TAMPA – Feb. 18, 2015 – Rent prices continue to surge like a red tide in the Tampa Bay area – something few welcome. And while many home prices are more affordable than rent right now, people aren’t lining up to buy.
Florida’s housing crash during the recession forced out hundreds of homeowners and is still keeping some out due to tightened loan restrictions. Some suffered credit setbacks and are afraid to jump back in, experts say. Still others are steering clear of home buying out of fear of a future crash.
That means there are a lot more renters these days dealing with those rising monthly lease payments. A robust rental market means rents will continue to go up with the demand. Eventually, experts say, it will get to the point that the average consumer looking to rent won’t be able to afford a decent house in a decent neighborhood.
It’s not just happening here. Rent has gone up in all of the nation’s 11 largest cities, according to a New York University Furman Center study commissioned by Capital One and released in draft form this week. Rental costs have swelled faster than income for most.
Low-income renters in all 11 cities studied “were overwhelmingly rent burdened and became only more so” between 2006 and 2013, according to the NYU report. The study found that the growth in the rental stock in all of the cities was due to a shift in homes previously owner-occupied.
“There are a couple of other takeaways as well,” said Sean Capperis, one of the study’s authors. “With increased demand for renting in many cities and supply not keeping up, vacancy rates fall, rents rise and more struggle with the cost of housing.”
Of the 906 homes sold in Hillsborough County in November, 45 percent were purchased for either second homes or rental income. In Pinellas County, of 1,697 homes sold, 54 percent were purchased for second homes or investment, according to RealtyTrac, one of the nation’s leading sources for housing data.
A portion of the purchases most certainly is due to the flock of snowbirds that make their way to the Sunshine State each year and purchase second homes, said Daren Blomquist, vice president of RealtyTrac. But most of it is due to what are known as institutional investors, he said.
“I refer to the recovery we are seeing as an investor-driven recovery,” Blomquist said. “Wall Street and private equity firms that created massive funds to purchase single-family homes as rentals play a big role. They’ve seen Florida as a great place because it has homes at good price points, typically $150,000 to $200,000, that they can turn around and rent. And there’s strong rental demand.
“In general, we’ve seen investor purchases pick up nationwide and even more so in Florida.” And while cash investors appear to have backed off a bit here as housing prices have begun to recover, most of the homes they’ve already purchased are not for sale, Blomquist said. They’re for rent.
Such investors are doing very well here, said David Moyer, director of sales for Smith & Associates Real Estate in Tampa. Moyer sells units in both downtown Tampa and downtown St. Petersburg. There aren’t many places for sale in downtown Tampa, he said. The average rent is $2,450 for a downtown condo. The average purchase price is $262,500 for a 1,050-square-foot unit.
“A mortgage that would require 5 to 20 percent down should get you under $2,500 a month with factoring in the (homeowners association) fee,” Moyer said, so it’s comparable to rent, but a buyer also builds equity.
David Lovitch, with Keller Williams in Apollo Beach, said he is seeing a slight rise in homebuyers but agrees people are slow to take advantage of lower mortgage interest rates now available at 3.97 percent on average for a 30-year fixed mortgage.
“When you look at the market collapse, Florida, Phoenix and Las Vegas were hit hardest,” Lovitch said. “That’s two cities and an entire state. But as the market starts getting better, I think those three will come back first.”
“If you look at the economics of renting versus buying, it’s 20 percent more expensive to rent,” said Isaac Lidsky, CEO of ODC Construction, which builds shells for home builders in the Tampa Bay area. “Slow and steady is great and I think home buying is turning toward not so slow. Resurgence is materializing.”
This surge in renters over the past few years has been a huge shift from those who rented before the recession. Back then, people rented because it was cheaper than buying.
Now, renting is the more expensive choice, said Vernon Taylor, former district vice president for Florida Realtors. “Every time I turn around, rent is going up, from $1,200 to in some places $1,600 for (single-family) homes,” Taylor said. “Sales are a slow-go for two reasons. One, we are low on inventory in this market and because of what has gone on with lending guys and appraisals.” Tight restrictions on credit have prohibited a lot of people from getting home loans, he said. “Now, I think people are afraid of the unknown.”
A research piece put out by J.P. Morgan in January shows that in the third quarter of 2014, it was 19.8 percent cheaper to buy a house than it was to rent. That compares to the second quarter of 2006 when it was 76.4 percent more expensive to own a home than to rent.
Much of the turnaround back to homeownership will come by educating those thinking about buying for the first time or buying again, said Eric Marks, president of Avex Homes, which builds in Wesley Chapel.
Some people are embarrassed to get that credit check that would show whether they can qualify for a loan, he said. “They’ve been through bankruptcy or a foreclosure, but so have thousands of others.
“Home builders and Realtors are making a strong effort to educate people on the benefit of homeownership, and the government is practically begging people to buy a house through low interest rates and great loan programs,” Marks said.
“The hesitancy sometimes comes from people who still think you can’t get back into the market after bankruptcy for seven years,” he said. “The reality is it can be as short as two years or in most circumstances, three years and the market is back open to them.”
“Two years ago, with such an influx of cash buyers, if you were a traditional homebuyer subject to financing, you couldn’t complete a closing fast enough to beat them,” said Steve Oehlerking, president of Rent Solutions of Tampa, which manages about 100 rental homes.
With institutional investors slowing their purchases now and with the economy showing signs of recovery, Oehlerking said he, too, believes people will begin moving back into the buying market.
And with rising rent prices, it’s not sustainable for many who are now renting, Lidsky said.
“It’s not a question of whether but when, how soon we will see the demand for home buying improve.”
Copyright © 2015 the Tampa Tribune (Tampa, Fla.), Yvette C. Hammett. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.