New single-family home sales jumped in June, as housing demand was supported by low interest rates, a renewed consumer focus on the importance of housing, and rising demand in lower-density markets like suburbs and exurbs.
Census and HUD estimated new home sales in June at a 776,000 seasonally adjusted annual pace, a 14% gain over May and the strongest seasonally adjusted annual rate since the Great Recession. The April data (571,000 annualized pace) marks the low point of sales for the current recession. The April rate was 26% lower than the prior peak, pre-recession rate set in January.
The gains for new home sales are consistent with the NAHB/Wells Fargo HMI, which returned to pre-recession highs and demonstrates that housing will be a leading sector in an emerging economic recovery. Consider that despite double-digit unemployment, new home sales are estimated to be 3.2% higher through for the first half of 2020, compared to the first half of 2019.
Moreover, pricing firmed in June, with median new home price expanding to $329,200. However, headwinds remain, including elevated unemployment and surging lumber prices, which exceeded their 2018 peak this week.
Sales-adjusted inventory levels declined again, falling to a 4.7 months’ supply in June, the lowest since 2016. This factor points to additional construction gains ahead. The count of completed, ready-to-occupy new homes is just 69,000 homes nationwide. Inventory (including homes available for sale that have not started construction or are under construction) is 7% lower than a year ago.
Thus far in 2020, new home sales are higher in all regions. Sales on a year-to-date basis are 0.2% higher in the South, 3.1% in the West, 12.6% in the Midwest, and 22% higher in the Northeast.
Housing Starts Miss Expectations as Permits Rebound Strongly
U.S. homebuilding increased less than expected in May, but a strong rebound in permits for future home construction suggested the housing market was starting to emerge from the COVID-19 crisis along with the broader economy.
Other data on Wednesday showed applications for loans to buy a home surged to a near 11-1/2-year high last week.
“Housing is a leading economic indicator and it is pointing the way forward but there is a limit to growth when the economy has to drag along the millions and millions of unemployed workers displaced in this pandemic recession who won’t be seeing paychecks anytime soon,” said Chris Rupkey, chief economist at MUFG in New York.
Housing starts rose 4.3% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 974,000 units last month, the Commerce Department said. That compared with the median forecast of 1.1 million.
Starts declined 26.4% in April and 19.0% in March. They dropped 23.2% on a year-on-year basis in May.
Single-family homebuilding, which accounts for the largest share of the housing market, edged up 0.1% to a rate of 675,000 units in May. Starts for the volatile multi-family housing segment jumped 15.0% to a pace of 299,000 units.
Homebuilding fell in the Midwest and the populous South. It rose in the West and Northeast.
Permits for future home construction rebounded 14.4% to a rate of 1.220 million units in May, reinforcing economists’ expectations that the housing market will lead the economy from the recession that started in February, driven by historically low mortgage rates.
Though the housing market accounts for about 3.3% of gross domestic product, it has a larger footprint on the economy.
Mortgage applications have climbed back above pre-COVID-19 levels.
Signs of recovery in the housing market were underscored by a survey of Tuesday showing single-family homebuilders very upbeat in June about conditions in the industry. Builders reported increased demand for single-family homes in lower density neighborhoods.
But with nearly 20 million unemployed and a resurgence of COVID-19 infections in some parts of the country, the housing market is not out of the woods yet.
Single-family building permits increased 11.9% to a rate of 745,000 units in May. Permits for multi-family units surged 18.8% to a rate of 475,000 units.
As the economic carnage from the coronavirus pandemic continues, a long-forbidden word is starting to creep onto people’s lips: “depression.”
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, there was no commonly accepted word for a slowdown in the economy. “Panic” was the term typically used for financial crises, while long slumps were commonly called depressions. Presidents such as James Monroe and Calvin Coolidge used the d-word to describe downturns during their administrations. There was even a slump in the 1870s that many referred to as the Great Depression at the time.
But then 1929 came, and there was no longer any doubt as to which depression deserved the modifier “great.” The crash hit the entire world, reducing economic output 15%. And it ground on mercilessly for years — by 1933, unemployment in the U.S. was at 25%. The Great Depression was so severe that governments permanently expanded their role in the economy.
Since the 1930s, economists and commentators have used the word “recession” to describe economic slumps, and none of them have been nearly as severe as the Great Depression. The only time this convention was really challenged was after the financial crisis of 2008. The global nature of the downturn, sparked by troubles in the financial industry, led many to draw parallels with the Great Depression. In the end, the term “Great Recession” stuck.
