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Investor Safe Haven: Apartment REITs

Apartment Building
Apartment Building

With all the turmoil and unknown in the markets, investors today may be searching for a safe-haven. U.S. real estate wouldn't exactly sit at the top of the list for most, given the still uncertain state of the housing and credit markets, but there is one sector that seems to have fundamentals and sentiment on its side: Apartments.

We're in Boston, MA today for day two of the Spring Realty Check: Opportunity Knocks. Boston is home to Avalon Bay, one of the largest apartment REITs in the nation. It's revenues were up 8 percent year over and shares are up 34 percent from a year ago. It's the upside to the downturn in housing. Many people who lost their homes to foreclosure have been forced to the rental market, others who are unable to get a mortgage are doing the same, and still others who would have headed toward home ownership have been scared away from the market by still falling prices. In turn, apartment vacancies are down, rents are up and REITs are reaping the rewards.

CNBC Investor Guide to Spring Real Estate 2011 - See Complete Coverage
CNBC Investor Guide to Spring Real Estate 2011 - See Complete Coverage

We interviewed a young couple in Boston, fiancées, and I think their insights are indicative of so many around the country.

"A lot of people are scared to buy just because if they have to move or things change, you lose money on the house and you might not be able to sell it. In my mind it's just easier and more safe to rent."

"I think more and more people are going to go away from buying and start renting more just because it's convenient. It's a no brainer to rent, especially when you're young and you want to live in the city."

The story appears to be the same in most cities around the country. Even though affordability is very high, renting just seems like the safer bet for many on the fence. The big question of course is whether this is a temporary phenomenon or not? One important fundamental of note: There is very little multi-family supply, as new construction essentially ground to a halt during the housing crash. It is just now starting up again, but there will be at least a two year lag time before that new supply comes to market.

Questions? Comments? RealtyCheck@cnbc.comAnd follow me on Twitter @Diana_Olick