Developers have been very slow to restart construction of new condominiums across the United States since the condo crash. But in a few coastal markets like New York City and San Francisco, new condominiums are selling quickly and developers are building in bulk. The high cost of developable land is encouraging condo development in some prime downtown locations.
Developers planning new apartment buildings today won’t finish for two years or more in many parts of the country—hundreds of thousands of apartments now under construction have already softened the national multifamily markets. But many developers are now planning new projects anyway.
Construction is booming for the multifamily business, but so far, the cost of construction is not rising out of control. Prices are falling for diesel fuel, lumber and wall board. However, labor is more difficult to find, especially workers that handle lumber and sheet rock.
Investors are finally buying apartment properties in big numbers in smaller cities and towns. “There’s been a dramatic increase in the number of offers for properties in secondary and tertiary markets,” says John Sebree, director of Marcus & Millichap's National Multi Housing Group. “It’s been moving in this direction for some time—now it’s moving at a faster pace.”
Big institutions bought about half as many single-family houses in the first quarter of 2015 compared to the year before, according to the latest numbers from data firm RealtyTrac Inc., even though the investors overall are more active than ever in buying single-family houses.
In many recovered housing markets, Americans are now paying more for condominiums than they did during the housing boom, according to the S&P/Case Shiller Home Price Indices. But developers are barely building new condominiums to meet that demand.
Downtown areas can be difficult places to build apartments simply because there is limited land for new construction projects. But in recent years, developers have been highly motivated to overcome the barriers to build downtown.
The percentage of vacant apartments stayed incredibly low in the first quarter, as cold weather delayed a confrontation between growing supply and growing demand. As a result, says Victor Canalog, chief economist and senior vice president for Reis Inc., “The most die-hard multifamily optimists will have their beliefs tested in the next six months.”