Amazon’s HQ2 Finalists Raise Apartment Investment Interest: Webcast Recap

Nearly 240 cities bid. Twenty made the short list. Those finalists for the coveted Amazon HQ2 are drawing increased attention from apartment investors looking to get in ahead of Amazon’s second headquarters and the influx of people and dollars the company is anticipated to bring. But will investors like what they see today, regardless of which location actually lands Amazon?

That’s the question posed by RealPage experts Greg Willett and Jay Parsons in the latest apartment market update webcast.

Their answer: it depends on priorities of the individual investor.

For investors who prefer tight markets, six fit the bill: New York, Newark, Miami, Boston, Los Angeles and Washington, DC. However, it’s not a coincidence that these high-occupancy metros also rank among the nation’s most expensive spots for apartment investment. Also of note, New York and Washington, DC currently have lower-than-typical occupancy rates, largely due to elevated delivery volumes in recent years. The Washington, DC market includes three of Amazon’s 20 finalist cities.

Meanwhile, metros that traditionally register occupancy in line with the national average include Philadelphia, Denver, Nashville, Chicago, Raleigh and Austin.

“Philadelphia is an especially stable performer in this group,” said Parsons, vice president of RealPage’s Asset Optimization division. “The other metros on the list tend to get more development, and sometimes construction can get ahead of demand. That’s happening right now in select neighborhoods across Nashville, Chicago, Raleigh and Austin, which is depressing occupancy in those markets.”

Metros where occupancy has a tendency to trail the national average include Columbus, Dallas, Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Indianapolis.

“In some of these areas, that performance reflects typically aggressive construction,” said Willett, RealPage chief economist. “In others, comparatively modest economic growth is part of the story.”

But some of these metros are doing better than normal. Columbus is showing signs of evolving into a tighter market, with occupancy in recent years registering well above the long-term norm. Likewise, Indianapolis is faring better than usual, though the market is still registering the weakest occupancy showing among this group of metros.

For investors whose focus is rent growth, there are fewer choice markets among the finalists today. Almost every metro examined is performing below both the U.S. average and long-term local norms.

“That reflects that these are high-growth metros attracting lots and lots of attention from apartment developers,” Parsons said. “Demand is still strong in most spots, but trailing new supply, and that’s holding down rent growth achievement at the moment.”

Among the outliers, metros where rent growth is currently ahead of the national average and long-term local standards include Columbus, Atlanta and Indianapolis. Markets where rent growth tops the national average but isn’t quite up to long-term local norms are Los Angeles and Denver. Philadelphia is the only market that commands rent growth slightly trailing the national average but above local historical norms.

Over the next three to five years, rent performances are unlikely to change much in a handful metros. Chicago, Indianapolis, New York, Pittsburgh and Washington, DC are expected to continue to underperform. Meanwhile, metros where rent growth is forecasted to look similar to the U.S. average are Austin, Boston, Dallas, Nashville and Raleigh.

Expected outperformers include Atlanta, Columbus, Denver, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark and Philadelphia.

“Some of the more appealing choices on the list,” Willett said, “are certainly not a surprise. Many investors are already working on deals in places like Los Angeles, Denver and Atlanta. On the other hand, Philadelphia and Columbus really stand out on the list of better-rated options just because so many investors don’t consider them.”

However, it was unlikely that Philadelphia and Columbus would actually land the new headquarters, Willett said.

Among the 20 finalists, the Atlanta, Dallas and Washington, DC markets are best positioned to accommodate the influx of new residents expected to come with HQ2.

For more on Amazon’s finalists, as well as an overall performance update on the U.S. apartment market, view the latest webcast here.