In an article in the Wall Street Journal from January 3rd 2017 by Chris Kirkman (yes it’s from over a month ago but this is an important and relevant trend which is intensifying as time passes), we learn that buildable lots for developers are becoming scarce. One tactic builders are reverting to is buying whole subdivisions that were abandoned during the crash and which were never fully completed. While there is a lot of remedial work to be done, it is still a better deal in many cases to fix up the existing unfinished subdivision, than to start the zoning and approval processes from scratch.
The relevance to us as real estate investors is that as buildable lots become more scarce, undoubtedly their cost increases. This reliably raises the price for finished new homes and creates comparable sales which usually push the median market prices higher.
Given the fact that interest rates are still low (historically they are very low, Trump-bump notwithstanding), and since 3.5%-down FHA loans are still widely available to homeowners buying at the price ranges we are interested in ($100K-$200K), the writing is on the wall: home prices in many cities (certainly the key cities we look at as investors), are likely to keep appreciating in the near future (possibly 1-2 years).
This points to a potential window in which to ‘stock up” on quality investment Single Family homes: with low interest rates (don’t forget to get a 30-year fixed-rate loan if you can), an upwards price trajectory (if only due to the scarcity of buildable lots), still-available low-down FHA loans and still-affordable prices in many key metropolitan areas, investors are enjoying a ‘sweet window” in which to buy, finance their purchases well, and then rent and hold.
We will be talking about this and many other points, including entity formation and asset protection, investing in real estate form one’s self-directed IRA, the types of loans available to investors, which markets stand out and why, and a whole lot of expert information. Q&As and networking are always in abundance, at our Quarterly 1-Day Expo near the San Francisco Airport on March 4th. Anyone mentioning this blog entry can attend for free – please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to register. Just tell us in the subject line, “Read your blog,” and your information in the body of the email.
The full WSJ article is presented here:
With Lots in Short Supply, Builders Revive Abandoned Projects
Developers and investors are starting to resurrect subdivisions that were left half-finished after the housing collapse
Updated Jan. 3, 2017 6:25 p.m. ET
When real-estate fund manager Drapac Capital Partners visited the Cameron Springs subdivision in Cobb County, Ga., in 2012, the landscaping was dead and weeds had sprouted through the cracked tennis courts. Discarded tools littered empty lots where construction workers had walked off the job in the late 2000s with only a fraction of the homes completed.
Drapac saw value in those abandoned lots. It bought the 101 remaining lots in the neighborhood for a total of $375,000 and spent about $550,000 finishing half-built lots and upgrading the pool and clubhouse, betting home builders someday would return to the area.
As the nation’s supply of buildable construction lots shriveled, interest in the property picked up. Drapac received 12 bids last summer for the neighborhood, eventually selling it to national builder D.R. Horton Inc. for $6 million.
“I think they’re all panicking,” said Sebastian Drapac, chief operating officer of Drapac Capital Partners, an Australian firm that has purchased more than 25,000 lots in abandoned developments across the U.S. since 2011. “They’re trying to get lot positions wherever they can.”
The housing market’s boom and bust last decade left the U.S. with a surplus of vacant lots and half-built subdivisions many thought would never be revived. But tighter lending standards since the housing collapse last decade have made it difficult for smaller operators to develop land into buildable lots—the crucial raw material for new home construction—leaving builders to compete over a dwindling supply.
Now, builders and investors are starting to resurrect those half-finished subdivisions that were given up for dead after the collapse.
Nearly two-thirds of home builders reported a low or very low supply of available lots in their markets, according to a survey last year by the National Association of Home Builders, the highest reading since the group started tracking the issue in 1997.
Converting land into buildable lots requires developers to clear and grade the property, get approvals from local planning officials and install needed utilities such as gas and water.
Overall, the supply of vacant developed lots has decreased by more than 20% across more than 80 major U.S. markets since 2011, according to data from housing research firm Metrostudy. In markets such as Nashville, Tenn., and Charlotte, N.C., the inventory of vacant lots has declined by more than 40% over the past five years.
The shortages have pushed median single-family-home lot prices to a record high of $45,000 last year, surpassing the previous peak of $43,000 in 2006, according to census data analyzed by NAHB.
Developers and investors have been sprucing up unfinished community centers, reviving underfunded homeowners’ associations and adding amenities such as walking trails, lakes and bocce courts in an effort to revive the image of moribund developments and attract new buyers.
In some cases, they change the name of the development to shed prior stigmas.
Drapac Capital Partners replaced a sign out front of a struggling suburban Atlanta neighborhood that read “Brightwood – Established 2007.” They tweaked the name to read “Brightwood on the Lake, Est. 2016,” after clearing trees and opening up the neighborhood’s access to an adjoining pond.
Steve Brock just sold land for about 300 homes in a master-planned development called Stonoview outside of Charleston, S.C., to Lennar Corp. for $19 million. The project had been abandoned during the downturn, and Mr. Brock acquired three tracts around the property in 2013 for $7 million, and spent around $5 million over three years developing many of the lots, installing a 10-slip boat dock and drawing plans for a lighthouse and walking trails. Mr. Brock and another builder will build homes on 71 other lots in the area now worth $9.4 million, he said.
“We could sell it to them for close to retail prices, and they have the runway of land and lots immediately,” said Mr. Brock, founder and president of Brock Built. As a smaller builder and developer with a higher cost of capital, he said he could never pay as much as Lennar did for such a project and still turn a profit.
