The Norman Transcript

Commerce

June 9, 2008

Renters may be the biggest winners in housing market slump

AP Business Writer

NEW YORK -- Renters may be the biggest winners in the current housing slump, especially in places like Florida, Las Vegas and Southern California, that have thousands of vacant for-sale and foreclosed homes and condos on the market.

Apartment vacancies are edging up in many areas of the country as frustrated sellers instead try to rent out their homes and condos in once red-hot housing markets. And that is making it harder for landlords to raise rents. In the toughest markets, apartment owners are even offering lease incentives to snag renters.

This "shadow market" of investor-owned homes and condos accounts for almost half of the rental stock, and attracts displaced homeowners more often than your typical apartment renter.

"What's different now is the degree of excess homes and condos being put on the rental market. The sheer volume is creating more competition for traditional rental markets," said Hessam Nadji, managing director at Marcus -- Millichap Real Estate Investment Services, which analyzed the data for The Associated Press.

After staying relatively flat last year, apartment vacancies bumped up in the first quarter from the end of last year, the research showed. The vacancy rate is expected to rise by a half-percent this year to 6.1 percent as the market absorbs about 3.3 million more rental home and condo units.

Nadji also predicts rent growth nationwide will slow to 3.5 percent from 4.6 percent.

The national trend, however, belies what's happening in the country's most beleaguered housing markets. Areas that experienced explosive condo development and conversions of apartments into condos for sale are finding those units unloaded onto the rental market because developers can't sell them.

Sharp increases in vacancy rates plague most Florida markets where condo development was rampant. In Jacksonville, for example, rental vacancies spiked to more than 10 percent in the first quarter, up from 5.8 percent in the prior year. Orlando and Ft. Lauderdale had the next biggest gains in vacancies.

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