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10 Reasons to Invest in Multifamily

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1. Attractive, Risk-Adjusted Returns and Relatively Low Volatility

Multifamily is less impacted by cyclical downturns than  other property types. It was the first sector to recover from the 2008 recession and has achieved superior returns through the recovery and expansion phases. The 2010-2016 average return was 12.1%, based on data from the National Council of Real Estate Investment Fiduciaries (NCREIF). In 2016 and 2017, the annual investment returns reflect the maturity of the sector, yet the income components remain healthy at 4.5%.

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Over the past 25 years, multifamily investment has had the highest average returns of any commercial real estate asset class. The 9.8% average annual return is slightly ahead of industrial, and more than 100 basis points greater than office.

Multifamily can be considered a “defensive play”. Using standard deviation as a measure of volatility over the 25-year period, retail and multifamily had the lowest levels of volatility in return performance.

2. HEALTHY DEMAND AND FAVORABLE DEMOGRAPHIC OUTLOOK
Demand for multifamily housing has been robust in the past several years. From mid-2012 through Q2 2017, net absorption—the measure of demand—totaled 948,445 units or about 189,689 per year (based on the 62 major markets tracked by CBRE Econometric Advisors). This total represents a healthy 7.3% increase to total multifamily demand over the five-year period. The high level of demand is due to a combination of cyclical and secular trends.

3. FAVORABLE REGULATORY ENVIRONMENT
The U.S. has a relatively landlord-friendly regulatory environment. While many governmental regulations exist, especially at the local and state level that protect apartment renters’ health, safety and tenure rights, most multifamily properties are owned and operated without restrictions on rents. There are some exceptions, including metros with rent control (principally city laws limiting rent increases). New York City is one of these metros, and the laws can be complicated. In cities where there are no rent controls, market dynamics and operator skill dictate rents.

With respect to “social” housing, the U.S. has a lower level of subsidized/low-income inventory than many other countries. These properties require additional expertise on the regulatory environment, but represent only a small portion of the total inventory (estimated 5% to 10%).

4. HIGH DEGREE OF TRANSPARENCY
Transparency in the commercial real estate industry, including multifamily, has been rising steadily over the past few decades, and the U.S. has one of the more transparent markets in the world. This transparency allows investors to understand pricing, market conditions, development activity, property ownership trends and other key elements of the industry with relative ease.

Many professional associations, such as the NMHC and National Apartment Association (NAA), regularly host conferences and events with experts discussing key trends  and risks in the industry. Industry groups with a broader spectrum, such as the Urban Land Institute, Pension Real Estate Association and Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA), also host educational and networking events, publish news briefs and trends reports, produce podcasts and webinars, and speak with media.

Public information sources such as the U.S Census Bureau and local and state governmental agencies regularly produce housing, demographic and socio-economic  statistics that provide insight into demand drivers. CBRE is the world’s largest commercial real estate services and  investment firm and provides research and data analysis on multifamily trends, property types, specific properties, market statistics, sales transactions and more.

5. LIQUIDITY

U.S. multifamily assets have a high degree of liquidity (generally defined as the ability to sell or finance assets at the seller’s chosen timing). While there is no good single measure of liquidity, investment volumes provide some sense of liquidity in the marketplace.

The multifamily sector represented more than $1 trillion or 27% of all commercial real estate sales based on the dollar value of all sales over the past 16 years. Over the recovery and expansion years of the current real estate cycle (2010- 2016), investment in multifamily assets totaled $680 billion or 29% of all real estate investment, slightly below office at $700 billion. Multifamily also represented a larger market share in this period than in the 2001-2009 period where the sector attracted 24% of all investment.

One of the principal factors behind the multifamily sector’s high degree of liquidity is the large and diverse pool of investors. Not only is this broad-based capital attracted to primary markets, it is also interested in secondary and tertiary markets. For example, in 2016, the top-10 metropolitan areas for multifamily investment were Dallas/ Ft. Worth, Atlanta, Denver, Miami, Seattle, Phoenix, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. Another way to consider liquidity is to review the ranges of capitalization rates. Lower and less volatile cap rates suggest greater liquidity, as does a smaller cap rate range between the peaks and troughs of the cycles. From 2004 through Q2 2017, cap rates for multifamily acquisitions averaged 6.3%—nearly a point lower than the  office-industrial-retail average, according to RCA. Cap rates can vary significantly by asset class.

