Big companies buying up hundreds of Chicago area homes

In a sign of the post-Great Recession real estate market, big firms are buying up Chicago area real estate:

The Chicago market is vast enough that even an invasion of this size won’t change home prices overnight. But the frenzied activity is a clear sign that professional investors believe two important trends are ripe for opportunity: housing values are recovering, and many Americans have given up on the dream of homeownership and will become renters…

Three years ago in an opinion piece for the Tribune, Matthew Desmond, then a sociology department fellow at the University of Wisconsin, voiced worries about what he predicted would be a concentration of housing stock among a few owners, causing big landlords to get bigger and smaller landlords to fall by the wayside. He called it the “Wal-Martization of urban housing.”

On one hand, this represents a change in the Chicago market as firms look to buy homes, rent them, and possibly make more money down the road when prices rise again. On the other hand, the percent of units these bigger firms are buying is not huge yet.

Desmond’s comments are interesting. Why shouldn’t real estate and housing operate in a market space where corporations can get involved? We have few problems with this in retail so what is the problem in housing? Desmond and others might argue that housing is a more basic need – though American residents do not have an explicit right to it. Also, there is a long-standing ideology in the United States that residents should have choices among places to live and homeownership, determining the fate of one’s own property, is the end goal rather than having to be subservient to a corporate landlord.

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