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Surging Rents Push More Americans to Live With Roommates or Parents

Apartment demand in the third quarter was lowest of any quarter since 2009

Wed, Oct 26, 2022 9:00amGrey Clock 4 min

After a long stretch of record-high rents, Americans are renting fewer apartments as demand in the third quarter fell to its lowest level in 13 years.

Some renters are choosing to take on roommates, while others are boarding with family or friends. More people are opting to stay longer in their parents’ homes or moving back in, rather than pay steep rent increases, according to a recent UBS survey.

Apartment demand in the quarter, measured by the one-year change in the occupancy of units, was the lowest since 2009, when the U.S. was feeling the effects of the subprime crisis, according to rental software company RealPage. Measured quarterly, the drop in demand was the worst of any third quarter—normally prime leasing season—in the more than 30 years RealPage has compiled the data.

Meanwhile, the apartment-vacancy rate rose to 5.5% in the third quarter, up from 5.1% the quarter prior, according to property data firm CoStar.

Rents have risen 25% over the past two years, according to rental website Apartment List, pushing many renters beyond what they can now afford. Meanwhile, inflation on other essential goods, such as food and energy, is also eating into how much people have left to spend on housing.

“It’s a signal that rent can’t continue at the same level it has sustained over the last couple of years,” said Michael Goldsmith, an analyst at UBS. “We’ve reached a point where renters are maybe willing to pull out of the market.”

The apartment rental market looks to be cooling following a boom that started in early 2021. After the introduction of a Covid-19 vaccine, many people—especially younger people who had been living with their parents—rushed to rent in cities around the country. That boosted apartment demand and put upward pressure on rents. Some rental apartments were even subject to bidding wars.

Record high housing prices also played a role. They priced out many Americans who wanted to buy starter homes but instead have remained captives of the rental market. Home prices are now falling on a monthly basis, however, according to the latest S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller National Home Price Index.

Rental prices have started to fall on a monthly basis for the first time in nearly two years, too, while other recent data points also show that renters are starting to push back.

Shonda Austin, a home healthcare worker, and her three children moved into her mother’s house in Flint, Mich., this month after facing a 24% rent increase in Las Vegas. She hopes to return to a home of her own by March to somewhere more affordable, such as Arkansas or North Carolina, where she could potentially buy.

“My goal is to just save as much as I can,” Ms. Austin said.

The supply of new apartments, which has grown this year in large markets such as Phoenix and Dallas, may be contributing to the drop in overall demand, because new projects add empty units to a slowing market. Economic uncertainty rooted in fears of a recession may also be contributing to lower apartment demand.

Leasing also typically eases during colder months, but analysts said the drop in demand that started earlier this year is now greater than what was expected.

“The spring and summer leasing season was a total bust,” said Jay Lybik, national director of multifamily research at CoStar.

Yet even with the recent decline in demand, asking rents have remained near record highs. Nationally, asking rents have started to drop only slightly month-to-month, and are still up by 6% or more when viewed annually, according to several data sources. In some hot markets, they are up much more than that. In Charleston, S.C., rent is 14% higher than it was a year ago, according to Apartment List.

To escape record high prices, more people are choosing to live rent free with friends or family, a September UBS survey found. Eighteen percent of U.S. adults surveyed said they had lived rent free with other people during the last six months, up from 11% at the same time one year ago. That was the highest share of adults living rent free with friends and family since UBS began asking the question in 2015.

Other renters are finding roommates or splitting rent with family members. In North Charleston, S.C., 27-year-old bartender Bailey Byrum said her younger sister moved in with her at her two-bedroom rental house. Ms. Byrum said her sister had trouble finding her own place and had recently been living with her parents.

“She has a good job… but places by yourself are like $500 to $600 out of her budget,” Ms. Byrum said.

Some landlords are encountering resistance to steeper rent increases. In downtown Birmingham, Ala., last year, Kim McCann and her husband leased a spacious loft apartment for $2,800, a rent that then already seemed overpriced, Ms. McCann said. This July the landlord texted Ms. McCann to say she would be raising the rent by an extra $900 a month because local real-estate demand had “exploded.”

Rather than pay $3,700 for the same apartment, Ms. McCann and her husband decided to move out in August. The loft sat on the market until at least this week, according to a listing on Zillow, and the asking price was cut twice.

“Fingers crossed other landlords come to their senses soon,” Ms. McCann said.

