April 20th, 2014
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As Housing Slump Deepens, Rental Market Booms

by Rick Ackerman on August 1, 2011 12:01 am GMT · 33 comments

Vacancy rates here in Denver are as low as they’ve been in more than a decade, pushing rents sharply higher even as the housing market continues to slump.  This reportedly is happening all over the nation as tightened mortgage-lending rules move home ownership beyond the reach of millions of would-be buyers.  Many of today’s renters could probably have qualified for mortgages under the loose standards that obtained just a few years ago.  These days, however, even if they could get their hands on the money, a growing number of would-be homeowners are passing up the American dream in order to avoid the hassles and expense that come with it. So many are doing this, in fact, that they’ve even sparked bidding wars for rental units in Colorado and elsewhere.

We heard about this from the bank president of a local branch, a 27-year-old who owns eight rental properties and first became a homeowner himself when he was 19. He said that demand for rentals is so strong these days that he no longer even has to advertise properties to get them leased quickly; word of mouth is all that’s needed.  Run a rental ad on Craig’s list, he says, and in just a day or two you’re swamped with applications. And in numerous instance where apartment-hunters have shown up, only to learn that a unit had already been rented, they’ve offered to pay more for it — much more. Just recently, the banker said, a guy offered to pay $1450 a month for an apartment that had just been rented for $1300. Some are willing to sign extended leases for two, three or even five years, the banker said, but with demand so strong, there’s little incentive for landlords to accommodate.

“Honey, Let’s Sell the House…”

Who’s doing the renting?  All kinds of people, apparently. Many are waiting for real estate prices to bottom, the banker told us. Others have walked away from homes in foreclosure, making them less-than-ideal tenants in the eyes of landlords. About 60 percent of them would rent rather than buy no matter what, the banker told us.  “Most of them say they just don’t want to deal with the trouble and expense of owning a home.”  Of course, one of those “expenses” is the hit that homeowners take when their properties fall in value. Prices have dropped by nearly a third across the U.S. since peaking in 2006, and the trend seems likely to continue. (For the record, Rick’s Picks has long predicted that residential real estate values would eventually fall by at least 70 percent — and even more in the vacation-home market.)  Under the circumstances, it seems likely that landlords will enjoy a seller’s market for the foreseeable future.  We’d rent a home ourselves but for one small problem: a spouse who would be most unhappy if we were to say, “Honey, let’s sell the house and rent a palace, since it will ultimately be cheaper.”  Alas, what makes perfect economic sense can sometimes sound like a perfectly bad idea.

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{ 33 comments }

Benjamin August 1, 2011 at 2:52 am

Not be a smart alec, but I predict that the pro-rental folks will come out to brag about their life-long “success formula”, and make fools of themselves on the forum today (by never minding that the article indicates what I’ve for years been saying about “cheap” rentals; it’s destined to rise, folks!).

Actual ownership of property is the key to success. When you no longer need to pay a mortgage or rent, the costs are practically negligible by all the freed up money. Anything other than that, and you’re in for a life of spinning tires in the mud. Of course, that is why THE success factor has been engineered out of the equation…

mario cavolo August 1, 2011 at 3:44 am

Hi Ben!

When you say property in this context, are you saying “land” or a house?

Have to be careful about the costs of ownership, for example, back in the states annual property taxes, monthly dues and other costs can be quite prohibitive, while here in China property taxes are essentially zero and monthly fees much lower. This point, by the way, goes a very long way in explaining why real estate is a much more popular and common asset holding here.

Tying up money in an illiquid asset such as a home becomes an increasingly bad idea in a weakening economy. Its nice that your mortgage is deductible, but when you’re under or unemployed, that becomes irrelevant real fast. One may never see the light of day. Later, the trend will reverse once again to where renting looks more prohibitive on rising rental costs while housing prices finally decline to levels making ownership attractive again. As Rick well points out, we’re most likely still far away from that reversal.