The economic damage from coronavirus, however, threatens to dwarf the 2008 downturn. More than 22 million people, or about 13% of the U.S. labor force, have already filed for unemployment:
Current forecasts are for the unemployment rate to reach 20% this month. Some predict it could go as high as 30% this year. That would eclipse even the Great Depression in severity.
So if severity alone is the criteria for a depression, this one will certainly deserve the moniker. President Ronald Reagan once quipped that “recession is when your neighbor loses his job; depression is when you lose yours.” There will be few people whose economic livelihoods are not hurt by the coronavirus.
But there are other possible criteria for deciding what gets labeled a depression. Besides severity, there’s duration; both the 1870s and the 1930s saw a decade of economic pain. Many hope that the economy will bounce back from the coronavirus in a so-called V-shaped recovery. It stands to reason that if the economy crashed because it was intentionally turned off by mandatory shutdowns, then letting people out of their houses will turn it back on.
Many of the economic relief measures now being implemented, such as the Paycheck Protection Program — which extends loans to small and medium-sized businesses that are forgiven if they retain their workers — have this sort of quick restart in mind. But while that’s a good idea, there are reasons to believe this downturn will not be over quickly.
First, there’s evidence that the main reason people are staying at home is not lockdowns but the threat of the virus itself. Data from online restaurant-reservation websites shows that in major cities, most of the decline in restaurant attendance happened before stay-at-home orders were issued. And polls indicate that most Americans are very wary of returning to their normal activities. This means that unless virus suppression regimes give people confidence that coronavirus isn’t a threat to their personal safety, they’re unlikely to come out and shop even if the government says there’s no need to worry. Because effective treatments probably won’t be available at least until the fall or later, that means many more months of business devastation except in the few competent and lucky places that get test-and-trace systems in place.
Next, there’s the global nature of the downturn. Gross domestic product is set to decline in almost every country. Some forecasters expect all economies to bounce back simultaneously, but a more likely scenario is that many countries will struggle to recover. That will hurt both U.S. export markets and international investors for years to come.
Finally, there’s the possibility of long-term financial market turmoil. In addition to severity and duration, a third common criterion for distinguishing depressions from recessions is that the former involves years of financial industry dysfunction and declines in lending.
The Federal Reserve is struggling mightily to preserve the solvency of U.S. banks and prop up asset markets, and so far it has succeeded. Interest rates are low, bank failures have not been widespread and stock markets have partly recovered:
But keeping banks on a government lifeline during years of business weakness, although better than the alternative of letting the financial system collapse, might still not equip the financial industry to do its traditional job of lending to productive enterprises. The threat of repeated coronavirus outbreaks, along with continued business failures, may make banks just as afraid to lend as they were after 2008.
Although the U.S. government can and should do its utmost to ensure that the coronavirus recession doesn’t check all the boxes for a depression, its powers to stop both the virus and the international slowdown are limited. Let’s hope this depression won’t last a decade, but an unprecedented slump followed by years of pain seems inevitable.
Megabank raises lending standards amid economic struggles to protect themselves
As the country struggles through the economic impact of the coronavirus, numerous mortgage companies have raised their lending standards to protect both borrowers and themselves. Now, one of the largest mortgage lenders in the country is joining that list.
JPMorgan Chase this week is increasing its minimum lending standards to require nearly all borrowers to have at least 20% down in order to buy a home. Beyond that, Chase is also raising its minimum FICO credit score to 700 on purchase mortgages.
Put simply, if a borrower doesn’t have a 20% down payment and a FICO score of 700 or above, they will likely not be able get a loan from Chase to buy a home. According to Chase, those lending standards also apply to refinances on non-Chase mortgages.
The bank will still move forward with refis under its previous lending standards if the loan is either serviced by Chase or in Chase’s portfolio, but for all other refis, it’s 700 FICO or look somewhere else.
It should be noted that the changes do not apply to Chase’s DreaMaker mortgage program, which makes loans available for low-to-moderate income borrowers with as little as 3% down and reduced mortgage insurance requirements.
According to Chase, the changes will allow the bank to spend more time on the loans it is working on and do the appropriate verifications to ensure the loan is the right move for all involved.
“Due to the economic uncertainty, we are making temporary changes that will allow us to more closely focus on serving our existing customers,” Chase Home Lending Chief Marketing Officer Amy Bonitatibus said in a statement.