Corrections & Amplifications
In 1Q 2022, change in demand was at its highest since 4Q 2021. A graphic in an earlier version of this article incorrectly said the quarter’s change in demand was at its highest since 2001. (Corrected on Oct. 25)


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China’s EV Juggernaut Is a Warning for the West

Competitive pressure and creativity have made Chinese-designed and -built electric cars formidable competitors

Thu, Jun 8, 2023 4 min

China rocked the auto world twice this year. First, its electric vehicles stunned Western rivals at the Shanghai auto show with their quality, features and price. Then came reports that in the first quarter of 2023 it dethroned Japan as the world’s largest auto exporter.

How is China in contention to lead the world’s most lucrative and prestigious consumer goods market, one long dominated by American, European, Japanese and South Korean nameplates? The answer is a unique combination of industrial policy, protectionism and homegrown competitive dynamism. Western policy makers and business leaders are better prepared for the first two than the third.

Start with industrial policy—the use of government resources to help favoured sectors. China has practiced industrial policy for decades. While it’s finding increased favour even in the U.S., the concept remains controversial. Governments have a poor record of identifying winning technologies and often end up subsidising inferior and wasteful capacity, including in China.

But in the case of EVs, Chinese industrial policy had a couple of things going for it. First, governments around the world saw climate change as an enduring threat that would require decade-long interventions to transition away from fossil fuels. China bet correctly that in transportation, the transition would favour electric vehicles.

In 2009, China started handing out generous subsidies to buyers of EVs. Public procurement of taxis and buses was targeted to electric vehicles, rechargers were subsidised, and provincial governments stumped up capital for lithium mining and refining for EV batteries. In 2020 NIO, at the time an aspiring challenger to Tesla, avoided bankruptcy thanks to a government-led bailout.

While industrial policy guaranteed a demand for EVs, protectionism ensured those EVs would be made in China, by Chinese companies. To qualify for subsidies, cars had to be domestically made, although foreign brands did qualify. They also had to have batteries made by Chinese companies, giving Chinese national champions like Contemporary Amperex Technology and BYD an advantage over then-market leaders from Japan and South Korea.

To sell in China, foreign automakers had to abide by conditions intended to upgrade the local industry’s skills. State-owned Guangzhou Automobile Group developed the manufacturing know-how necessary to become a player in EVs thanks to joint ventures with Toyota and Honda, said Gregor Sebastian, an analyst at Germany’s Mercator Institute for China Studies.

Despite all that government support, sales of EVs remained weak until 2019, when China let Tesla open a wholly owned factory in Shanghai. “It took this catalyst…to boost interest and increase the level of competitiveness of the local Chinese makers,” said Tu Le, managing director of Sino Auto Insights, a research service specialising in the Chinese auto industry.

Back in 2011 Pony Ma, the founder of Tencent, explained what set Chinese capitalism apart from its American counterpart. “In America, when you bring an idea to market you usually have several months before competition pops up, allowing you to capture significant market share,” he said, according to Fast Company, a technology magazine. “In China, you can have hundreds of competitors within the first hours of going live. Ideas are not important in China—execution is.”

Thanks to that competition and focus on execution, the EV industry went from a niche industrial-policy project to a sprawling ecosystem of predominantly private companies. Much of this happened below the Western radar while China was cut off from the world because of Covid-19 restrictions.

When Western auto executives flew in for April’s Shanghai auto show, “they saw a sea of green plates, a sea of Chinese brands,” said Le, referring to the green license plates assigned to clean-energy vehicles in China. “They hear the sounds of the door closing, sit inside and look at the quality of the materials, the fabric or the plastic on the console, that’s the other holy s— moment—they’ve caught up to us.”

Manufacturers of gasoline cars are product-oriented, whereas EV manufacturers, like tech companies, are user-oriented, Le said. Chinese EVs feature at least two, often three, display screens, one suitable for watching movies from the back seat, multiple lidars (laser-based sensors) for driver assistance, and even a microphone for karaoke (quickly copied by Tesla). Meanwhile, Chinese suppliers such as CATL have gone from laggard to leader.

Chinese dominance of EVs isn’t preordained. The low barriers to entry exploited by Chinese brands also open the door to future non-Chinese competitors. Nor does China’s success in EVs necessarily translate to other sectors where industrial policy matters less and creativity, privacy and deeply woven technological capability—such as software, cloud computing and semiconductors—matter more.

Still, the threat to Western auto market share posed by Chinese EVs is one for which Western policy makers have no obvious answer. “You can shut off your own market and to a certain extent that will shield production for your domestic needs,” said Sebastian. “The question really is, what are you going to do for the global south, countries that are still very happily trading with China?”

Western companies themselves are likely to respond by deepening their presence in China—not to sell cars, but for proximity to the most sophisticated customers and suppliers. Jörg Wuttke, the past president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, calls China a “fitness centre.” Even as conditions there become steadily more difficult, Western multinationals “have to be there. It keeps you fit.”


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