Trends and Research

Is Multifamily Real Estate Recession-Proof?

FEBRUARY 19, 2024
Written by John Makarewicz


The durability of investments in multifamily real estate, especially through recessions and diverse business cycles, can be credited to several fundamental factors:


– Consistent Demand: Amid economic downturns, industries such as retail, office spaces, and hospitality often experience declines due to decreased consumer expenditure and travel. However, the demand for housing remains steadfast as individuals invariably require shelter. This perpetual necessity for housing forms the bedrock of resilience for multifamily investments during recessions. For instance, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous individuals opted to maintain their existing living arrangements amidst health and economic uncertainties.


– Rising Rental Trends Amid Recessions: Economic contractions frequently heighten the difficulty of qualifying for mortgages, as lenders adopt a more cautious approach and limit loan approvals. Consequently, there is a surge in the number of individuals opting for rental accommodations, consequently bolstering the demand for rental apartments. Moreover, amidst financial uncertainty, the inclination towards substantial purchases such as homes diminishes, amplifying the pool of potential renters.


– Past Recession Performance: Examining historical data from previous economic downturns, like the Great Recession, reveals the capacity of multifamily properties to swiftly recover after initial fluctuations. For instance, apartment Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) rebounded robustly, surpassing other commercial real estate asset classes and even outperforming the S&P 500 in the years subsequent to the Great Recession. Additionally, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, residential rents in the U.S. have consistently trended upward annually, despite recessions, with the exception of a brief period following the Great Recession.


– Flexibility in Response to Economic Shifts: Multifamily investments have demonstrated resilience through various economic downturns, including financial crises, tech bubbles, and pandemics. For example, amidst the early 1990s recession, multifamily properties exhibited positive rent growth, distinguishing themselves as the sole major property type to do so. Likewise, during the economic challenges precipitated by the pandemic in 2020, multifamily, along with the industrial and retail sectors, witnessed positive rent growth owing to robust housing demand and government stimulus measures.


– Income-Oriented Assessment: The assessment of multifamily properties predominantly relies on the income they generate rather than prevailing market conditions. This income-centric approach to valuation provides an additional layer of resilience during market downturns, as multifamily units consistently yield rental income even in unfavorable market climates.


As we enter 2024, there is a possibility of a “soft landing” scenario, characterized by a gradual decrease in both interest rates and inflation, which wouldn’t cause substantial harm to the economy. However, this outcome is not assured. It’s common to observe some form of economic downturn following a period of rapid rate increases, as witnessed from mid-2022 to late-2023. Consequently, considering multifamily as an asset class at this juncture may be opportune.


In conclusion, multifamily real estate investments offer remarkable resilience during economic downturns, underpinned by consistent housing demand, rising rental trends, proven recession performance, adaptability to economic changes, and an income-centric valuation approach. These elements collectively ensure the stability and appeal of multifamily properties, making them a prudent choice in the face of potential economic uncertainties as we advance into 2024.


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