With the changes, Chase becomes the latest lender to tighten its lending standards. Certain segments of the business, including government, non-QM, and jumbo loans, have dried up substantially as lenders pull back from loans that are seen as riskier than conventional loans. But as the crisis continues, lenders are beginning to change their conventional lending standards as well.
United Wholesale Mortgage, the second-biggest mortgage lender in the country, recently announced that it will require reverification of a borrower’s employment on the day their loan is scheduled to close. The purpose of that move is to ensure that borrowers are actually still employed when their mortgage closes.
“If people don’t have a job, I’m not going to put them in a bad position,” UWM CEO Mat Ishbia told his employees last week. “By doing this, we’re protecting borrowers, the company, and the country.”
But UWM wasn’t the only one making employment verification changes as COVID-19 pushes layoffs to record levels in the U.S. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac recently announced that they changed the age of document requirements for most income and asset documentation from four months to two months. What that means is all income and asset documentation must be dated no more than 60 days from the date of the mortgage note.
The bottom line of all these changes is lenders are attempting to protect themselves and borrowers from getting into a mortgage that is not in the borrower’s or lender’s best interest.
And despite Chase being the biggest name to make changes like these so far, it likely won’t be the last lender to do so.
The changes to Chase’s lending policies were first reported by Reuters.
Homeowners in Italy are seeing many of their bills suspended – including mortgages – as the country deals with the coronavirus pandemic, and now other European nations are considering similar moves.
Is a “mortgage holiday” coming to America?
The short answer is: probably not. Most American mortgages are packaged into bonds with legal terms that dictate what the servicers who handle the billing can and can’t do. There are ways servicers can offer forbearance – an agreement to let borrowers either pay at a lower interest rate or suspend payments temporarily because of a hardship. But it’s on a case-by-case basis.
“Somebody owns those bonds,” said Mark Vitner, a senior economist with Wells Fargo. “Who is going to make those interest payments?”
Any missed or reduced payments typically have to be repaid, with interest. Sometimes, that means the loan will be re-amortized, so whatever you don’t pay now, you’ll be paying off over the remaining years of your loan, with interest.
America’s mortgage market is much bigger than Italy’s $423 billion of outstanding home-loan debt. The U.S. has about $11 trillion of mortgages on one- to four-family homes, according to Federal Reserve data. More than half of that is contained in bonds compiled and backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
The Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees those government-controlled mortgage securitizers, issued a directive last week urging servicers to offer help to people who fall behind on mortgage payments because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“To meet the needs of borrowers who may be impacted by the coronavirus, last week Fannie Mae and FreddieMac reminded mortgage servicers that hardship forbearance is an option for borrowers who are unable to make their monthly mortgage payment,” said FHFA Director Mark Calabria. “For borrowers that may be experiencing a hardship, I encourage you to reach out to your servicer.”
In addition, regulators such as the Federal Reserve on Tuesday urged U.S. banks such as Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase to work “constructively” with borrowers affected by the coronavirus outbreak, promising they won’t get dinged by examiners as long as the measures show good judgment.
Italy has been the nation with the biggest outbreak of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, outside of China. Italy has more than 15,000 cases, and more than 1,000 people have died, according to Johns Hopkins University.
While Italy is the only government to introduce a plan to suspend mortgage payments for people affected by the lockdown – and so far it’s only for the worst-hit areas of the nation – other European countries may follow suit, according to an S&P report.
“New monetary and fiscal stimulus measures are currently being launched daily and the Italian government is contemplating broadening the mortgage payment suspension scheme nationwide,” S&P said.
“Some banks and governments in other countries, including France, Spain, and the U.K., have mooted similar measures, although the potential scale of eligibility and level of uptake among borrowers could vary widely and are not yet known,” the report said.
March 16, 2020 Supervisor Update on COVID-19 As you may know, I issued an emergency declaration last week and an additional order yesterday. We understand that two Bedford residents have been tested positive, though I have not yet received official notification from the Westchester County Department of Health. It is highly likely that more Bedford residents will test positive. This is uncharted territory. Our obligation is to take action to protect public health and safety, erring on the side of caution. We have taken the following actions:
Closure of Town Offices We have closed Town Offices to the public, except by appointment with the Tax Receiver for cash payments. We encourage you to make payments by check or money order (utilizing the drop box in front of 425 Cherry Street) or online at www.bedfordny.gov(click on “Pay Taxes and Parking Tickets”). Only essential employees will be coming to work on a staggered basis in observance of the Governor’s order regarding staffing.
