Year-End Review Shows Institutions Exiting Investment Picture

12-31-investmentAt 2014’s year end, it’s as good a time as ever to look back over the real estate investment landscape to see if any new trends or directions may have become apparent. It does look as if one development in the country as a whole may cause ripples that could affect Sapphire real estate investment hunters in the coming year.

This is a development with roots that go back to the 2008 upending of the housing market. That triggered a glut of foreclosures, so that banks, already up to their vaults in turmoil, found themselves holding uncomfortably large numbers of repossessions. Bright-eyed executives at private equity firms and hedge funds were quick to spot this as a new opportunity: they could scoop up the repossessions for a song, rent them out, and then just wait to sell until the economy improved.

By 2013 The New York Times was reporting that the Blackstone Group now owned some 26,000 rental homes—with Colony Capital picking up more than 10,000 single-family residences. Warren Buffet had endorsed the idea; J.P. Morgan and Morgan Stanley had set up new real estate investment funds earmarked for the purchase of houses. Vague concerns about absentee investor landlords were waved away—this was like some kind of newfangled Institutional Investor Gold Rush, and as any ‘49er could have told you, in a gold rush, there isn’t time to worry about the details!

The main real estate investment targets centered on certain markets: Minneapolis, Atlanta, Detroit, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New York, and Phoenix saw the most activity. In some regions, 2012 and 2013 saw bidding wars for repossessions and lower-priced housing, until by July of this year, The Times could report that in some areas “prices of the least expensive homes have more than doubled” in two years. As Forbes reported in 2013, “Wall Street has been bullish on real estate.”

Sellers (mostly banks) were happy. The institutional investors were happy. However, ordinary people looking out for the same kind of real estate investments found themselves competing with institutions. They were largely beaten out or priced out of the market.

By the end of 2013, though, those earlier “details” that had been ignored were beginning to rankle. Individuals whose real estate investments were hands-on propositions may not have had the same kind of problems, but a company like Colony American Capital had to report that it had found renters for only 51% of its properties. Many private equity firms and hedge funds began to report losses. As the CEO of Carrington Holding wrote, “We just don’t see the returns there that are adequate to incentivize us to continue to invest.” (Translation: Good-bye.)

With institutional investors bidding adieu to the areas they’d previously targeted, any repercussions felt Sapphire’s real estate investment landscape can only be to return to a more familiar market scenario—one where individual investors have the last word. If 2015 will see you in the hunt for suitable real estate investments in Sapphire, that should come as good news…as well as a good reason to give me a call!

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