What a ride! For the past five years, apartment building owners hit the jackpot with their property values going up nationally by 37%, according to Marcus and Millichap. This was fueled by record rental increases of 13.5% in 2021 and 6.2% in 2022 and mortgage rates hitting their lowest ever in January 2021. But this trend is seemingly slowing. According to CBRE, the average multifamily cap rate went up by 38 basis points to 4.49% in the last quarter of 2022, which means prices are starting to come down. And thank goodness!
As a commercial mortgage banker specializing in multifamily financing nationally, 2022 was an extremely difficult year. It was a head-on collision between property values going up and mortgage rates going up. This produced smaller loan sizes, killing many of our deals. It wasn’t pleasant telling my client, “Sorry, 40% down is no longer going to cut it. Can you come up with 50%?” He replied, “Really? I was only getting a 4% cash-on-cash return, and now you want me to be happy with 2%.” I told him to negotiate the price down with the seller, who opted to take the property off the market instead.
Why Both Buyers And Sellers Have Their Brakes On
Although multifamily is the most sought-after asset class in the commercial real estate market today, prices remain high. This is a result of low supply and demand. In fact, the 4th quarter of 2022 hit the lowest level for both since 2009, according to Moody Analytics.
So, it’s no wonder that both buyers and sellers have their brakes on. Why? Because many buyers can’t figure out what a property is really worth today. Worse yet, they are afraid they are buying at the top of the market with a recession around the corner. And many sellers are in love with those high prices. They know that this is not a good time to sell with rates being so high. I’ve found that most are financially strong and don’t have to sell. They can just wait for rates to come down—snug in the comfort of the very low long-term rates they have on the property.
Why Multifamily Sales Prices Could Come Down Slowly In 2023
The good news for sellers is that the economy seems to be getting stronger, with wages climbing 6.3% for jobs posted on Indeed and 4.8 million jobs created in 2022. Even better, in January 2023, 517,000 new jobs were created, and unemployment hit a 53-year low at 3.4%. Many sellers, real estate brokers and property managers I talk with are arguing that this should justify today’s high multifamily prices and support more rental increases in 2023 as wages have gone up too.
But I think the data from the last quarter of 2022 supports a different argument—that multifamily prices must come down. According to CBRE, new investment in multifamily property fell by 70% (download required). Why? Because investors couldn’t make the numbers work, and the future did not look bright. According to Fannie Mae, there was a negative demand for multifamily units of -103,485 at the end of 2022. Now if we add to this the 783,000 new apartment units they report coming online in 2023, this is a recipe for rents remaining flat and rental concessions on the rise.
Savvy property investors know that if they are going to buy high, they have to raise rents to achieve the return they need in the future. This goes right to their bottom line, raising the net operating income in the income approach of a commercial appraisal and raising property value. But as noted in the report above, Fannie Mae is expecting rents to only achieve a 1.5% increase in 2023.
Today’s high prices just don’t seem sustainable, or I should say, they are not based in reality. The reality is that too many units are available for rent, too many units are coming online and too many renters are already paying more than they can afford with inflation. The reality is what an investor is willing to put down on a loan with today’s high mortgage rates. The reality is that those rates are likely to go higher as the Fed struggles to lower inflation to their benchmark of 2%. It’s at 6.3% now. And the reality is what an investor needs to earn.
A client of mine recently summed it up perfectly: “If I buy at today’s prices, I will be paying what the property will be worth in two years. And that’s if I can raise rents enough. Why would I do that?”
What does all this mean? If you are a multifamily investor, you might be better off waiting until prices come down. I think they will by the last quarter of 2023, as appraisal valuations come down and more sellers must sell due to divorce, partnership breakup, loan maturity or death. Of course, those who have the time may want to make lowball offers on properties with under-market rents in good neighborhoods where renters can afford future rent increases and wait for one to stick.
If you are a seller or listing real estate broker, unless you want to wait for a cash buyer, it’s important to not only sell the property’s upsides and value adds but also think about the buyers’ expectations for earnings. Based on actual net operating income, current interest rates and down payment requirement, what sale price will bring the deal to the closing table?
The information provided here is not investment, tax or financial advice. You should consult with a licensed professional for advice concerning your specific situation.