Economy Watch: Apartment Market Weakens Slightly in Q4

The NMHC's latest Quarterly Survey shows apartment markets slowly receding, the first time since October 2013 that its four indexes came in below breakeven level.

The National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC) reported on Thursday that all four indexes in its January 2016 NMHC Quarterly Survey of Apartment Market Conditions fell below the breakeven level of 50, pointing to a decline over the past quarter. The last time Market Tightness, Sales Volume, Equity Financing and Debt Financing all came in below 50 was in October 2013.

Of particular note is the Market Tightness Index, which gauges consumer demand for apartments. The index came in at 47 in Q4, down from 53 during the previous quarter (over 50 means there is expansion in demand). That marks the first time in two years that the index showed any contraction quarter-over-quarter. Also in Q4, Sales Volume was at 46; Equity Financing was at 46; and Debt Financing was at 37.

“After an incredible year for the apartment industry, some weakening has appeared, reflecting seasonal patterns along with additional pullback in some markets,” said NMHC Chief Economist Mark Obrinsky. He added that construction of new apartments rose to the highest level in almost 30 years in 2015, while the occupancy rate continued to climb and rent growth accelerated. “With new supply finally approaching the level needed to meet new demand, we may well see some moderation in both occupancy and rent growth.”

For now, though, rents are still growing at a fairly strong pace, noted the NMHC. The survey posed a special question about year-to-year rent growth, and just over half (51 percent) of respondents said asking rents of Class A and B apartments were 3.0 to 4.9 percent higher than a year ago. One-quarter of respondents reported that asking rents were significantly higher (5 percent or greater), while 18 percent thought rents were up by 0 to 2.9 percent from one year ago. Only 4 percent noted rents lower now than a year ago in the markets in which they operate.