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Rentals and Homes Running in Opposite Directions

by Chicago Agent

Rental prices and home values played games of exchange throughout 2011 to surprising, market-defying results.

A new index from Zillow has found an inverted relationship between median rental prices and home values last year, with rents rising 3 percent from January 2011 to January 2012 and home values falling 4.6 percent.

Released for the first time yesterday, the Zillow Rent Index (ZRI) showed rising rents for 69.2 percent of the metropolitan areas surveyed, compared with home values rising in just 7.3 percent of the areas covered by Zillow’s Home Value Index.

Among the more noted metro areas were: Chicago, where home values were down 10.4 percent in 2011 but rents were up 9.1 percent; Miami-Fort Lauderdale, where homes lost 2.2 percent in value but rents rose by 6 percent; Dallas, where home priced dropped 2.7 percent and rents rose by 1 percent; and San Francisco, which had almost perfectly symmetrical data with a 5.2 percent decline in housing and 5.4 percent rise in rents.

For its part, Zillow is painting the data with colorful, optimistic strokes, and Stan Humphries, Zillow’s chief economist, said a strong rental market will bode well for housing going forward.

“While it seems that rents are rising at the expense of home values, the opposite is true,” Humphries said. “A thriving rental market will stimulate home sales as investors snap up low-priced inventory to convert to rentals. That, in turn, will lower the number of homes on the market, which will eventually help put a floor under the value of all homes. Moreover, rising rents increase demand as buying becomes more attractive than renting because of low purchase prices and higher rents.”

Not everyone, though, is as rosy about the data. Writing for CNBC, Diana Olick expressed fears that as housing remains depressed, rentals are surging towards the same kind of financial bubble that impacted the single-family home market.

“Right now investors are rushing to get in on cheap foreclosures, hoping to turn them around for quick rental income,” Olick wrote. “The regulator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the FHFA, is in the midst of a pilot program to sell 2500 foreclosed properties to investors as rentals … In the meantime, multi-family housing starts were up over 14 percent in January from December and have been rising steadily as developers look to cash in on high rental demand and relatively low supply. Multi-family REITs are seeing big returns.”

Ultimately, Olick wonders where the tipping point exists for such a surge, given the sensitive spot that many consumers are still in, and we reported as much last November when a new line of apartment complexes were announced for development in Chicago. By 2014, 5,600 new apartments will be available in the downtown Chicago market by 2014.

The developers of those properties, though, shrugged off any suggestion of overbuilding or a new real estate bubble. Bob Ratliffe, for instance, who is the vice president the lending institution funding a new complex in River North, said he sees the Echo Boomer generation, up and coming professions in their 20s, more than meeting the new supply of rentals.

But as Olick, points out, some of the economic indicators don’t seem to add up.

“It just raises a red flag to see home affordability at a record high, investors rushing in, and rents so strongly outpacing home values,” she wrote.

Terry Wilkowski, though, the vice president of brokerage services for @properties’ North Shore operation, said he sees the rise in rental demand as nothing more than a market correction, albeit, the biggest market correction of his lifetime.

“I’m not surprised by the statistics,” Wilkowski said, adding that he’s seen more activity in the rental markets now than at any time in his 22 years in real estate.

The entire real estate community, Wilkowski said, is engaging in rentals like never before, and often at the homeowner level, where agents are contacted by homeowners who want to find a renter for their property, and the agent (not unlike the buying and selling process) markets the home on the MLS for a suitable renter.

Wilkowski did see some truth, though, in rentals making home purchases more attractive. With rents climbing higher and higher, he said investors will eventually notice the many affordable homes on the market and purchase those properties as rentals.

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