Jeffrey S. Detwiler is president and chief operating officer of The Long & Foster Companies, the parent company of the largest independent residential real estate company in the United States, Long & Foster® Real Estate, Inc. The group of companies is the Mid-Atlantic region’s leading provider of homeownership services. In addition to its real estate arm, The Long & Foster® Companies consist of Prosperity Mortgage® Company; Long & Foster® Insurance; and Long & Foster® Settlement Services. The total 2011 sales volume and sales equivalents for all The Long & Foster Companies was in excess of $42.7 billion. Visit longandfoster.com for more information and complimentary industry-leading market data.
In the past few years, real estate has increasingly become an investment option that’s difficult to ignore. With moderated pricing and historic financing conditions, the costs associated with acquiring investment properties are within reach of more consumers today than at any point in recent history. At the same time, rental rates are increasing and vacancy rates are dropping, sparked by the additional demand that comes with declines in homeownership. More renters in the market make the potential return on investment properties even more enticing.
The result is that investment property purchases surged more than 64 percent from 2010 to 2011, according to the National Association of Realtors®. In fact, more than one quarter of all residential real estate transactions in 2011 were investment-related sales, NAR reports.
“During the past year, investors have been swooping into the market to take advantage of bargain home prices,” NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun said recently. “Rising rental income easily beat cash sitting in banks as an added inducement. In addition, 41 percent of investment buyers purchased more than one property.”
INVESTMENTS ARE UP
NAR also reports that nearly half of all real estate investors are paying for their properties with cash. Paying with cash makes it easier for investors to take advantage of discounted distressed assets in the marketplace since they avoid the time and complexity that mortgage financing can entail.
For those who do opt to mortgage their investment purchases, the median down payment was sizeable, NAR reports—27 percent of the purchase price.
“Clearly, we’re looking at investors with financial resources who see real estate as a good investment and who aren’t hesitant to use cash,” NAR’s Yun noted.
Long & Foster® is home to one of the largest property management organizations in the country. Our property management division currently has more than $1 billion worth of real estate under management throughout the Mid-Atlantic region and parts of the Northeast U.S. Our experts report that investors aren’t necessarily targeting the least expensive homes as investments—they’re looking for appealing homes in good locations so they can attract responsible tenants who may be interested in longer-term leases.
In markets like Washington, D.C., and other metropolitan areas, for example, tenants in the upper-end of rental properties can include government workers, doctors who come to the region to complete residencies, CEOs pegged to lead companies through transition, and embassy officials. With desirable rental properties and a professional partner to help them maximize their investment, local landlords are experiencing returns that wouldn’t have been possible without today’s market conditions.
WHO IS INVESTING?
The housing downturn left many homeowners underwater on their mortgages and, thus, tied their hands in terms of making a housing-related change. Still, people moved for job transfers and other personal reasons, regardless of how much they owed on their mortgages. In this vein, the “accidental landlord” phenomenon sprang up in the housing market in the last few years. Many people in this situation retained their underwater property (a property where the mortgage is greater than the market value) and rented it out, enabling them to perhaps rent or buy a different primary residence for their own use.
Long & Foster’s property management team has extensive experience working with landlords in this situation, often helping them manage their properties from a distance. Given that managing rental properties is often not a full-time endeavor for “accidental landlords,” having the right team of experts to help maintain the property, find the right renters, and manage the transfer of rental payments certainly reduces the risk and uncertainty that can come with being a landlord.
While individual investors are entering the rental property market in record numbers, we’re also seeing significant investment from real estate fund managers. These big players aim to buy hundreds of rental properties all at once to balance an investment portfolio on behalf of their investors. These larger purchases of investment homes, particularly involving distressed properties, not only serve the increasing demand in the rental market, but also help the market clear out the distressed properties in the queue that continue to affect average sales price in a market.
Flipping homes quickly—buying homes at a discount, perhaps doing some renovation work, and then putting them back on the market to sell at a higher price—is a trend of the past, it seems, as many investors have taken a longer-term outlook on owning their properties. NAR notes that the typical investment buyer plans to own their properties for at least five years, a statistic we are seeing play out among our clients at Long & Foster. Investors we work with have found that the pricing and financing conditions they’re experiencing today will deliver significant returns over time so their investment horizons are longer than the “flipping” conditions of past markets.
Meeting increasing demand in the rental housing market will rely on technology and marketplace expertise more than ever before. Investors—whether they have one investment property or dozens—will get the most from their investments when they have the right tenants in place and the most efficient systems handling payments, maintenance and marketing of the properties.
Long & Foster’s property management division (www.LNFPM.com) draws on Long & Foster’s network of more than 12,000 sales associates along with national and global marketing affiliations to help gain exposure for clients’ rental properties. Our marketing reach and experience in the property management segment has resulted in an extensive asset portfolio, which includes single-family homes, townhomes and condominium units.
Since most investors do not own rental property as their sole source of income, having the team and the technology in place to make property management as efficient as possible is key to maximizing returns. Information about payments, condition of the property and status of marketing efforts should be available to landlords at all times. Long & Foster is a leader in real-time information systems—investments we value so that our clients can make informed financial decisions about their properties.
Investors need effective, reliable counsel and the expertise of a competent, capable business partner to thrive in a real estate market of complex challenges and increasing regulatory constraints. Long & Foster is positioned to deliver the complete range of investment services property owners need, expect and deserve—everything from the best-trained, best-equipped sales associates to help investors find the right property to buy, to the mortgage and title professionals to complete the transaction, to insurance professionals who will ensure that rental properties are covered with the right insurance vehicles designed to minimize landlord risk. This full-service, total homeownership approach to the residential real estate business—one that has enabled The Long & Foster Companies to thrive and continue to grow for more than 40 years—is what makes owning investment real estate a rewarding experience.
SECURING SECOND HOMES
The opportunities that exist for investors apply to consumers who are interested insecond homes or vacation homes as well. The National Association of Realtors® survey findings show that 35 percent of vacation-home buyers buy within 100 miles of their primary residences. The vast majority of vacation-home buyers do so to use the property for vacations and family retreats and about 30 percent of those surveyed indicate that they plan to use the vacation property as a primary residence in the future, perhaps as a retirement location.
The number of vacation-home buyers is likely to increase in the future, NAR predicts, as more buyers with the resources to invest in vacation homes come to the marketplace. “Given that the number of people who are in their 40s is somewhat larger than the 50-somethings, the long-term demographic demand for purchasing vacation homes is favorable,” says NAR economist Lawrence Yun.
Today’s market could offer opportunity unlike we’ve seen for generations to consumers who are considering investing in a second home. Many of the luxury sellers who work with Long & Foster find that our worldwide marketing reach not only targets qualified buyers looking for a vacation property within 100 miles of their primary residences, but the largest pool of buyers across the country and the globe as well. Vacation properties, particularly those at the high end of the market, require the specialized attention and expertise that comes with working with a notable luxury brand.
by Jeffrey S. Detwiler