California investors shed rental houses. It’s a national trend, too


State’s single-family rentals dropped by 81,548 units in 2017-22

Jonathan Lansner | Contributed

Have hordes of investors – from mom and pops to Wall Street giants – gobbled up single-family residences across the state to make them rentals?

Well, my trusty spreadsheet looked at state-by-state Census Bureau stats detailing who lives in single-family residences, detached and attached, and whether the occupants were owners or renters. Figures from 2022 and 2017 were compared.

These figures showed the fears of potential homeowners being squeezed out by investors are perhaps overblown. Renter-occupied single-family housing is largely on the decline. Let me explain.

Who rents?

Yes, California has the most single-family rentals in the nation at 2.1 million units, or 15% of the US total. Remember, the vast majority of this housing is owned by small investors.

Next in scope for this renter’s option is Texas with 1.3 million units, then Florida’s 897,078, Pennsylvania’s 602,495 and Ohio’s 584,589.

But between 2017 and 2022, the number of California’s single-family rentals dropped by 81,548 units, according to Census data. That’s the second-largest dip among the states and 11% of the 742,000 decline nationwide.

Florida had the biggest drop at 87,803, and then after California came Georgia at 61,744, Illinois at 56,852 and Michigan at 51,461.

Note that 10 states had gains in renter-occupied, single-family residences led by Texas, up 53,414, followed by Alabama at 7,473, New York at 6,017, Montana at 3,753, and Rhode Island at 3,251. However, no state had more rental increases than ownership gains.

Now this California slide was only the 21st largest drop on a percentage basis – off 4% in five years vs. a 5% national dip. So it’s not any major sell-off.

Alaska had the biggest percentage decline, falling 20%, then Wyoming was down 16%, and New Hampshire was off 14%. Rhode Island had the biggest percentage gain, up 11%, then Montana at 7%, and Texas at 4%.

Who owns?

This dip in rental homes is a sharp contrast to owners who occupy their single-family residences.

California ranked No. 1 with 6.8 million owner-occupied homes in 2022, 9% of the US total. Next was Texas at 6.3 million, Florida at 4.8 million, Pennsylvania at 3.4 million and New York at 3.2 million.

And California added 400,768 owners of single-family residences in the past five years. That gain equaled 6% of the 7.2 million US increase and ranked only behind Texas (up 873,038) and Florida (up 771,406).

Only the District of Columbia had a decline, and that was just 312 units.

Again, the Golden State’s gain looks small on a percentage basis. Ownership rose only 6% — the third smallest advance among the states and roughly half the 11% surge nationally.

Census stats show the top gains for ownership were in South Carolina at 20%, Florida, Idaho and Delaware at 19%, and Utah at 18%. Texas was No. 11 at 16%.

Lows? DC was essentially flat then came Connecticut, up 5.6%.

Bottom line

A solid economy — minus the painful pandemic lockdowns — and cheap mortgage rates that persisted through early 2022 helped nudge more Americans into living (and owning) in single-family residences in this period.

Don’t forget US builders created 4.8 million new homes in the five years ended in 2022 including 310,000 in California.

So a buying rush — plus residential investment headaches associated with pandemic life — appears to have convinced more landlords to sell their single-family rentals, statewide and nationally, than any wave of investors who were recent buyers.

Still, rentals remain a significant slice of single-family residences.

Census stats show across California, 23% of this kind of housing is occupied by renters vs. 16% nationally. Only Hawaii’s 2% is higher. New Hampshire is lowest at 8%. Texas is at 17%, and Florida at 16%.

Yet that share is shrinking. In 2017, 25% of California’s single-family residences had renters vs. 18% across the US.

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