Investors buying about 20% of homes in the United States

A story about rising home prices in small town America highlights the role of investors buying property:

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Local buyers bid against one another as well as against investors who now comprise about a fifth of annual home sales nationally. Online platforms such as BiggerPockets and Fundrise make it easier for out-of-town investors to buy real estate in smaller cities across the U.S., said John Burns of California-based John Burns Real Estate Consulting.

Often, Mr. Burns said, “the cash flows are better in the Tulsas and Allentowns of the world” for those seeking to rent out properties. In the fourth quarter of 2020, nearly a fifth of homes sold in the Allentown area were bought by investors, according to Mr. Burns’s data.

While much attention is directed to hot real estate markets in major metro areas – with a lot of attention for the most expensive like Manhattan, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and others – this hints at a different dynamic. In smaller town, there is not a big supply of new housing. Thus, investors can purchase homes and turn them into rental properties. Without large influxes of new residences, these rental units can bring in good money as buyers look to move up within an unchanging local supply.

If there is such demand and limited supplies of new homes in places like Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the focus of this article, one possible future is a business opportunity for local or national builders who could come in and provide new apartments or single-family homes. While the community may not be growing much in terms of population, housing stocks do need replenishing and what people desire over time changes. Could building in Bethlehem generate the kinds of profits builders are looking or are more of them chasing even better profit opportunities in hotter markets with faster-growing populations?

If investors are making a significant number of these purchases, could communities respond in ways that help retain opportunities for local residents as opposed to far-off companies? Could they form local investment funds or cooperatives that then only sell or rent the homes at reasonable rates to local residents? This could be an affordable housing issue in many communities and even if local actors generated little profit in the transactions, they could help insure a supply of human capital.

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