Benjamin August 1, 2011 at 4:37 am

Hey Mario!

Yes, I was talking about both (or what passes as ownership, in this odd world).

Concerning property taxes… Of course, I can’t speak for all areas in my state, let alone country, but two months rent for a decent place in my area costs about as much as the property tax on an average home. Beleive me, when I need a new roof I’ll be able to pay cash up front, with plenty of saved money to spare!
The only other kicker (than reaching ownership) is the property tax can always go up for any number of reasons (but that can be said of rental property, too) , and _would_ go up if I did with the half lot what I wanted to.

“Tying up money in an illiquid asset such as a home becomes an increasingly bad idea in a weakening economy.”

But so is losing money to a lease and deposit. Unless, that is, one has a guaranteed income. By the way, this is why I know, in time, that another slew of new “fairness” laws will be enacted against landlords. I’d be wary of investing in rental property as well!

In the end, though, I don’t think there is going to be many, if any, solid winners. A weakening economy that can only promise further weakness just is what is, I’m afraid.

mario cavolo August 1, 2011 at 2:57 am

Unfortunately this adds insult to injury; another nail in the coffin of the struggling middle class. We can expect the trend of sharing rental homes, roommates, room rentals and families living together will continue to rise as a cost-saving necessity.

martin snell August 1, 2011 at 4:37 am

The next step, to be caused by rising rental prices, will be an increase in sharing, something that is far too uncommon in the US.

Way back when my wife and I first got together we rented a smallish 4 bedroom apartment and rented out 3 bedrooms to others. This left us with a very reasonable rent. Since both of us were working good jobs at the time we were able to stash away a ton of cash. This continued even after we were married. We even had two other married couples as tenants for a while.

Ultimately we were paying less than 5% of our income for rent. Of course we were short on privacy, but that was a sacrifice well worth having as when we did buy our first home, we bought what we needed (not what we could afford) and paid cash – so we were then down to property taxes and repairs only. Of course the apartment living was in Asia, where it was often standard practice – as people knew the value of early savings for later gains. Interestingly the 2 other married couples that lived with us are now both millionaires.

But all of this is part of the decline in the US standard of living we all know is coming – but it is also an example that this decline does not have to be all that painful. Much of it could actually be beneficial psychologically, if not materially.

Benjamin August 1, 2011 at 5:36 am

“Much of it could actually be beneficial psychologically, if not materially.”

I’d hate (love) to burst your bubble, Martin, but…

There’s always been plenty of renting and people sharing apartments. Trouble is, with the rising costs of living, fallen wages, and increasingly bumpy employment, many people have had to do the rent/share/live-with-parents “advantage” for much longer. I’d even go so far as to say that one likely reason for the housing bubble was for a largely unspoken desire to break away from the rising tensions of prolonged rent/share and the accompanying economic problems that had created that situation. One neurosis leads to another, ie.

Asia, on the other hand, has benefited greatly from the shift of jobs. But I guess you wouldn’t consider that, being that you’ve been away so long.

mario cavolo August 1, 2011 at 7:53 am

Ben, I’ll jump in to suggest that while the level of sharing property / renting rooms, etc in the U.S. society is evident, the prevalence of such practices is far, far higher here in China. If I were to take a clinical guess, I’d say at least by double if not triple…

Benjamin August 1, 2011 at 10:12 am

Mario,

I don’t doubt you, but might that have more to do with population density? After all, China and the U.S. are about the same size and only in the last decade or so have we reached the 300 million population mark (whereas China has had at least a billion people for many decades, maybe a century or more).

It’s almost like they don’t have a choice but to rent-share. I’ll even go out on a limb and say that it’s not LIKE, but DON’T. Not if they want to grow food and produce natural resources, anyway.

