a significant recovery in 2012 and 2013, averaging two consecutive years of ~20% growth, and then proceeded to moderately outpace the national average every year thereafter. Through this period of substantial growth, pricing has reached a 24% premium to the previous peak.2

Figure 5: Phoenix vs. National Year-Over-Year Home Price Growth

Figure 6: Phoenix vs. National Year-Over-Year Rent Growth

From a multifamily perspective, after a significant 9% drop in 2009, rent growth experienced over ten straight years of positive increases. This growth can also be attributed to demand (household growth) outpacing supply (new construction starts) beginning in 2010; however, the impact on rents is delayed compared to the immediate sharp increases in single-family home values, as Phoenix didn’t begin outpacing the national average until 2014 and 2015.4

An increase in high-wage jobs and a growing population has led to gentrification trends throughout Phoenix and created a surge in demand for affordable housing markets to support the workforce in the outskirts of the city. Over the past 10 years, the areas with the highest rent growth were the outlying suburban submarkets to the North (Deer Valley), West (Glendale, Peoria) and East (Mesa/East Valley), each of which achieved cumulative rent growth of 65% or greater since 2011 according to CoStar. For comparison, more established submarkets such as Downtown Phoenix and Scottsdale achieved cumulative rent growth of 34% and 41%, respectively, during the same time period.5

Although growth trends appear to be slowing, Phoenix has continued to demonstrate a healthy demand for single-family and multifamily housing throughout the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 when compared to the national average. Single-family and multifamily starts finally outpaced forecasted household growth in 2020, leading to more tempered rent and home price growth. The increasing supply could be beneficial for Phoenix as the area comes closer to a market equilibrium and will lay the foundation for a comparatively affordable housing market over the next five years as the job market continues to diversify. If migration trends persist, driven by coastal residents flocking to an affordable alternative, the market could exceed projected growth – further straining supply levels, leading to continued price appreciation and rent growth.

Figure 7: Household Growth vs. Supply

While Salt Lake City is a smaller metro with a population of 1.2mm, the area has seen a surge in population growth due to strong migration and high birth rates. Utah reports the highest birth rate in the country with 14.6 live births per 1,000 total population, compared to the U.S. average of 11.4 per 1,000.6 This population growth is coupled with impressive employment growth, with over 150k jobs created over the past 10 years; a 25% increase. Oxford Economics’ outlook for the MSA for 2020-2024 is outpacing the Southwest and Mountains regional average, with 56k additional jobs projected (8% increase) which is comparable to Phoenix and Portland with finance & real estate forecasted to be the greatest contributor followed by business services.7 Much of the job growth is driven by relocations and new offices attracting quality talent from local universities or coastal migrants looking for a more suburban lifestyle with outdoor accessibility. Similar to other focus markets, Salt Lake City provides a lower cost of operation for many businesses and higher quality of life for employees. Through this growth period, median household income has continued to improve with 2019 median income of $80k compared to the national average of $66k, which is a 4% CAGR from 2015-2019, outpacing the national average of 3%. With continued job growth, the market maintained an unemployment rate under 5% from 2013 to 2019 reaching a low of 2.5% in 2019 from a peak of 7.7% in 2010.8 The metro has not been immune to the effects of COVID-19 with 2020 unemployment forecasted to be 5.2%; however, the market recovery is expected to outperform the national average of 8.1%.9

Figure 8: GDP Growth Outlook, 2020-24

The single-family market has historically been strong with a homeownership rate of 69% over the last five years and one of the highest homeownership rates in the country. Additionally, Green Street noted that the local culture values homeownership, which is one of the drivers for an above-average homeownership rate. Given the overall growth in the employment base and the relatively supply-constrained market, home prices in the metro from 2015-2019 increased by a 7.2% CAGR, far exceeding the national average of 4.7%. With respect to supply, over the last ten years, single-family housing starts averaged 3.7k each year, with 2020 forecasted to have 5.3k housing starts, a 12% increase from 2019. Looking forward, new home construction is forecasted to continue to grow at an average of 6k each year for 2021-2024.10

