Anyone who has tried to buy a home lately knows it's a tough market, but a new report by the Asbury Park Press finds New Jersey homebuyers aren't just in competition with other people — they're also up against multimillion-dollar corporate investors.
Michael L. Diamond and Stephen Stirling delved into the numbers and found a story of LLCs snapping of tens of thousands of homes, pricing out regular residents. Tenants can't keep up with the rent. Diamond and Stirling discovered that there are six times as many LLCs owning single- to four-family homes in the state as there were 10 years ago.
Diamond joined WNYC's Michael Hill on Morning Edition Thursday to look at why this is happening, and what it means for regular buyers. The transcript of their conversation below has been lightly edited for clarity.
Michael Hill: Some of the figures your report sites are really overwhelming. In Newark, for instance, at least 40% of sales have gone to corporate buyers in recent years. It appears these corporate home purchases really spiked a few years ago, and they're still very high. Why is this happening now?
Michael Diamond: Yeah, it seems like there's a lot of investors with a lot of capital looking for places to put their money, and they've found good options in the in the real estate market. There are a few things they can do with homes once they have them. They can rent them out for rental income. They can rehab them and flip them for higher prices. And we're also seeing, particularly at the Jersey Shore, investors buying properties and turning them into short-term rentals, like Airbnbs.
The data in your report focuses on New Jersey, but is this a phenomenon we see more in the Garden State than elsewhere? What about other places, like New York City?
New Jersey's real estate market is much different than New York City, since it has a lot more single-family homes, smaller homes. We do see it in New York City. We've seen a lot of instances of places being turned into Airbnbs and also LLCs buying units. Really, it's happening all over the country. Some of the bigger institutional investors are buying property in the South, and some of the more affordable states. We were surprised to see that much activity here in New Jersey.
So what does this mean for buyers and what does this mean for renters?
Yeah, it's a pretty simple equation. The more investors buy up property, the less inventory there is, and it starts to increase prices both for sale and also for rent. And first-time homebuyers in particular are hardest hit, because they're trying to compete in the market. And a lot of times, the investors can come in and make better offers for buyers with all cash, or they can waive contingencies. So [regular buyers] are getting priced out.
And what kinds of communities is this happening in, and what makes certain places so attractive to these LLCs?
We've seen the most activity in some of lower-income areas, like Newark and Trenton. In Trenton, something like 44% of sales have gone to LLCs in the past five years. But it's not just big cities. We've seen small towns, like down in Ocean County, Toms River saw a huge up uptick in investors. And I think they're finding the most affordable homes there.
So Michael, is anyone trying to address this issue? Are there bills or policies proposed that could make a difference, or would make a difference?
There's not much going on. There's a bill in Trenton that would require LLCs to disclose their members, which would bring more transparency, [to find who's] in control of the properties, but that bill hasn't gone anywhere. And really, what we found is public policy going the other way. There have been the tax breaks that LLCs have been able to take advantage of, both federal and statewide.
So what, if any, recourse do homebuyers have?
Patience. They need to be patient. The search is longer and takes more effort. And at this point, prices could get higher, or high enough so that investors don't see as big of an opportunity in real estate as elsewhere.