But getting back to the impact of a return to renting…

I seriously doubt that if twice as many had rented, we could’ve avoided this. The economic problems didn’t originate in housing vs rent, but rather in jobs and wages. And those problems, in turn, orginated in the problem of wealth destruction, via floating currencies. And since that hasn’t changed, neither will a sudden change to rent-and-cram.

mario cavolo August 1, 2011 at 12:01 pm

oh yes for sure density and much lower wages were the drivers creating the situation here over the past 20 years, they definitely had no choice, as is the case more and more for the non-wealthy Americans… one other driver is that in China marriage and family as a core unit of the society hasn’t been displaced (though note divorce rate is indeed accelerating in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen) with the accompanying divorce trend the states experienced, and so we find generations of families living together to both save money and able to enjoy being families. Statistically that harmony can occur with 95% of families here because they have no divorce related conflicts, where the stat is more like 50% in the U.S.

Benjamin August 1, 2011 at 12:53 pm

Mario,

You know, I was going to say that very same thing, but the population density argument seemed more convincing and easier to illustrate. Too, that I grew up on the other side of the 50% probably allowed me to trivialize the point so as to favor the other. But indeed, you’re on the ball (forgive me for saying unfortunately, given the nature of the observation). There is no way that double digit millions in extra mortgages and other expenses ever helped things!

Avocado August 1, 2011 at 1:14 pm

Which is why we are trying to buy a house. Yes, I KNOW the value will fall even below the discounted price I’m going to pay for it, but we need to buy so we can modify the house so my 87 year old Mom can move in with us. As well as closing my bookshop and moving it into the house.

Still cheaper than renting. Rents are soaring, mortgage money is cheap, so the lifetime cost of ownership is still cheaper than renting. I don’t buy a house for investment, they make terrible investments any way you look at it, other than during a short term boom.

No boom in my future. I doubled and sold in the last one, won’t happen again where we are moving to.

Andy

mario cavolo August 1, 2011 at 2:46 pm

Hi Avocado! Yours is a wonderful example of adjusting to reality with a plan, a strategy, recognizing the idea of multi-use to maximize your lifestyle and budget and investment. As a response to a less than ideal reality, I applaud you…

Cheers, Mario

Jill August 1, 2011 at 5:10 am

I agree. A lot of people are very isolated. If budget problems forced them to share housing for a while– as long as they got reasonable roomates rather than ones that cause big problems– they could end up with more fun and friends than they would otherwise have had in life. It could easily be a blessing in disguise.

Benjamin August 1, 2011 at 5:37 am

I’m batting .750, so far…

John Jay August 1, 2011 at 5:47 am

Out here in Southern California, in the extreme cases, I have seen some house/condo prices triple and then go back to the starting price in the course of ten years.
Depends on the neighborhood, from the ocean to the desert, every area is a world of its own out here.
But still, after watching a property go from 100k to 300k, then back to 100k, it makes one nervous about gettting involved in a casino like market. Will the government pull the plug on Fannie/Freddie/ FHA and the mortgage interest deduction? There are still millions of mortgages underwater and people who have not made a mortgage payment in as long as three years.
I know a guy who built himself up to 12 rental houses, then lost them all when some tenants stiffed him and trashed the houses on the way out, he couldn’t cover the mortgages and the leverage killed him.
I’m watching for bargains, but like any market, the bottom is not in until prices stop falling and start to go back up. No other way to tell that I know of.
Thanks for the “stable prices”, Federal Reserve.

Benjamin August 1, 2011 at 6:09 am

“I’m watching for bargains, but like any market, the bottom is not in until prices stop falling and start to go back up. No other way to tell that I know of.”

IMO, housing price is a false signal in this day and age because they can conceivably bottom, but without anything fundamental being fixed. So what I look for is a sustained rise in productive (nongovernment) employment, wages, and savings. It is kind of like hunting for unicorns, though.

mario cavolo August 1, 2011 at 3:02 pm

On the bull trap Rick, I’ll stick with my thesis that news will continue to manipulatively jerk the various markets up and down for HFT ‘puters and short term trader’s benefit from trading the volatiliy. Rally on a debt deal to be followed by plunge as the details of the debt deal are made known and scoffed at, blah, blah…

PhotoRadarScam August 1, 2011 at 3:20 pm

I can say this is happening in Phoenix as well, although probably not to the extent described. Which is good, because rents have been stagnant for at least 15 years, if not longer.

