Increasing population growth and a burgeoning preference for renting over homeownership are fueling an unprecedented boom in the rental market—a trend that originated from the aftermath of the housing crisis.
Despite the steady recovery of the housing market, the demand for rental units continues to outpace the available supply across the majority of the U.S. markets. This rising demand indicates a persistent necessity for more single-family homes and multi-family units to accommodate renters' needs.
A report titled "The State of the Nation's Housing 2015," conducted by Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies (JCHS), indicated that the U.S. households opting for rentals have reached a two-decade high. Concurrently, homeowner numbers have seen a downward trend for the eighth consecutive year.
Remarkably, the number of renter households has witnessed an annual increase of 900,000 over the past five years. According to JCHS, this indicates the strongest decade of renter growth ever recorded in history.
Young adults, particularly Millennials joining the workforce, significantly contribute to the pool of potential renters seeking affordable urban housing. However, the growth in renters isn't solely reliant on younger demographics. Surprisingly, demographics traditionally known for homeownership—like people aged 55 and above or those from higher income brackets—have also started to opt for rentals.
There are a myriad of factors influencing the escalating demand for rental properties. These include:
Each of these factors is contributing to the ongoing increase in demand for rental properties. Understanding these drivers is key to navigating the rental market effectively.
The JCHS report highlighted that a significant part of the rental unit growth stems from the conversion of single-family homes into rentals. In 2014, single-family rentals constituted 35% of the rental market, equating to 14.8 million households—an increase from the traditional average of around 30%.
Moreover, the construction of multi-family units in various cities indicates efforts to meet the escalating rental demand. The report noted that multifamily construction rose to 360,000 units in 2014, a significant increase from nearly 110,000 in 2009.
Even with the upsurge in construction and conversions, the demand for rental units remains robust. As a result, vacancy rates nationwide dropped to 7.6% in 2014—the lowest in two decades. This scarcity has precipitated rent increases in almost all U.S. metropolitan areas.
For landlords, the shifting market dynamics have proven profitable. Owning rental properties has shown solid returns since mid-2010, according to JCHS.
The JCHS report suggests that rental growth will likely sustain its strength, driven by the vast millennial population entering the housing market. The study forecasts that individuals aged 30 and below will generate over 20 million new households within the next decade, with the majority being renters. Additionally, the rising population of people over 65 will likely increase the number of renters within that demographic.
Considering the current relatively low mortgage rates, it could be an opportune time to invest in rental property—especially in markets where the demand is projected to exceed the supply.
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