Town Parks Due to the use of playground equipment, basketball courts and other town park facilities in which groups gather and have close physical contact, I have closed the hamlet parks (Bedford Hills Memorial Park, Bedford Village Memorial Park and Katonah Memorial Park) and Canine Commons to vehicular traffic (except emergency vehicles). You certainly may walk into the parks, use the trails and grounds, but please no groups and we ask that you please observe social distancing.We are looking into whether we can re-open the parks to vehicular traffic, but only if we can do so without compromising the public safety.
Cancellation of Programs, Events and Meetings We have cancelled meetings of advisory committees and boards. We are deciding on a case by case whether to cancel meetings of the Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals and other permitting boards. We will hold tomorrow’s meeting of the Town Board with videoconferencing capability (see notice).
I wish to share with you the following:Quarantine and IsolationMany of you asked for more clarity on quarantine parameters. Included in this email are links to the information released by New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Zucker for testing guidance: https://www.governor.ny.gov/sites/governor.ny.gov/files/atoms/files/Interim_Testing_Guidance_COVID-19.pdfand quarantine and isolation guidance:https://www.governor.ny.gov/sites/governor.ny.gov/files/atoms/files/Interim_Containment_Guidance_COVID-19.pdfPrice GougingIf you are witnessing price gouging on items like cleaning supplies, toilet paper or soap, please encourage them to call the New York State Department of Consumer Protection.They have launched a toll-free hotline 1-800-697-1220 and will investigate reports of unfair price increases amid the novel coronavirus outbreak. TestingI’ve been asked about the status of expansion of testing capabilities. I asked Dr. Sherlita Amler, Westchester County Commissioner of Health on a conference call today among other Town supervisors. She replied that the leading effort now is to provide drive-through testing. For maximum safety, patients remain in their cars for the tests, which are administered by a public health professional outfitted in protective clothing. Each appointment would only take a few minutes. PreventionPlease continue to take “everyday” preventive measures of avoiding exposure to other illnesses.
Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
Stay home when you are sick.
Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
Follow CDC’s recommendations for using a facemask.
CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19.
Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others.
The minority homeownership rate increased to 48.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2019, up 0.8 percentage points from the fourth quarter of 2018, according to a new data release from the Census Bureau’s Housing Vacancies and Homeownership survey (CPS/HVS) (Figure 1). This is the highest it has been since the third quarter of 2011 (48.9 percent). This year-over-year gain is higher than the gain in the overall U.S. homeownership rate, which rose 0.3 percentage points to 65.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2019 (a six-year high). A separate Eyeonhousing.org post covers the U.S. homeownership rate in more detail.
Breaking down the minority homeownership rate shows that the Hispanic homeownership rate gained the most in the fourth quarter, with a 1.2 percentage point increase to 48.1 percent (from 46.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2018).
The black homeownership rate posted the second largest gain of 1.0 percentage points to reach 44.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2019 (from 43.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2018). This is the largest quarter gain in the black homeownership rate since the first quarter of 2017.
Meanwhile, Other households (Asian, Pacific-Islander, Native American, and other race households) experienced a decline in their homeownership rate, dropping 1.0 percentage points to 57.1 percent (from 58.1 percent in the third quarter of 2019). The Other homeownership rate has now declined for four consecutive quarters (year-over-year declines), which is in contrast to strong gains seen for this group between the second quarter of 2017 and the third quarter of 2018.
The white homeownership grew by only 0.1 percentage points to 73.7 percent in the fourth quarter (from 73.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2018). The white homeownership rate has not declined year-over-year since the first quarter of 2017 (Figure 2).
Mortgage rates are still relatively low, and a healthy job market has helped to make homeownership more affordable. In fact, housing affordability was at a three-year high in the third quarter of 2019, according to the National Association of Home Builders’ Housing Opportunity Index (HOI). These factors are most likely contributing to the recent upticks in the overall and minority homeownership rates.
“Rates fell to the lowest level in three months and are about a quarter point above all-time lows,” said Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s Chief Economist. “The very low rate environment has clearly had an impact on the housing market as both new construction and home sales have surged in response to the decline in rates, the rebound in the economy and improving financial market sentiment.”
30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.60 percent with an average 0.8 point for the week ending January 23, 2020, down from last week when it averaged 3.65 percent. A year ago at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 4.45 percent.
15-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.04 percent with an average 0.8 point, down from last week when it averaged 3.09 percent. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.88 percent.