Still it’s kind of sad in a way because buying is so much cheaper than renting at the moment (if you can qualify), and assuming you’re going to live there long enough that a further decline in prices won’t affect you.

bobby August 1, 2011 at 4:18 pm

wow, i am renting in florida, on the beach at a price equal to property taxs and hoa fees. you can’t tell me that buying is cheaper than renting. i would not buy a property that sold for more than 10x gross income and would pay even less for one that had abnormally high hoa and taxes.

PhotoRadarScam August 1, 2011 at 6:32 pm

Every market is different. In Phoenix, a $100k house rents for about $900-1000/mo, in general, and a mortgage on $95k @ 5% is $510. Add $250 for taxes, insurance, and HOA and you’re still ahead of the game by $250/mo., or $3k/yr.

eric August 1, 2011 at 4:22 pm

this is to mario cavolo

you always talk about china, i have been here for 3 years myself. Im an asian american and yes china has some things going on, but at the same time it doesn’t. I won’t go around telling people that china is great and cheaper, it’s different in its own right. it’s like comparing radishes to bananas, bro. the chinese and the rest of the world for that matter as of the modern world after WW2, no matter how much they hate or race against the USA, look at that, for my generation(x) and boomer-the USA is still culturally dominant for those that have access to “money” i dont see no north,central or south americans or britons or europeans or africans or even other asians, wanting to be,trying to be like chinese culture.

and for the record, discrimination and *ahem* other rights taken for granted are very serious issues. as much as im disappointed with the USA, im not all that impressed either. the good life you got in china, ask other nationalities who are not “traditional” english speakers and are just normal working class folks-this place is just like anywhere else-everything ends up being relative.

anyway not a dis to you but just had to inform other readers from a different pair of eyes

mario cavolo August 1, 2011 at 4:38 pm

Hi Eric,

thanks for noting that your comments are friendly, not a dis to me, I appreciate your respect here at Rick’s forum, and actually, I am happy to say that your comments are very well right on the mark. For the average lower and lower middle class Chinese, their life is no better than a daily grind. Thankfully, they can keep their expenses very low to survive…. Culture wise, its not bad, but as you said exactly, not a particularly nice place to admire and emulate. Living here as a foreigner, one has to accept a lot of crap that doesn’t exist in the civilized world.

Thanks for your pair of eyes and reminders…

Cheers, Mario

Benjamin August 1, 2011 at 4:51 pm

Since this moves away from martin’s original post, I’ve posted it here in a new thread…

Avacado: “I don’t buy a house for investment, they make terrible investments any way you look at it, other than during a short term boom.”

I would have to agree that houses are bad investments, but that agreement is conditional upon what kind of world we live in. Here’s something else to consider…

Being that my parents are somewhat in the same boat as your mother, I’ve been wracking my brain for a means to get them into single level home. My mother sustained some rather nasty injuries, and continuing to use steps is out of the question.

Anyway, while looking for a way to secure them that home, I started to wonder what their lives would’ve been like if they hadn’t had to pay into the so-called “safety nets”.

Turns out, they could’ve outright bought their first (and only!) house in just eight short years of renting and saving. Part of this would’ve been the savings they managed to accumulate at that time, but most would’ve been from the money otherwise withheld from them. And that is excluding the amounts that their employers have also had to put in. This is just from what was withheld from their paychecks. And with no mortgage or rent to pay thereafter, they could’ve spent the next 25 years saving up a small fortune. Some of it would’ve been eaten by repair and maintenance costs, yes, but just five years of rent money they used to pay would’ve easily covered that.

