"It’s no secret that Wall Street has been bullish on real estate. Housing stocks have surged over the past year, many teetering on the edge of overbought, and billionaire investors like Warren Buffett have been exceedingly vocal about the investment opportunities brick and mortar properties have represented. Private equity and hedge fund firms have been sinking billions into single family rentals, buying distressed homes off of banks’ balance sheets in discounted bulk.
Now it turns out those Wall Street bulls have been helping fuel the home price surge in some of the hottest housing markets across the U.S.
The March MarketPulse report from CoreLogic examines the rise of institutional investors and the effects they are having on distressed inventory. The analysis, compiled by CoreLogic deputy chief economist Sam Khater, looked at 16 major U.S. housing markets where bank-owned inventory (REOs) Wall Street Institutions Behind Home Price SurgesWall Street Institutions Behind Home Price Surgeshave been relatively high since the housing bubble burst. He assessed whether local activity was comprised of mom-and-pop individual investors or institutional investors, defined as either entities that have purchased five-plus properties a year under the same name or under an incorporated name.
Here’s what Khater found: institutional investors have been targeting specific markets and then accelerating purchases of REOs in those markets, driving down distressed inventories and leading to notable increases in REO prices that have in turn led to larger market upticks. Institutional investors have focused buying efforts strongly on south and southwestern cities that were hit hardest by the foreclosure crisis. The cities where investors activity has been particularly robust in the past year are Atlanta, Ga., Detroit, Mich., Las Vegas, Nev., Phoenix, Ariz., and Calif.’s Los Angeles, Riverside and Sacramento.
Interestingly, many of these areas have welcomed notable year-over-year price increases as well — though none quite as much as Phoenix, which welcomed a nearly 23% uptick in prices throughout 2012, amid reports of frenzied bidding wars. The share of institutional investors in the desert metropolis was 16% in 2011; it jumped to 26% in 2012. Not surprisingly inventory levels plummeted as demand increased, putting upward pressure on prices that have created a ripple effect.
Institutions are most active in five states: Florida, Georgia, Arizona, Nevada and California. Institutional investors accounted for 21% of all sales in Charlotte, N.C., 19% in Las Vegas, and 18% in Orlando.
Major investment firms have been setting aside billions of dollars for large scale acquisitions in single family housing since the downturn, with activity jumping in 2012 as analysts called a market bottom. The strategy: snap up dozens, hundreds, even thousands, of distressed homes, fix them up and rent them out for robust returns. JPMorgan Chase recently estimated that institutional investors had amassed a combined $10 billion for single family rentals.
It makes sense. Home prices fell to historic lows following the bubble’s burst and bank-owned homes (REOs) trade at prices further depressed. (Nationally, foreclosed homes sold at an average discount of 20% in January, according to the National Association of Realtors.) Meanwhile, the rental market has climbed for the past several years, rising about 4% nationally in 2012, according to NAR, even as new multifamily construction returns. NAR and others expect rates to rise by about 4% per year for the next several years.
JPMorgan Chase, which also offers its wealthiest clients the opportunity to invest directly in a rental portfolio of about 5,000 homes, says its clients can expect annual returns as high as 8%, according to Bloomberg. Colony Capital, a real estate equity company privately owned by billionaire Thomas Barrack, has allocated $2 billion for investments nationwide. It plans to sink more than $150 million per month this year into rental homes, including an anticipated 1,000 units in South Florida, after snapping up 5,000 across the country in 2012.
Waypoint Homes expects to own 10,000 homes by year’s end; it has already amassed upward of 3,300 properties. Other investors include BlackRock, which is making housing plays both stateside and in the E.U., Apollo Global Management, Och-Ziff Capital Management Group, KKR& Co, and Oaktree Capital Group — to name a few.
By far the biggest player in this arena is private equity giant Blackstone Group. “Blackstone is now the largest owner of individual houses in the United States,” asserted Stephen Schwarzman, chief executive and chairman of Blackstone Group, on CNBC recently. “We’ve purchased about $3 billion of houses that had been foreclosed and we are fixing them up.” The private equity billionaire also noted that it’s a new business for the company, which plans to hang onto the rental properties for the long term.
Still, for all of the money Wall Street firms are plowing in single family rentals — and all of the impact it is having on home prices –their stakes are still relatively small. While BlackStone has committed to amassing 15,000 properties in 2013, individual investors purchased a staggering 600,000 properties through financing in 2012."
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