Average commitment rates should be reported along with average fees and points to reflect the total upfront cost of obtaining the mortgage. Visit the following link for the Definitions. Borrowers may still pay closing costs which are not included in the survey.
Freddie Mac makes home possible for millions of families and individuals by providing mortgage capital to lenders. Since our creation by Congress in 1970, we’ve made housing more accessible and affordable for homebuyers and renters in communities nationwide. We are building a better housing finance system for homebuyers, renters, lenders, investors and taxpayers.
As 2019 saw historically low vacancy rates among multifamily housing, it also led to a rising cost of rent, too.
According to realtor.com, a report from Abodo said rental prices went up in 38 states, including Washington, D.C., in 2019. In the other 12 states, the cost of rent actually fell, but only slightly.
Nationally, median rents for one-bedroom units went up 4.1%, making monthly rent $1,078 at the end of 2019.
Prices for two-bedroom units went up 5.5%, making monthly rent $1,343.
In 2019, multifamily occupancy rates reached as high as 96.3%. The demand of multifamily housing keeps rising, as home prices are also continuing to climb.
According to realtor.com, rental prices surged the most in Utah. There, rent went up 3.78% in 2019, reaching $965 for a one-bedroom unit.
“In states like Utah, people are relocating for jobs,” Abodo said in its report. “Many folks are coming from California and other high-priced hubs. People need to find places where they can live and afford to live a lifestyle that they want.”
Renting cost the most in Massachusetts, where the average one-bedroom unit cost $2,218 a month.
Renting surged the most in Detroit, where cost of renting a one-bedroom went up 7.48%, making rent $886 a month.
“They’re seeing a housing boom,” Abodo continued. “There are more people moving there, which increases the demand for housing as the city begins to come back. New construction has actually started there, which is obviously going to cost more.”
The highest rents in the nation were, at no surprise, San Francisco and New York City. On average, renting a one-bedroom unit was $3,877 and $3,082 a month, respectively.
Renters in Montana saw the biggest price cuts in 2019. Rents fell 1.6%, to an average $745 a month for a one-bedroom unit.
Average prices fell the most in Dayton, Ohio, in 2019, falling 4.11%. This made renting a one-bedroom unit $758 a month. Toldeo, Ohio also had the best deal, where rents were just $517 a month for a one-bedroom unit.
Mobile homes are no longer just a necessity for the poor. They’ve increasingly become a must-have for some of the world’s richest private equity players.
A 2016 investor pitch from manufactured housing owner and operator RHP Properties boasted that its portfolio of 33,000 lots — stretching across seven states — had “low cash flow volatility and steady year-over-year rent increases” as well as minimal capital expenditures.
The pitch apparently worked on Brookfield Asset Management, which has poured billions of dollars into trailer park sites in the past few years.
The Canadian private equity giant bought a portfolio of manufactured home sites in 13 states from Colony NorthStar for $2 billion that May. The deal included the acquisition of a joint venture backing RHP’s sites, a Brookfield spokesperson confirmed to The Real Deal.
Brookfield, which has more than $350 billion in assets, now owns 130-plus mobile home communities, making it one of the one of the largest manufactured housing investors in the U.S. RHP declined to comment for this story.
The immobility of so many mobile and manufactured homes has caught the attention of private equity firms in a big way. With most low-income renters unable to quickly up and move their properties, institutional real estate investors increasingly see that as a surefire bet — especially in a major downturn.
Douglas Danny, a Marcus & Millichap broker who specializes in manufactured housing sites, called them one of the safest assets in a recession. “From 2008 to 2012, there was no effect whatsoever on manufactured housing,” he said. “Now the new buyer coming into the space is the institutional buyer.”
And a who’s who of global investment giants have poured more than $4 billion into the market in the past four years: Brookfield, Blackstone Group, Apollo Global Management and the Carlyle Group have all snapped up, or flipped, trailer parks in that time.
Janet Sallander, a commercial real estate appraiser at Cushman & Wakefield, said mobile homes have become the “default working-class housing.”
“It simply produces better returns compared to other asset classes,” Sallander said.
Mobile home economics
Due to zoning restrictions and the high cost of land in many areas, there are just 6,250 mobile home parks in the U.S., according to a 2019 Cushman & Wakefield report.
Individual plots are rented out to tenants who purchase their own homes. And unlike aging apartment buildings in more heavily regulated housing markets, owners of these lots only need to provide utilities, while residents are responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of their homes.