But they would’ve come out with about the same amount in savings as they would with their total social security paid in. Looks like I struck out, right? Not really. The real advantage is that, if people were allowed to keep their money rather than pay into the “safety net”, there would be plenty of savings in the banks and far less long-term mortgage debt in the system (or even mortgage debt at all). Also, since they could rent for a shorter period of time in order to afford a house, there would be relief on the demand for new rental properties, which would make the existing rental properties easier to maintain. In other words, renting quite possibly would be cheaper, owing to the decreased demand on the more abundant savings.

So as it turns out (in my line of reasoning), both ownership and rental property SHOULD be a good investment, not a certain waste. In a sane world, anyway.

But the beauty is, this sane world can indeed be ushered in. Just quit forcing workers and employers to pay into social security/disability. That alone would surely allow the financial system to regain a measure of health. And with that in motion, a real recovery would not be far off. As for those still owed by them, there are plenty of ways to see to that they are paid back while that healing process took place (and it would be more quickly repaid as things actually healed).

So… anyone else with me on this? Any critique to offer? Just plain mean comments for my total lack of any kind of worldly knowledge? Anyone?!

sherry August 2, 2011 at 5:34 am

‘ they could’ve outright bought their first (and only!) house in just eight short years of renting and saving. Part of this would’ve been the savings they managed to accumulate at that time, but most would’ve been from the money otherwise withheld from them’…. This is just from what was withheld from their paychecks. And with no mortgage or rent to pay thereafter, they could’ve spent the next 25 years saving up a small fortune. ‘
Benjamin, My experience is that people will spend on their house purchase the maximum they can afford so, if money had not been withheld from their paychecks, they would have had more money to buy a house and house prices would have ballooned even more. Cheers.

Benjamin August 2, 2011 at 6:41 am

Sherry,

Sorry, but that is sheer bull. The housing bubble occured not because people had more money to spend. It was the opposite way around. Loans were created by banks on money that people DIDN’T have. And that being the case, they made even more unpayable loans in attempt to cover the already rotting mortgages, which in turn drove the demand for housing, thus the prices upward.

Avocado August 2, 2011 at 1:11 pm

“Being that my parents are somewhat in the same boat as your mother, I’ve been wracking my brain for a means to get them into single level home. My mother sustained some rather nasty injuries, and continuing to use steps is out of the question.”

Ditto for mine. Stairs are no longer a viable option. So the house we are trying to buy, which is a foreclosure repossessed by the bank, has two floors. Main floor and a partially finished basement, Seeing as how the house is 4000 sq ft the partially finished basement is 1000 sq ft on its own. Full bath.

The house has a pantry off the kitchen that is almost as large as the kitchen in the house we are presently renting. Below the pantry is an unfinished room in the basement, concrete floor, that is just off the finished area where she will have an apartment. So we are going to convert the pantry into an elevator, buying and installing a vertical lift. That way my Mom can come upstairs without climbing stairs to access us and the kitchen during normal hours. She can still walk, the problem is going up and down.

It will benefit us as well, as the laundry is in the basement, along with a shop. We are getting on ourselves, so lugging laundry and other stuff up and down stairs is becoming a bit of a challenge. The lift solves that.

The cost of this house after the 20% downpayment? $925 a month. Mortgage, taxes and insurance. About $1200 a month less than what it would cost to rent such a large house, especially in the neighborhood its in. Very upscale.

Yes, we have to maintain it, but this house is built like a tank. Constructed in 1957 using cinder block, just like the house I grew up in. Slightly bigger. All the interior walls in the basement are cinder block, so the upstairs is about as solid as one can get. Never again will we have to worry about creaking or uneven floors.

The one downside is its across the street from the main Methodist church in town, so every Sunday we get to see a sea of cars out the front window. Which is why very few buyers would be interested in it. More power to us!

Andy

C.C. August 1, 2011 at 5:21 pm

The smell of high rents and the cacophony of voices soon to be heard in some doorway of Congress regarding same, is likely to spark yet another incentive program for first time homebuyers, or a federally sponsored ‘break’ for existing homeowners. This could have a QE effect, without actually calling it.

