As often happens during an economic cycle, the dynamics of the real estate market have changed once again. Investors looking to buy at the bottom of the market in order to generate the highest returns on their investments when they sell the property have already missed the boat due to increased competition.
So finding the best markets to invest in given current market trends is more of a challenge, and in many cases favors investors with a “buy and hold” rather than “buy and sell” business model.
Real estate investors whose strategy is to buy and hold rental properties are facing higher initial purchase prices, a much tighter inventory of properties to choose from and a resurgence of interest from large institutional investors.
Considering those impediments, buy-and-hold investors seeking a well-balanced investment strategy must be realistic about the returns they expect to achieve in the present market. Although returns are not as good as they were in past years, investors can still find decent returns on their single-family rental properties.
It all depends on the particular market they choose to work in, and on which market trends they choose to factor in when determining the best approach to that specific market.
Selecting a market. Late last year, Attom Data Solutions based in Irvine, California, released its findings after analyzing 473 counties with populations of 100,000 or more for the first seven months of 2016 to determine which markets had the highest potential return on investment for buy-and-hold investors. Those findings showed that it is imperative for investors to select carefully when choosing a particular market in which to invest.
Rental returns on properties purchased between January and July 2016 were at a nine-year low, Attom reports. Still, there are plenty of markets for investors to choose from when searching for rental properties with decent yields. It all depends on which market factors the investor determines to be most important when analyzing that market’s potential.
Attom reported five factors – in addition to potential returns on investment – which can be influential to an investor’s analysis before deciding to enter a market: vacancy rates, homeownership rates, wage growth, a high population of millennials and the level of competition from institutional investors.
“After a drop-off in single-family purchases by both individual and institutional investors over the past two years, we’re starting to see investor acquisition activity pick up again,” says Daren Blomquist, senior vice president of Attom Data Solutions.
“Given shifting attitudes toward homeownership that are showing up in stubbornly low homeownership rates and our data showing more than 18 million non-owner occupied single family homes – one in every four single-family homes – these single family rental investors will be an important and likely growing force in the real estate market for years to come.”
Higher yields and stable tenancy are a plus for investors. For some investors, annual cash-on-cash returns are their primary concern when focusing on where to purchase future investment properties. But when it comes to a buy-and-hold investment strategy, investors are wise to think of themselves not just as investors, but also as landlords (whether or not they have a property management company running their properties for them).
While many market factors – from millennials offering a future tenant pool to potential wage growth – may influence their thinking when breaking down market statistics, at the end of the day all landlords want to have their properties located in markets where they can generate a respectable profit and have a stable tenant base to keep their properties occupied.
Given that focus, Attom’s analysis offers a breakdown of the best markets that offer investors both a realistic annual yield from their investment properties combined with low vacancy rates.
Here’s the top 10 counties for best annual gross rental yield and lowest investment property vacancy rate during the first seven months of 2016 as reported by Attom Data Solutions:
- Monroe County, Pennsylvania: 16 percent rental yield, 0.4 percent vacancy rate
- Hernando County, Florida: 14.3 percent rental yield, 2.1 percent vacancy rate
- Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania: 12.1 percent rental yield, 2.1 percent vacancy rate
- Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania: 11.8 percent rental yield, 2.8 percent vacancy rate
- Davidson County, North Carolina: 11.8 percent rental yield, 2.6 percent vacancy rate
- Marion County, Florida: 11.7 percent rental yield, 1.9 percent vacancy rate
- Wicomico County, Maryland: 11.7 rental yield, 2.1 percent vacancy rate
- Randolph County, North Carolina: 11.1 percent rental yield, 2.7 percent vacancy rate
- Ulster County, New York: 11 percent rental yield, 2.1 percent vacancy rate
- El Paso County, Texas: 11 percent rental yield, 1.9 percent vacancy rate.
“Real estate investment strategies have shifted pretty dramatically over the past few years. Home prices have appreciated much more rapidly than many investors expected them to, so the focus is now on profitable cash flow from monthly rent, rather than banking on price appreciation,” says Rick Sharga, executive vice president at online real estate marketplace Ten-X. “We’re seeing a lot of investors look for affordable single-family homes in secondary and tertiary markets – mostly in the Midwest and Southeast – where they can charge reasonable rent prices, but still generate net returns in the mid-to-high single digits.”
Investors helping investors. Identifying potential markets to invest in based on potential financial returns is only half the battle. There also has to be an inventory of available homes for purchase in those markets, otherwise the investor might as well move on to other counties.
That is where investors can help each other out and both stand to profit in the end.
Considering current market trends nationwide, buy-and-hold investors should not be limiting themselves when it comes to searching out properties. There are a number of potential resources in the marketplace. Building good working relationships with local Realtors is key, but so is establishing other sources of referrals such as investment clubs to meet and be in good standing with other investors, including flippers.
“A lot of companies and individuals that want to buy rental properties don’t want to buy properties in bad condition,” Blomquist says. “They want to buy properties that are ready to rent out today. The flippers can come in and rehab and then sell to a single-family rental investor. There’s enough margin in those deals for both types of investors to make money.”
The biggest concern for small individual investors is increased competition – both from other individual investors and increasingly from the large institutional investors who seem to have reignited their interest in rental properties.
Nationwide, Attom reports that 2.7 percent of all single-family homes purchased during the first seven months of 2016 were by institutional investors – defined as entities that purchased at least 10 properties in a calendar year. That translates to a 29 percent increase from the same period in 2015, following two consecutive yearly declines in institutional investor activity.