Figure 9: Salt Lake City Home Price Values

Salt Lake City Home Price Values
Salt Lake City Home Price Values
Traditionally a single-family home market, with significant land availability, the metro has a smaller multifamily footprint with less growth relative to single-family homes. Based on an October 2020 Green Street market report, there are currently 96k units with market occupancy just under 96%, ranking 25th nationally. Additionally, from 2016-2020, the CAGR for asking rent was 2.1%, below the national average of 2.5%, as the market has been absorbing material new supply in the downtown market. With a burgeoning population, calls for rent control have made their way to the state level; however, the Utah government rejected a bill in 1Q20 that would have given cities the option to implement rent control, providing a major win for developers and investors in the metro. The rent-to-income ratio has historically been 19%, but over the last two years has trended downward to 17% as median income growth has outpaced rent growth and is forecasted to remain at that level through 2024. With rent-to-income ratios significantly below historical national averages of ~25% and further increasing home prices, will there be a shift to renting as the market densifies or will historical norms continue and further single-family development occur given the ample land availability on the periphery of Salt Lake City?8,11 Given the ascending overall economic performance over the last five years and the projected growth through 2024 led by higher-paying jobs in the finance and real estate industries, there are reasons to be bullish on the residential market. In the near-term, the single-family market will continue to see strong demand and, if the population growth continues, rents should begin to rise at a faster pace in the urban core. While rent control has been rejected to-date, it is worth monitoring as Salt Lake City becomes denser and the market absorbs existing supply and rents escalate.
The Houston metro has been hit particularly hard in 2020. In addition to the COVID-19 pandemic, the region, which is a hub for all aspects of the energy/oil sector, has faced slumping energy prices. Houston is heavily dependent on energy employment creating a boom/bust environment for the single-family and multifamily sector. At the beginning of 2020, the energy industry drove a third of Houston’s GDP and directly employed a quarter-million workers.12 According to JLL, energy tenants make up 21% of the total office tenants in the market.13 The WTI price per barrel of oil dropped to $16.94 in April 2020 when the pandemic hit and Saudi/Russian oil supply increased, causing a spur of layoffs and bankruptcies. And to further worsen Houston’s energy matters, in his first hours in office, President Joe Biden revoked the construction permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which would have carried oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast. While Houston’s exposure to energy prices continue to be a headwind,  major upticks in professional & business services and education and health services are driving new job growth. Rice University’s ION project is anticipated to serve as a “nucleus for innovation” in such fields as data science and digital technologies and gives hope for the city’s need to diversify from energy.14 With 2020-2024 GDP growth forecasted to average 1.8%, 2020-2024 population growth forecasted to average 1.7% and employment growth forecasted to grow 0.9% annually,10 there are bright spots pointing to a stronger future for the Houston market. These projections, coupled with the low cost of living and the business-friendly environment, provide confidence in a positive long-term outlook for the Houston multifamily and single-family markets.

Figure 10: Houston GDP Growth

GDP Growth
GDP Growth
While the Houston multifamily market struggled through 2020, the single-family residential market has had a record year. According to MLS of the Houston Association of Realtors,15 there were 7,990 single-family homes sold in November compared to 6,359 a year earlier and “the single-family home average price rose 15%, reaching a historic high of $341,765 while the median price increased 12% to $270,000 – the second-highest level of all time. Year-to-date sales are currently 9% ahead of 2019’s record pace.”15 This historic sales pace occurred in a year where, as of November, new listings rose only 1.6% year-over-year resulting in a current inventory of 2.2-months’ supply compared to the national inventory of 2.5-months’ supply.15 Given the current trend of suburban migration, coupled with historically low interest rates and low inventory, the single-family residential market could continue its strong performance.

Prior to the pandemic, Houston’s multifamily saw annual rent growth averaging 1.9% from 2009-2019 compared to the U.S. national average of 2.8%. This underperformance was partially due to a soft 2016 in which rents decreased 2.4% across the region while rents across the U.S. increased 3.1%; however, in August 2017, the market saw a 1.7% jump in rental rates the first month following Hurricane Harvey due to the decreased supply of housing caused by the damage from the hurricane.16 The market has since corrected as 2020 continued to lag the national average with rents falling 2.6% compared to 1.1%. Due to the number of units under construction, as well as the 4Q20 market vacancy of 6.9%, AxioMetrics is anticipating another lackluster year from Houston in 2021 with rents projected to decrease by 0.4% compared to the national average of a 0.7% increase.17 As of the end of August, The Greater Houston Partnership estimated there were about 40k apartments under construction and to absorb these units, the region would need to create another ~240k jobs.18 The boom/bust nature of the market makes Houston’s forecast difficult to predict, but without a big shift in energy growth it’s likely Houston’s multifamily rent growth will trail the U.S. average in the near-term.

