It was a perfect idea that may have run its course the way ideas often do in the real estate market. Distressed single family homes saturating the market in 2011 and 2012 proved a sure bet for private investors and larger private equity funds alike. GSEs even saw an opportunity to shed toxic assets through bulk sales to qualified private equity firms. The plan was successful. Too successful. Today, investor participation has effectively driven prices to an inflection point where finding undervalued properties is becoming harder. Distressed housing no longer yields strong enough returns to remain top on the list of options for the investor community.
“Buy and Hold” was the prevailing strategy of the previous cycle with investor participation shoring up the market. Investors firmly positioned themselves to benefit when prices would eventually appreciate, and in the meantime enjoyed revenue generated by a growing single family rental market. Meanwhile, larger institutional investors garnered much of the attention resulting from government partnerships involving bulk distressed real estate sales in California, Las Vegas, and other areas hard-hit by foreclosures. Independent investors found room to participate as well. It’s estimated that investors have injected up to $15 billion in capital into the housing sector since 2011 in pursuit of distressed properties. Peak has also participated in accumulating a pool of these rental homes in the Las Vegas and Los Angeles areas.
Fast forward to 2014. More than Federal programs, monetary policy, and an improving jobs market – all cash investor activity in the housing market has arguably had the most impact on bolstering home values and boosting the economy. As private capital returned to the financial ecosystem, homeowners saw equity return and distressed borrowers displaced through foreclosure or other actions had the opportunity to regain their footing through the availability of single family rentals. The market has now reached a point where “Buy and Hold” is generating diminishing returns resulting from:
- Rising home prices. Investor purchases provided a much-needed floor for home prices that halted plummeting home values and provided the groundwork for equity to return. Unfortunately, as prices rise on existing inventory, investor returns fall.
- Reduced inventory. An improving economy, government programs, and more proactive lender workout programs have resulted in the lowest numbers of foreclosure filings since 2007. In addition to rising home values deterring investors, the supply of available distressed opportunities are simply drying up as the cycle shifts.
- The “own versus rent” choice for households. Strong rental revenue for investors simply translates to higher monthly rents for dwellers. Despite higher interest rates, higher home prices and new underwriting criteria, current renters are exploring options to trade in their rent check for a mortgage check. Moreover, “boomerang buyers” – homeowners displaced by short sales and foreclosures during the last decade have regained their economic footing and are looking to buy again. Investors are encountering a plateau on rising rental revenue. Additionally, the cost of turnover, repairs, and down time for rentals is eating into the return as the properties and the investment sits.
Patterns are emerging signaling an end of this cycle as major players who acquired thousands of properties early in the game are now cashing in the chips. First, investors are scaling back pursuit of foreclosed properties. Second, investors have taken notice that home appreciation is slowing, and see this as the perfect opportunity to “hold” no longer and to sell. In Las Vegas, once dubbed the “Foreclosure Capital of the U.S” where prices at one time appreciated as much as 25% in one year, private equity firms are exiting the market.
We’re currently evaluating our portfolio, and see merit in pursuing disposition of the residential side, while pursuing other acquisition opportunities on the commercial level. While there will always be a distressed sector and opportunities, it’s time for investors to evaluate if the cycle is winding down an acquisition strategy for their own long term goals.