In Maricopa, Ariz., 35 miles south of Phoenix, Fulton Homes is building swimming pools and reviving parks in a project called Glennwilde that had been largely abandoned by developers for seven years.
Dennis Webb, Fulton’s vice president of operations, said prices for such deals are generally lower because of the needed improvements. And because such neighborhoods have already been laid out and approved, “We can get going pretty quickly,” Mr. Webb said. “We don’t have to wait a year and a half to develop the plans.”
In a Wall Street Journal article from 1/6/2017 by Chris Kirkham, titled “ Millennials Fuel House Rental Boom”, the phenomenon of rent vs. own is discussed. Millennials in particular but also other demographic groups have started leaning more towards renting as opposed to owning houses.
This is not really new. There has always been a sizable group preferring renting to owning. Some of the many reasons include flexibility to move at will (especially for jobs), less hassle of maintenance, possibly lower monthly expenses (depending on geography), not having to qualify for an ever-more-difficult-to-obtain loan, not having the perceived “burden” of a mortgage, and other reasons.
As real estate investors, we love having 30-year fixed mortgages, especially at today’s low rates (Trump bump notwithstanding), and the phenomenon of an ever-increasing rental demand only bodes well for us as real estate investors. This is a very “sweet” window in which many factors co-exist that is favorable: low (still) interest rates, 30-year fixed loans still available, strong rental demand and low prices in several key markets. This year – 2017 should be a banner year for the savvy investor.
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Enclosed is the WSJ article:
Developers Build on Home Rental Success With Whole Communities
Property firms see continued demand for single-family homes from millennials, aging boomers who don’t want to buy
Updated Jan. 6, 2017 9:38 a.m. ET
Property developers are pouncing on sustained demand for stand-alone home rentals by taking a big step: Building entire single-family neighborhoods designed for renters.
When the housing market crashed, investors took advantage by buying low-price homes in foreclosure in order to rent them out to tenants. That demand has proven brisk.
The new rental communities look identical to for-sale projects, with pools, fitness centers and walking trails. But they are operated like apartment complexes, with management handling maintenance, lawn care and leasing.
Developers cite growing demand from younger millennials and aging baby boomers who want the additional space and traditional setting of a new single-family neighborhood—without the long-term commitment.
“It used to be that if you were an adult and didn’t own your own home, you were kind of a bum,” said George Casey, a former home builder who is chief executive of Stockbridge Associates, an industry consulting firm. That stigma has now “been blown into a million pieces,” he said.
The number of renter households increased by 9 million between 2005 and 2015, marking the largest increase over any 10-year period on record, according to the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies. In all, about 5% of all new single-family construction was built for rent in 2016, up from a historical average of less than 3%. Experts say that could expand in coming years if homeownership remains depressed and as older Americans consider downsizing.
Developers building single-family communities for rent said they are transforming what began as a distressed-asset play into a completely new market somewhere between apartment living and homeownership.
“We basically looked at the institutional market and said ‘Would Blackstone, would all of these people be pumping tens of billions of dollars into this space if it wasn’t a good opportunity?’” said Mark Wolf, chief executive of AHV Communities, a California-based single-family rental developer that operates around San Antonio and Austin, Texas, and is looking to expand to North Carolina. “Then we said ‘Looking at what they do, how can we do it better?’”
Amenities packages and proximity to quality school districts are crucial to the business model. By offering perks similar to higher-end apartment complexes, the goal is to attract young families who want good schools but may struggle to buy in certain districts because of insufficient savings or high levels of student debt.
The model doesn’t work in all markets. In areas such as California, for example, where land is expensive, developers would likely have to charge rents that would be too high to justify the cost of construction. Markets such as Arizona, Texas and North Carolina make more sense because land is plentiful and demand is high.
“It’s about figuring out what places have the growth, but also have the highest rents possible for the lowest price of the home,” said Shaun McCutcheon, a senior manager who studies the single-family rental market at Meyers Research, a housing consultancy.
National home builder Lennar Corp. has tried the model in one of its master-planned communities outside Reno, Nev. RSI Communities, a home builder in California and Texas, is testing out two fully leased new communities outside San Antonio and is considering expanding the model to other markets.
John Bohnen, RSI’s chief operating officer, said the for-rent approach allows the company to build homes at a faster and more efficient pace than its traditional for-sale operation. That is because builders don’t have to wait to start construction until a sale is completed, giving construction crews that are in high demand more certainty about the number of homes they will build in a given time-frame, thus providing more of a guaranteed pay schedule.
And by exposing tenants to their homes, Mr. Bohnen believes the company could eventually generate demand on the for-sale side.
Matt Blank was a former hedge-fund investor who moved to Phoenix in 2011 to start snapping up distressed properties. He was soon crowded out when major investors like Blackstone Group LP entered the market and prices shot up. He instead turned his attention to buying empty lots and building affordable homes that adults could rent.
His company, BB Living, has since built about 350 rental homes across the Phoenix area, some in stand-alone communities and others alongside owner-occupied homes in large master plans. All six projects he has completed initially sparked controversy from neighbors worried their property values could be impacted by inadequately maintained rentals. But he said he got buy-in after assuring them the properties would be professionally managed and look no different from the surroundings.
“This is a new concept that hasn’t really been done before,” Mr. Blank said. “Once you get around that first hurdle, the pitchforks come down quite a bit.”