Figure 11: Houston Daily Multifamily Rents

Houston Daily Multifamily Rents
Houston Daily Multifamily Rents

Figure 12: Houston Rent Growths

As the Houston market continues its progression of diversifying its employment base, it should start to become a more stable investment opportunity that is less susceptible to the volatility of energy prices. It is tough to compare to the diversified economies or tech hubs of Dallas and Austin, but with forecasted GDP and population growth, there are tailwinds pointing to a stronger future for the Houston market. While the near-term outlook on the multifamily market may be a little bleaker, 2021 multifamily starts are forecasted to decrease 11.8% in 2021 which will potentially provide time for the current/planned units to be absorbed and rents to start growing again. One bright spot may be the single-family housing market. While 2020 has been a record year from a home sales perspective, 2021-2024 housing starts are forecasted to increase on average 4.8% annually, which although skewed by a 13.2% increase in 2021,10 still suggests a level of long-term confidence in the market and will help balance the supply-constraints and therefore, overall affordability.
Tampa Bay is the third-most populous city in Florida, with an economy mostly fueled by finance, real estate, business services, wholesale and retail, education and health. Due to COVID-19, Tampa Bay lost approximately 176k jobs and as of November 2020, has since regained ~102k to date. This ~58% job recovery is slightly above the national average of ~56%.19 With a continuous in-migration particularly from the Baby Boomers in the Northeast, Tampa Bay has seen growth in its residential real estate market, which has been a strong contributor to the city’s economic development over the past decade. Although the single-family market looks strong in the coming years – partly attributable to this projected migration – the multifamily outlook does not look as optimistic. The affordability of single-family homes and the potential oversupply of multifamily units create a more cautious outlook for this sector. Despite Tampa Bay’s heavy reliance on local services, the area is beginning to diversify its industries into higher-value services such as health and life science. This trend is driven by large institutions in the market such as the Moffit Cancer Center and Bristol-Myers Squibb, as well as the anticipated influx of the Baby Boomer generation into Tampa Bay that is poised to support healthcare growth. Additionally, Strategic Property Partners, a joint venture between Jeff Vinik and Bill Gates, is transforming downtown Tampa by constructing the 50-acre, $3.5bn Water Street Tampa project. When completed, Water Street will include 9msf of development, including apartments, condos, restaurants, offices and retail and educational space. About 5msf of that is under construction or already open, including the waterfront dining destination Sparkman Wharf, the University of South Florida’s Morsani College of Medicine and most recently the JW Marriott.  The $200mm-plus JW Marriott Tampa Water Street hotel opened in December 2020 and will serve as the Superbowl HQ in February 2021 as the home team hosts for the first time in NFL history, which should further bolster leisure and hospitality jobs.20
Tampa Skyline
Tampa Skyline
According to Green Street, Tampa Bay is forecasted to experience 0.5% job growth from 2020 to 2024, which ranks 19th out of the top 50 MSAs. The city’s 2019 unemployment rate of 3.1% was below the national average of 3.7%, while the forecasted rate in 2024 of 3.0% is well below the national projection of 4.2%.10

