Are Mega-Investors Changing Rental Housing?

New management options emerge as major investment players settle into the single-family marketplace. Alan Mallach, a senior fellow at the Center for Community Progress, shares his thoughts.

July 16, 2014

When large investors such as Blackstone and Colony American Homes began buying up single-family homes in 2011, most observers considered the acquisition a short-term play. Now, although acquisition has slowed, the successful securitization of SFH rental income by Invitation Homes (a Blackstone subsidiary), the transformation into REITs of large single-family owners such as American Homes 4 Rent, and the creation of the National Rental Home Council, a group that includes most of these new mega-investors, all indicate large investors are in it for a longer haul. How will their business models change the dynamics of the rental marketplace? 

How large a presence do these mega single-family owners represent in rental markets?

At the end of 2013, mega-investors controlled about 200,000 single-family properties. That’s not much in a national market of 13 million single-family home rentals. It’s certainly not a game changer. Still, within certain niche markets in cities such as Atlanta, Phoenix, and Tampa, mega-investors are more of a factor. Most of these buyers have concentrated on a dozen or so cities with good potential for price appreciation. The one exception is American Homes 4 Rent, which owns properties in many more markets. Even within these markets, mega--investors won’t buy just anything. They are buying mostly homes priced between 100 and 140 percent of median price in locations where the sales price-to-rent ratio is favorable enough to yield a 5 to 10 percent annual cash flow with a five- to eight-year hold period.

Which segments of the multifamily market are most vulnerable to competition from these new single-family properties?

The demand for rentals is increasing, especially in moderate and middle-income groups that a few years ago might have bought homes. Single-family rentals have always attracted families with children who want a larger space with a yard. Homes owned by mega-investors may also attract renters willing to pay a premium if they can deliver the more professional management these large owners propose to offer. And relocation companies may be attracted to the extensive portfolios held by mega-investors.

Will the mega-investors benefit from technology and economies of scale?

The jury is still out on that. Single-family management requires a lot of hands-on involvement. One management option is to partner with local third-party management companies that already handle large pools of single-family rentals for small investors. Other potential partners might be large local investors. Perhaps the most successful model will end up looking more like a franchise with local managers who have some financial interest.

Mariwyn Evans

Mariwyn Evans is a former REALTOR® Magazine writer and editor, covering both residential brokerage and commercial real estate topics.