The last year has been a wild one for investment. Between meme stocks and cryptocurrency, investors have been joining an adrenaline-filled craze with just a few taps on their phone. Investment in real estate, which has always been considered less volatile than the stock market and definitely less reactive than meme stocks, has been steadily increasing. One of the new darlings for investors in the real estate investment landscape is the single-family rental, or SFR, market. It may not be as trendy as crypto but it’s trending upwards and investors should take heed.
With the ongoing volatility of the stock market, investors are looking to trends to find attractive alternative investment options that also diversify their investment portfolios. Of course, this isn’t unusual but right now property valuations are at an all-time high in the market. Plus, inflationary concerns are making people look for cash flow. “The attractiveness of SFR has long been its ability to generate strong, consistent returns over the long-term in a way that is almost entirely uncorrelated to the stock market,” said Gary Beasley, CEO and co-founder of Roofstock, an online SFR real estate investing platform.
The SFR market is a promising investment opportunity for those who have cash on hand, especially those in the multifamily industry looking to expand their footprint. Single-family rentals aren’t a new concept, they have been a mainstay of small-scale real estate investors for years and they’re growing. The Urban Institute states that SFR is the fastest-growing segment of the housing market and accounts for 35 percent of the U.S.’s 44 million rental units.
The SFR industry is estimated to be a $3.4 trillion market, according to Walker & Dunlop, which is quite close to the multifamily industry at $3.5 trillion. Rents are also going up based on demand, inflation, and other factors. In fact, single-family rental rates increased 5.3 percent in April 2021 compared to a year earlier. This can be attributed to the appeal of SFR for consumers but also the overall housing shortage.
Estimates say the United States is over 5 million homes short. As concerns about inflation grow and interest rates rise making it harder for people to afford loans to buy homes, there is a need for a larger SFR market. “Single-family rental construction accounts for just 4 percent of the total housing construction over the past decade,” explained Suresh Srinivasan, Chief Marketing Officer of Roofstock. “This indicates that demand for single-family rentals may outpace supply for quite some time.”
What trends are causing the appreciation of this asset class?
A subscription-based lifestyle
Contrary to traditional belief, not everyone wants to own a home. This statement can apply to people of all ages, incomes, and backgrounds, too. Those wanting to check out a new neighborhood or state may not want to make a long-term commitment yet. Retirees, or those who work remotely, may want a snowbird lifestyle. Others may not want to take on all of the responsibility that comes with owning four walls. “You also have to remember that owning a home comes with more than just the sticker price—things like property taxes, maintenance, and utilities add up,” said Andy Taylor, Vice President and General Manager of Home & New Ventures at Credit Karma.
Finances are another reason SFR is becoming the right choice for renters. Buying a home, while part of the so-called traditional American Dream, is out of reach for many people, including younger generations. Gathering enough for a downpayment on a house is difficult in an environment where the average Millennial has $38,877 in student loan debt and $4,000 in credit card debt. A Bank of America survey found that 73 percent of Millennials are saving money, yet 40 percent have less than $15,000 in savings. This translates to a lack of a bulk sum to invest into a home but the ability to float higher than bare minimum monthly payments.
Monthly rental payments allow for perks of a single-family home without long-term commitments. “You’ve got these 65 million people in the Millennial cohort coming our way that want to be in a subscription-based economy, not everybody wants to own a home,” said Dallas Tanner, the co-founder, president, and CEO of Invitation Homes in a Motley Fool interview. Tanner continued that renting may allow people to “lease into a lifestyle” at a lower cost where all the maintenance costs and all the long-term CapEx is covered.
Even if renting isn’t preferred by some on the market, right now it might be the only logical option to get what they want. “The ongoing preference toward more living space (and slim for-sale inventory) is forcing would-be buyers back into renting, putting significant strain on the single-family rental market,” said Molly Boesel, an economist at CoreLogic. This strain is an opportunity for the build to rent industry as well as those interested in expanding their investments into the SFR space.
Paying for space
Single-family rentals are appealing to investors because it’s appealing to consumers. An increasing number of people want a place for their dog to run in the yard and they want the space and privacy that can be unavailable in dense, multifamily units in the same building. In fact, an August 2021 survey by Suntrust Mortage revealed the top reason why Millenials want a house is for more space at 66 percent and 33 percent mentioned more space for their dog. Pair that with the increasing popularity of remote work and workers no longer need to be within commuting distance to the office.
How much space is enough? The average American home grew by 74 percent since the 1910s and, paired with a decreasing number of people living within each home, each person is getting more personal space. The average new home is over 2,430 square feet, but this varies greatly when looking at specific geographies like Boston where new homes are on average 909 square feet. People want more space for their dogs, but they also want it for themselves.
Like within multifamily buildings, tenants will pay more for what they want in a SFR. Some premium-worthy qualities include a yard or amenity-rich environments, which could include technology-powered spaces offering features like smart locks, smart thermostats, a virtual community network, and more. These technologies also can increase operational efficiency for management companies that want to keep tabs on properties without necessarily being in immediate physical proximity to them. Advancements in tech allow these companies to do just that and scale their operations up.
Investments into single-family rentals can be easier than what multifamily investors are accustomed to. Roofstock recently launched Roofstock One where, according to a press release, “investors can buy shares representing interests in rental homes across markets and multiple properties rather than having to purchase entire homes, making investing in SFR similar to buying a share of stock.”
This approach of buying shares of tracking stock linked to portfolios of SFR investments provides a fully passive way to invest, without a need to undertake the traditional responsibilities of a landlord. Options like Roofstock seek to make investing in SFRs as frictionless as Robinhood has made stocks and Coinbase has made cryptocurrencies. Understanding what consumers want and being able to provide it is a good investment strategy. Regardless of the buzz of meme stocks and crypto options, investment in tangible real estate remains attractive to those looking for sound strategies