Memphis apartment vacancies increase at second-highest rate

It's a renter's market out there, as rising unemployment and stagnant wages have depressed rental rates and pushed apartment vacancies to their highest level since 1986, according to the real estate research firm Reis Inc.

Among the 79 largest U.S. markets surveyed by Reis, Memphis had the second-highest increase in vacancies in the third quarter, after Omaha, Neb. That's largely a function of unemployment -- which hit 11.5 percent in Memphis in August -- according to The Wall Street Journal:

Driving the change is the troubled employment market, which is closely tied to rentals. With unemployment at 9.8% -- a 26-year high -- more would-be renters are doubling up or moving in with family and friends during periods of job loss. Landlords have been particularly battered because unemployment has been higher among workers under 35 years old, who are more likely to rent. Nationally, effective rents have fallen by 2.7% over the past year, to around $972.

If you're thinking of moving to a major city, now is a good time to look for housing. Rents have plummeted over the past 12 months by 6.8 percent in New York City, 5.3 percent in San Francisco, and 4.6 percent in Los Angeles. Cities like Memphis with rising vacancy rates also are expected to see downward pressure on rents.

There are plenty of concessions available for renters as landlords struggle to keep units filled, the WSJ's Developments blog reports:

Concessions range from discounted rent ([Reis research director Victor] Calanog says it's not uncommon to hear of offers for four and five months free rent in some cases) to free gym memberships, painting and interior design upgrades. Some landlords are even promising not to raise the rent after a one-year lease expires.

Marcus & Millichap, a national brokerage, produced a list that shows which markets are offering the largest average concessions. Atlanta tops that list, with an average offer of 1.5 months of free rent, followed closely by Denver, Charlotte, Austin and Phoenix.

UPDATE: Compare today's Reis survey with these midyear numbers, which showed occupancy actually had increased a bit from the end of 2008. We are clearly not out of the recessionary woods yet ...


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