Greg Willett is vice president of research and analysis at M/PF YieldStar.
Apparently fears of the apartment market slowing were overblown, according to a recent report from RealPage's MPF Research.

Rent growth accelerated to 4.7 percent in 2014, the highest figure since 2011. Usually the pace of rent growth slows after the first couple of years of a cycle, but this upturn is behaving differently, driven by strong job growth in higher-paying jobs in 2014.

“The overall economic performance was stronger than typical at this stage of the recovery,” said MPF Research vice president Greg Willett. “Job production went up 20 to 25 percent over the previous three or four years. In past years, 60 percent of those jobs were in low-paying industries. In 2014, 60 percent of those jobs were in higher paying industries.”

One surprising driver of growth was the fourth quarter, when things usually slow. Rents actually rose 0.6 percent during the last quarter of 2014, which was only the second time in the last decade rents rose so much at the tail-end of the year (the other time was 2005).

“The overall economic performance was stronger,” Willett says. “And, certainly if you compare it to last year, the weather was really cooperative, as well.”

Absorbing the Supply
The industry’s strong performance in 2014 came despite a 14-year high of 246,579 new completions in the nation’s 100 largest metros. But with demand at 268,532 units, the supply/demand equation was still in favor of landlords, as occupancy climbed 30 basis points to 95.3 percent.

Supply should increase this year as well. During 2015, 290,145 new units are expected to be delivered, which will put more pressure on apartment owners. But MPF expects actual deliveries to be less than that because of construction delays due to labor shortages in many markets. As such, the research firm forecasts 2015 new supply to be around 250,000 to 260,000 units, which will be on par with 2014’s tally.

MPF expects the market to be able to absorb those 250,000 to 260,000 new units. Overall, MPF expects rent growth of 3.5 to 4 percent for the year ahead. But the growth won’t be even. 

“I do think we are in late innings for the urban core/really expensive apartments,” Willett says. “There just aren’t that many households out there who can afford that. Those units tend to be built for Millennials, but honestly they’re too expensive for them.”

But in other spots, outside of the urban core, 2015 looks a lot better.

“We still have a lot of runway for suburban or even urban fringe, where you’re just coming down from that 'Main and Main' price point by 10 or 20 percent,” Willett says. “The middle market is still going strong. The concern about the middle market was affordability. But if wage growth is getting better, maybe that’s not as big a problem as we thought it should be.”