"Despite overtures of the headwinds from new supply, our April survey results showed positive gains in both occupancy and rents ahead of expected seasonal trends," she wrote in a report to clients.
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Zelman noted an intentional slowing by home builders, who are strapped by labor and supply shortages and who are looking to gain pricing power as the market recovers, as a key driver of apartment demand.
Rising rents are pushing some tenants to move, but not as many as expected. 11.5 percent of departing residents in April left due to rent increases, according to the report, up from 10.9 percent in 2012 but way down from 17 percent in 2011. In addition, more than half of those moving out remained in the apartment rental market. Thirty percent bought a home, and ten percent rented a single family home; the remaining moved in with family or friends.
The concern for investors in the apartment sector, especially in multi-family REITs (real estate investment trusts), is that there is too much new supply coming on line, just as demand is about to turn. The government numbers for housing starts in April added confusion to that argument, but some say the monthly numbers, especially for new construction, which have a wide margin of error, are just "noise."
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"Multi-family starts plunged 38.9 percent to 23,000 units, but the more important average of March and April was still a solid 321,000 units," noted Michael Montgomery, an economist at IHS Global Insight.