In comparison to the rest of the economy, rents may not be doing too badly. Consumer Price Index (CPI) data showed that real rents gained two percentage points in March after losing ground in February, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The index, produced by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), basically divides rent by inflation. Rising rents aren’t pushing the index. Inflation, which declined at a rate of 1.6 percent, did.
“That’s driven a lot by energy prices, which have been declining,” says Paul Emrath, NAHB’s assistant vice president of housing research. “It’s not because rents are historically robust by historically standards but because everything else is so weak.”
The decline was so striking that Emrath said he considered pulling energy prices out of the formula. But ultimately, the fact that apartment owners, managers, and their residents pay energy costs, he decided to include them.
Richard F. Moody, chief economist and director of research for Forward Capital in Austin, Texas, doesn’t expect to see many apartment owners celebrate the rise in real rents. “Real rents can be rising for one of two reasons—either rents are rising faster than inflation or rents are falling less than prices,” he says. “Given that the second reason is likely behind rising real rents right now, I don’t think too many apartment owners are going to be real thrilled.”