Enormous demand for the low end of the housing market–apartments in multi-family dwellings.

After my weekly dump on residential real estate, I feel obliged to reveal one corner of this beleaguered market that might actually make sense.

Apartments

By 2050 the population of California will soar from 37 million to 50 million, and that of the US from 300 million to 400 million, according to data released by the US Census Bureau and the CIA fact Book (check out the population pyramid below).

That means enormous demand for the low end of the housing market–apartments in multi-family dwellings. Many of our new citizens will be cash short immigrants. They will be joined by generational demand for limited rental housing by 65 million Gen Xer’s and 85 million Millennials enduring a lower standard of living than their parents and grandparents. These people aren’t going to be living in cardboard boxes under freeway overpasses. Or maybe they will.

The trend towards apartments also fits neatly with the downsizing needs of 80 million retiring Baby Boomers. As they age, boomers are moving from an average home size of 2,500 sq. ft. down to 1,000 sq ft condos and eventually 100 sq. ft. rooms in assisted living facilities. The cumulative shrinkage in demand for housing amounts to about 4 billion sq. ft. a year, the equivalent of a city the size of San Francisco.

In the aftermath of the economic collapse, rents are still falling and vacancies are historically high. Fannie and Freddie financing is still abundantly available at the lowest interest rates on record. Institutions combing the landscape for low volatility cash flows and limited risk are starting to pour money in.

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