By Roland Murphy for Arizona Builder’s Exchange
Institutional investors are actively seeking multifamily opportunities in the Phoenix area, and that trend shows no sign of slowing down in the near term, according to the “ABInsight Phoenix MSA 2Q 2018” market report published this week by ABI Multifamily.
In the report, ABI Director of Research Thomas M. Brophy extensively catalogs a host of economic data to support his view on the strength of the area’s multifamily market. Gross Domestic Product was recently reported at 4.1 percent. Inflation is just slightly more than 2 percent. National unemployment is 4 percent (4.7 in Arizona, unchanged May-July), and – despite recent increases by the Federal Reserve – interest rates are still at near historic lows. These broad economic trends, Brophy theorizes, combined with the pace of absorption and delivery of new units to market, keep multifamily opportunities in the greater Phoenix area highly appealing.
Brophy notes the total sales volume for properties with more than 10 units, “increased 13 percent, Y-o-Y, to $1.52B across 94 transactions representing 10,182 total units sold.”
Non-local investors remain the major players. California-based investors remain in the lead with 4,101 units purchased in Q2, or 40 percent of the total volume. They are followed by Canadians, with 1,109 units, and New Yorkers, with 1,074. Arizona investors were fourth at 1,044 units purchased. Rounding out the top five were Pacific Northwest-based investors with 704 units.
Year-over-Year, sales in the more than 100-unit segment increased 13 percent to $1.34B. The 10-99-unit space also increased, rising 19 percent Y-o-Y.
Builders delivered 2,380 units in Q2, a 47 percent increase over last year. For 2018 in total, they are on track for more than 9,000, the most since the 9,315 high of 2009.
Developers have increased purchases of attractive land for new projects and have planned unit construction numbers of 16,761, 36 percent more than a year ago and a Quarter-over-Quarter increase of 21 percent.
Occupancy rates and asking rents also increased. The end of Q2 saw occupancy at 95.3 percent, a 0.2 percent Y-o-Y increase. Average rent went up 6.4 percent over the year to $1,067. Increases around the area were:
- Glendale: 6.6 percent;
- Phoenix: 6.1 percent;
- Tempe: 5.8 percent;
- Mesa: 5.6 percent, and
- Scottsdale: 5.3 percent.
Average actual rent remains highest in Scottsdale at $1,363.
What’s Driving Institutional Investors, and Who are They?
Brophy quotes Oliver Senchal’s forward to the recent “Preqin Quarterly Update: Real Estate Q2 2018,” in which Senchal notes investors maintain concerns about a possible economic downturn and have shown an increased appetite for the downside risk protection of debt funds. “Indicators appear to be moving from opportunity funds down the spectrum towards value added and coreplus vehicles,” Senchal claims.
Brophy immediately follows this with, “As I’ve stated many times, large institutional investors are all back in the Phoenix MSA and actively looking to acquire more properties.”
The primary drivers of interest in metro Phoenix over other markets is the area’s robust jobs growth – 3.1 percent Y-o-Y – and ongoing population growth. He quotes Chamber Business News as reporting, “Valley advanced business services, financial services and technology companies increased workforce by 15,000 jobs over June 2017. The average individual wage, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics May 2018 data, topped $60K in these sectors.”
Brophy also notes that even with the 2,380-unit delivery number, occupancy rates increase by 20 basis points to 95.3 percent, which, he says, “was surprising even to me and suggests that population growth is higher than most are predicting.”
Among institutional investment groups betting heavily on the Phoenix MSA, New York-based The Blackstone Group is the major player. When AZBEX received its advance copy of ABI Multifamily’s Q2 report on Monday, Aug. 6, Blackstone’s purchases in 2018 totaled 2,211 units across five properties.
Since then, however, news broke the firm purchased the six-property portfolio of DRA Advisors/The Milestone Group, a total of 1,721 units, for $311M.
In addition to its multifamily purchases, The Blackstone Group has also invested heavily in the mobile home community market and has acquired 3,181 units in 17 properties, Brophy said.
Other large firms making purchases in greater Phoenix over the last year include Goldman Sachs, TruAmerica Multifamily, Eaton Vance, Weidner, Western Wealth Capital, FPA Multifamily and BH Equities.
What Lies Ahead?
After analyzing traditional recession risks and indicators, and the potential overall market impacts of a downturn, Brophy points out the appeal of multifamily investment if other options become less attractive.
He says, “Suppose real estate return rates revert to average historical levels of 3.8 percent, across the board, and average rental rates soften to 2 percent-plus, contingent upon market. Where else are you going to find a better return? Investors are slowly beginning to wake up to this new market reality, and my best guess, without the benefit of a future indicating magical crystal ball, is that multifamily is where they will want to be.”
The full report is available for download here.