Figure 13: Tampa vs. U.S. Projected Unemployment

Tampa Unemployment
Tampa Unemployment
From 2021 to 2024, Tampa Bay is projected to see an average annual positive net migration of ~40.5k per year, the 8th highest out of the 413 markets tracked by Oxford Economics. Of this 40.5k average migration, approximately 11.9% is attributable to the Millennial population.10 Florida’s affordability and tax benefits as compared to the rest of the country have already prompted large firms such as Elliot Management to move south and relocate to Palm Beach, with Goldman Sachs considering a similar move. Although Tampa Bay will most likely not be able to attract financial companies of similar caliber, it is still benefiting from this migration with local expansions of companies like Raymond James. The company remains committed to the Tampa area with over 3,500 employees in its St. Petersburg headquarters. Tampa Bay’s homeownership rate of 68.0% as of 2019 is above the U.S. average of 64.6% and is projected to remain steady through 2024, while the national average is forecasted to dip slightly to 64.4%. Tampa Bay’s strong growth in median household income from $51k in 2010 to $80k in 2019 has contributed to the higher homeownership rate as it represents a 4.5% positive CAGR during this timeframe – above the national average of 3.9%. Although the high homeownership in Tampa Bay is attributed to the positive migration of retirees, the overall affordability of homes is another driving factor. With the average home price at $348k as of 2019 and continued economic diversification,10 Tampa Bay is an attractive option for Millennials looking to move away from the large city life and into the home-buying space. Given the affordable nature of homeownership and the general demographic of Tampa Bay, the multifamily market is soft relative to other sunbelt cities. According to CoStar, 20k units were delivered in the last three years and another 9k units are under construction, which will represent the largest supply wave in the past three decades for Tampa  Bay. These ~29k additional units represent an increase of ~16.5% on the previous inventory levels. The current vacancy rate is approximately 6.4% and is expected to increase to ~7.0% by 2024 with these new deliveries.21 As evident from the chart below, the expected market rent growth for Tampa Bay is not projected to significantly outpace the national average, mainly attributable to this increase in supply.

Figure 14: Market Rent Growth

Market Rent Per Unit
Market Rent Per Unit

Tampa Bay’s further diversifying economy, affordability and positive migration forecast paints a positive outlook for the market. Although COVID-19 has negatively impacted Tampa Bay, its strong market fundamentals have positioned it to recover quickly compared to the rest of the country. Single-family residential, specifically, is projected to show an increase in homeownership over the next four years as retirees move south permanently, and Millennials take advantage of the affordability and income growth of Tampa Bay. Multifamily may have more of an uphill battle given the affordability of homeownership and the influx of new supply entering the market putting pressure on rental rates.

While the overall effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on asset classes such as office and retail is yet to be determined, it’s clear that people are voting with their feet and choosing to live in more suburban settings and lower costs housing markets – many of which are located in the Sunbelt. This migration is positive for these cities initially; however, an influx of new residents does come at an expense, as cost of living can swell and the existing infrastructure, not built to withstand the population increases, can be overwhelmed. Austin is a great example of the potential impacts of population growth with a significant increase of 32% between 2010-2020, representing a CAGR of 3% due to the influx of company relocations to the market. This resulted in a HPA CAGR of 6.6% and a rent growth CAGR of 2.3% from 2010-2020.5 Additionally, Austin now ranks among the worst in the country as it pertains to traffic and has become much more expensive than other high growth housing markets that are attracting new residents.

It remains to be seen how long these low-cost states and cities remain relatively cheap, given the increased residential demand relative to supply and ultimately where the revenue comes from to pay for the additional infrastructure that will inevitably need to be built.

Sources

1 U.S. Census Bureau, December 2020

2 John Burns Regional Analysis and Forecast, December 2020

3 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 2021

4 FHFA, U.S. Census Bureau, Oxford Economics, December 2020

5 CoStar, January 2021

6 Utah.gov, December 2020

7 Oxford Economics, “City Economic Forecast”, September 2020

Oxford Economics, U.S. Census Bureau, December 2020

Oxford Economics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, December 2020

10 Oxford Economics, December 2020

11 CoStar, December 2020

12 Texas Monthly, “Houston Is Not Prepared for the Oil Bust”

13 JLL, “2020 Energy Outlook: Operating in a pandemic world”, November 2020

14 Rice.edu, “Transformation of Sears building into The Ion begins in May”, January 2019

15 MLS of the Houston Association of Realtors, “Houston Housing Blazes Its Way Through November”, December 2020

16 CoStar, Houston Daily Rents, January 2021

17 Axiometrics, December 2020

18 Greater Houston Partnership, “Economic Outlook: Houston Office, Multifamily Face Tough Road, Single-Family Housing on the Rise”, August 2020

19 BLS, MSA Payroll and Household Survey, November 2020

20 TampaBay.com, “Water Street Tampa’s First Luxury Condos Hit Market, starting at $2 million”, December 2020

21 CoStar, “Multi-Family Market Report: Tampa – FL”, November 2020