Though not everyone is treating the apartment recovery the same, most everyone at least seems to be taking part in it, according to recent data released by Chicago-based resident screening service provider TransUnion.
TransUnion’s June survey of more than 1,250 property managers found that operators handling more than 200 units were more focused on raising rents in the past year, unlike their smaller peers (those who manage 200 or fewer units). Nearly two-thirds of the large managers (64 percent) said their rental rates increased, while little more than a third (36 percent) of small managers indicated rental increases. Meanwhile, small operators had more success maintaining 0 percent vacancy rates: Nearly two-thirds (66 percent) of small managers had no vacancies versus only 11 percent of large property managers. All told, 89 percent of survey respondents had vacancy rates of 10 percent or lower.
“The larger guys have made it a focus to increase rents in the regions where they’re able to,” says Steve Roe, vice president of TransUnion’s rental screening business unit. “The smaller guys are more content to fill the apartments and have good occupancy rates, as opposed to taking the next step, whether it’s reducing the number of concessions or pushing rents.”
Roe thinks several factors are contributing to the disparities between large and small owners. For starters, there’s revenue management. Big guys often have computerized systems with real-time occupancy and pricing info. Small owners, meanwhile, often rely on past behavior or intuition. “The bigger guys are following their revenue systems to help them focus the rents objectively,” Roe says. “Some of the guys on a part-time basis set rental rates by gut feeling.”
Small operators often manage older properties, so they tend to trail in recoveries, as well. “The A’s tend to be the leaders in cycles,” says Ron Witten, president of Dallas-based Witten Advisors. “They go in first and come out first.”
Confidence also plays a role—it’s tough to risk occupancy by asking for higher rents. “The smaller guys want to make sure they get somebody in the apartment who can pay,” Roe says.
Overall, however, the market is improving for everyone. For instance, 57 percent of large property managers and 69 percent of small companies said they’re having no difficulty finding residents. That’s especially interesting compared with last year, when 27 percent of large managers said it was more difficult to find qualified renters. Only 18 percent of small managers said it was more difficult to find renters a year ago.
Translation: No matter the size of your operation, everyone will likely enjoy the spoils of the recovery. “If the Class A managers push rents, some of the people on the margins will move back to B-plus apartments,” Witten says. “As the top properties fill up, it pushes demand back through like dominoes.”