6. PREFERENTIAL MORTGAGE MARKET AND ABUNDANT FINANCING SOURCES

Loan terms, leverage and pricing are more favorable for multifamily than other property types. The availability of  debt capital is important for investment in any commercial  real estate sector. Leverage is used for most transactions, with acquisition financing usually in the 50%-to-75% loan- to-value (LTV) range.

The largest sources of capital for financing acquisitions of  all property types in the U.S. are banks, life insurance companies and CMBS or conduit lenders. The multifamily  sector also benefits from U.S. government-backed lending programs not available for other property sectors.  specifically, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Housing Administration are major sources of debt capital for existing assets. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) because they are backed by the U.S. government.

The GSE share of multifamily mortgages has risen  dramatically over the past two decades, and the availability of capital from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac provides a unique financing advantage. These capital sources increase investment and financing liquidity—important during economic downturns—and help the multifamily sector sustain premium pricing.

Multifamily’s strong market performance, active investment arena and the availability of agency GSE for financing acquisitions and refinancing assets (during both favorable and unfavorable phases of the market) have contributed to the sector’s ability to obtain more favorable loan pricing and terms than other property types. Current loan underwriting metrics reflect the preferential loan underwriting characteristics that multifamily mortgages received in Q2 2017 compared with other major property types.

Multifamily borrowers have obtained higher LTV ratios and lower debt-service-coverage ratios. The average mortgage rate was lower than all other property types combined by 30 bps. Multifamily’s preferential treatment is not limited to 2017. Historically, multifamily debt capital has been more favorably priced than other commercial property assets.

7. DIVERSIFIED CREDIT RISK

In commercial real estate, there is always risk that leases will not be renewed or easily back-filled when space is vacated. In addition to revenue loss from vacancies, there are costs to release and physically prepare available space for new tenants. Multifamily shares this risk in the aggregate, but the sector is very different in that each individual lease only represents a very small portion of overall income of the asset.

Because multifamily assets have a large volume of leases, it also means that credit is well diversified across many leases and lease holders. Diversified credit mitigates risk and gives the sector a distinct advantage over office, industrial and retail assets, each with much smaller numbers of tenants.

8. SHORT-TERM LEASES ALLOW IMMEDIATE ADJUSTMENT TO MARKET CONDITIONS

Short-term leases—typically one year vs. five or more years for office, industrial and retail—means that leasing activity is a constant part of multifamily operations. Short-term leases and the steady leasing/renewal activity provide a financial cushion for operations which generally results in higher occupancy. In other sectors, the loss of an individual tenant can seriously disrupt cash flow and create more risk for owners.
The short-term lease structure, relative to other property types, provides an advantage with respect to both market conditions and inflation. In periods of high rent growth, the short-term leases provide owners the ability to adjust rents upward quickly. More importantly, if the U.S. moves into a period of higher inflation, short-term leases provide  owners with the ability to make upward adjustments to  over the increased costs of operations.

9. RELATIVELY LOW CAPITAL EXPENDITURES CAN BE MORE ACCURATELY FORECASTED.

Multifamily investments tend to provide elevated net cashflow. While multifamily properties require ongoing maintenance and, occasionally, major capital improvements, the amount of capital expenditures (“cap ex”) needed to maintain them is typically lower than the cap ex investment required for other commercial real estate assets.

Similarly, apartment unit turnover requires only minimal investment in contrast to what can be unpredictable and significant tenant improvement expenses needed to attract and retain office, industrial or retail tenants. Annual unit turnover costs are predictable within a tight range and do not result in dramatic swings in cash flows for multifamily owners and investors.

10. THIRD-PARTY LEASING AND MANAGEMENT OPTIONS

In the U.S., it is common to outsource property management and leasing for all types of commercial real estate, including multifamily assets. Management and leasing are almost always handled by the same organization in the multifamily sector.

The NMHC reported that the 50 largest multifamily management companies in the U.S. managed 3.2 million units. Many management companies also own assets, and these units are included in the count. The largest 50 firms each managed at least 30,000 units; the top five are each responsible for more than 100,000 units. Additionally, many of the larger firms have a broad geographic coverage and operate in all or most major metropolitan areas across the U.S.

Revenue management systems are used by nearly all major management companies. These sophisticated software programs are like those used in the airline and travel industries and help determine optimal rent pricing based on market conditions, property occupancy, availability of units by size and other market and property-level criteria. Revenue management systems greatly assist in obtaining the best pricing for new leases and renewals, enhancing revenue for the owner.