Blackstone made its first bet on manufactured housing last year when it bought a $172 million portfolio of 5,200 lots from Ontario-based Tricon Capital Group. Other major players — including the Carlyle Group and Sam Zell’s Equity LifeStyle Properties — are snapping up manufactured home communities, with one analyst calling it “the most recession-proof housing stock in existence,” as TRDpreviously reported.
“A lot of investors are buying big complexes, if they can find them,” said PJ Mikolajewski, president of Ideal Manufactured Homes and a California Manufactured Housing Institute board member. “And as soon as they buy them, they jack the rents up.”
For Alberto Calvillo, a lifelong construction worker who recently moved his family to a site owned by RHP in Bohemia, New York, it was the most affordable option after he was priced out of another mobile home park in nearby Commack.
Calvillo said he now pays $1,000 a month to rent the land where his 900-square-foot house sits. His extended family gathered at the single-wide home, decked out with custom-fitted green and orange panels, on a Sunday afternoon in September.
“This isn’t a mobile home,” Calvillo said with a laugh as he pointed out the obvious lack of wheels, the custom wraparound deck he built and the new concrete foundation. “I’m going to stay here until I die.”
The average cost of moving such a home is $5,000 if the home has wheels to begin with, according to a 2019 report from the national community group MHAction. So when owners of manufactured homes are priced out, they often need to sell their homes at a loss and are replaced by new homeowner-tenants without any big losses for the site’s owner. The result is a low turnover rate and extremely stable revenues.
“If you have the right underwriting, you can increase rent 5 percent each year,” said Marcus & Millichap’s Danny. “Within three to five years, you’ve gone from a 3 or 4 to a 6 [percent] and the park has gone up in value.”
Documents from Florida-based Sunrise Capital Investment — which cite “superior risk-adjusted returns for investors” — give an inside look at the upsides for those in the business.
Manufactured housing is a “recession-resistant” asset class with low turnover that allows for “consistent rent increases,” the pitch to investors reviewed by TRD notes.
“Demand for our product actually increases as the economy tightens.”
Carlyle, one of the country’s largest private equity firms, made a splash in 2015 when it bought a manufactured home community in Silicon Valley for $152 million.
Tenants in the area soon complained of exorbitant rent hikes and a deterioration in management responsiveness — sparking new calls for statewide rent control in California. The D.C.-based investment group recently flipped the complex, selling it to Chicago-based Hometown America for $237.4 million this August, according to California property records.
Carlyle did not respond to requests for comment.
The rush of private equity into manufactured homes has also attracted the ire of U.S. senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, who in May wrote stern letters to Brookfield’s Bruce Flatt, Blackstone’s Stephen Schwarzman, Apollo’s Leon Black and Carlyle’s co-CEOs.
“Unable to afford moving, and unable to sell their manufactured homes, some residents report that they are forced to choose between ‘paying for increase[ed] housing costs … or abandoning their homes,’” her letter reads.
One publication called it a Dodd-Frank moment for manufactured home communities, but Blackstone was unfazed. Wayne Berman, the firm’s head of global government affairs, said in his response to Warren that Blackstone hoped to “raise the bar for customer service within an industry that has not always historically provided a high-quality resident experience.”
“Although we’re a tiny part of the overall market, [we’re] dedicated to professional management, capital investment and resident service,” Matthew Anderson, a Blackstone spokesperson, said in a statement to TRD.
Brookfield is “highly attuned” to the fact that the asset class can include lower-income populations, according to the company, which outlined steps the firm has taken to ensure affordability.
In other cases, though, bullish investment strategies have quickly backfired. At one manufactured housing complex in Akron, New York, which Sunrise Capital purchased for under $4 million in 2017, the firm raised rents to $525 from $280 and cut the 122-lot site’s employee payroll by $30,000, sparking an outcry from tenants.
After the residents organized an eight-month rent strike against their new landlord, the complex was placed into a receivership and the investment firm ceded control to the tenants. Representatives for Sunrise Capital declined to comment.
But those bad bets have yet to deter aggressive investors on the whole, industry sources say.
“It could cost [up to] $10,000 to move a home, depending on how big it is,” Rob Ybarra, a debt and equity broker at CBRE based in Las Vegas, noted. “But if you raise rents 25 or 50 bucks — are you going to pick up and go somewhere else? Probably not.
“That’s one of the really big reasons that people like this property type,” Ybarra added. “It’s a captured audience.”