Real Deals: Rental home behemoth slows pace of purchases in Triangle

08/27/2014 6:18 PM

08/28/2014 5:01 AM

After an unprecedented buying spree over the past 18 months, the single-family rental company American Homes 4 Rent is slowing its pace of acquisitions in the Triangle.

So far this year, the California-based company has purchased 166 homes in Wake County, compared with 480 through the same period last year, according to Stacey Anfindsen, a Cary appraiser who analyzes Triangle Multiple Listing Service data.

The bulk of the purchases this year have been in a swath of the county stretching from Rolesville south to Garner, with the highest concentrations of acquisitions in Southeast, East and Northeast Wake.

There’s been much speculation about what effect American Homes 4 Rent has had on the local market since it began paying cash for existing and new homes in December 2012.

The real estate investment trust is one of a handful of dominant players in the buy-to-rent industry that has emerged out of the rubble of the housing market collapse. The company, which completed an initial public offering of stock in August, now owns a portfolio of more than 29,000 homes in the U.S.

American Homes 4 Rent accounted for roughly 725 home sales in Durham, Johnston, Orange and Wake counties last year, with 85 percent of those being made in Wake. That amounted to about 2.5 percent of that year’s total Triangle sales recorded by MLS. In Wake, the company represented about 4 percent of 2013 sales.

“I don’t think they’re creating sellers; I think they’re buying up houses on the market,” Anfindsen said. “If they were not here, would we have had 800 more home sales? I think that’s up for debate.”

American Homes 4 Rent didn’t respond to a request for comment this week.

The company has most likely crowded out some buyers who don’t have as deep of pockets, particularly around the $175,000 price point that it has been targeting. It also is certainly changing the neighborhoods where it has been particularly active, introducing a larger rental presence in places where before the crash there may have been mostly owner-occupied homes.

As of the end of June, the Triangle was American Homes 4 Rent’s 10th-largest market, according to the company’s regulatory filings. It owned 1,000 units here with a total value of $177.8 million.

The company does appear to be buying a fair amount of inventory that is either new or not distressed.

The company’s Triangle homes had an average value of $177,842 and were, on average, 10.2 years old. The average value of the company’s Triangle homes was the second-highest among its top markets, behind only Nashville.

Nascent industry

The question still hanging over the buy-to-rent industry is whether these companies can build sustainable, profitable businesses by essentially institutionalizing what was once a mom-and-pop business.

American Homes 4 Rent reported a $3.4 million net loss in the second quarter, although its revenue increased 22 percent. As of the end of the second quarter, 86 percent of its single-family portfolio was leased.

The company began raising rents in some markets in February.

“We’ve started in some test markets, and we saw very little price resistance,” said John Corrigan, the company’s chief operating officer, on an earnings conference call with analysts earlier this month. “So, we expanded it and expanded it. So far, it’s held, and we’ll probably continue to push until it doesn’t hold.”

American Homes 4 Rent increased rents, on average, 3.6 percent in its second quarter.

As for the company’s pace of future acquisitions, American Homes 4 Rent CEO David Singelyn said on that same conference call that it would largely depend on the availability of capital.

He said the company is seeing less competition in the properties it is going after both at auction and those individual homes listed for sale.

“I would say at the auctions, the institutional competition is less but hasn’t gone away,” Singelyn said. “And MLS, it’s definitely far less. I mean, we have cut back, and I think most of the larger players have cut back.”

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