The last thing a landlord wants to hear is some control-freak do-gooder in the Senate, demagoguing ‘greedy’ landlords in a time of high unemployment. The attendant stigmatization and marginalization that soon follow – especially in hard times, are not a spotlight one wants to be under in this era of prying eyes and disdain for the ‘rich’. Don’t believe it? Read a Yahoo message board sometime to get a feel of how virulent class envy is taking hold -

Robert August 1, 2011 at 6:13 pm

“The last thing a landlord wants to hear is some control-freak do-gooder in the Senate, demagoguing ‘greedy’ landlords in a time of high unemployment.”

-You bet they don’t, but as soon as the common perception suggests that all the houses are owned by the “rich”, guess what will begin happening to property tax rates?

And when property taxes begin rising, what will happen to rents?

And when rents rise, what happens to disposable income?

and when disposable income falls, what happens to economies?

But, we are in a RECOVERY people…. Banana Ben tells us so.

If anyone in gov’t REALLY wanted to cap the fall of property valuations tomorrow, then they would be looking ways to REDUCE property taxes- IE: grant the buyer some REAL benefit of property ownership.

When property ownership merely converts the landlord into a milk cow, I can guarantee that the gov’t will begin squeezing and tugging until said cow is bone dry.

Jill August 2, 2011 at 12:24 am

CC, I don’t know how we could not expect class warfare, given what has been taking place– when people are told that corporate welfare and tax breaks for corporate jet owners are sacrosanct, but Social Security and Medicare may be put on the chopping block.

It’s interesting in class warfare which side people think they are on. Small business owners think they are on the same side as the wealthiest folks. They don’t realize that they are getting the same deal economically and politically, as the poor– getting drained through taxes on the middle class and on small businesses. Of course big businesses have to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes too. But they may receive so much corporate welfare that otherwise they may pay no taxes at all– GE being the prime example, having paid no taxes at all in 2010, and having recieved a $3.2 billion tax benefit.

http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/general-electric-paid-federal-taxes-2010/story?id=13224558

GE says: Thanks very much to all the middle class individuals and small business owners who paid for them to receive that $3.2 billion tax benefit. Especially their heart go out to all the small business owners who vote Republican– thus voting to keep on footing the bill for all that corporate welfare.

Jill August 2, 2011 at 12:35 am

BTW, to be clear, I don’t think that voting Democrat is any solution either. Getting Special Interest Groups out of politics, by voting only for candidates who accept no Special Interest Group campaign contributions, and who have been vetted and found to be honest and willing to be real public servants, seems like the ticket to me.

Jacques Redou August 2, 2011 at 12:48 am

The best way to get an affordable place to live is to sweat. I built a house in Colorado
in 1983 for 25k in materials. Not fancy,
but warm and dry – 1200 ft2.

My current house is 1800 ft2 – paid 18k for it (it was a shell only) when I bought it in
1990. Now it’s worth about 80k. If I pretty it up, I could get more. There is more room than I need.

I’ve never made a payment. Never will.
Pay cash only. Bankers and landlords will
suck your blood.

It’s easier to build a house than you think.

Jill August 2, 2011 at 1:15 am

Good for you, Jacques!

You folks have me thinking. It seems that business taxes are EXTREMELY regressive. The whole system is something that some crony capitalist on corporate welfare must have thought up. GE paid no federal income taxes in 2010. I’ll bet you small business owners paid some. The taxes on crony capitalist mega-corporations that are not disappeared away, are taxes where the small business owner pays a MUCH higher percentage of his or her income for these taxes than the mega-corporation does– things like Social Security, Medicare, and property taxes.

Alchemisteve August 2, 2011 at 8:28 am

Rick apparently knows that “the key to a happy life is a happy wife.” As the ad says, “Priceless.”

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