Part of the American Dream is owning a home — and another part is establishing a business so you can be your own boss. Real estate investing marries the best of both worlds, and with apps and new technologies that allow you to invest smaller dollar amounts into specific real estate properties, it’s a form of investing that’s increasingly appealing in our digitally focused environment.
Some new investors are also teaming up with friends to buy a house to fix-and-flip or to rent, but they quickly learn that not every real estate investment market is created equal. Markets might have a lot of single-family homes, but renters or buyers moving in are more interested in condos or apartments. Or perhaps an apartment-heavy market is seeing a boom in newlyweds or new parents interested in a house with a yard.
HouseCanary examined the top 100 metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) in the United States by population and looked at which ones had the highest year-over-year price growth for three property types: single-family homes, condos, and apartments. We found that all property types are seeing price increases in certain parts of the country, which also correlates with U.S. Census migration data, indicating that as populations grow (or shrink), there are ripple effects for residential real estate price growth.
The single-family home (usually surrounded by a white picket fence) is the quintessential symbol of housing in America. It’s where you can raise your two-plus kids and give a dog space to run around the yard, and in some metro areas, single-family homes are a better investment than other types of property.
Most of the housing stock in the United States is represented by single-family homes. Markets with high price growth for single-family homes often see even higher price growth for condos and apartments, which may be rarer but more in-demand than single-family dwellings. Generally speaking, home prices are growing faster in Florida and the West than they are in the Southeast and Northeast parts of the country.
These are also parts of the country where migration has been strong, with growing populations. And as we’ll see, metro areas with strong population growth show even stronger price growth for condos and apartments.
We see this pattern reflected in the best markets for condos, too. Condos are multifamily units that are available for individual sale and ownership. Unlike an apartment building, a condo building is managed by a homeowners’ association (HOA) and allows for individual ownership of units, while an apartment building is owned and managed by an individual or company and does not allow individuals to purchase units, instead renting them out either short-term or long-term.
Note: One MSA in the top 100 by population (Buffalo, New York) was excluded from our condo research because there weren’t enough condo properties to draw a year-over-year price growth conclusion.
Price growth for condos is generally higher across the board than price growth for single-family homes — but not everywhere. We saw at least modest price growth for single-family homes in the lowest-growth markets, but in some condo markets, we found price decreases. So although condos might seem like a less-risky, more lucrative investment than single-family homes, it really depends on where you’re looking.
Again, condo price growth lines up nicely with population growth, more so than for single-family homes. That correlation also has a downside: in areas where people are moving away, condo price growth is stagnant or even turns into a price decline.
Unlike condos, apartment units cannot be purchased by individual buyers; instead, the apartment building is owned in its entirety by a company or individual and is rented out unit by unit, either to long-term renters or short-term occupants (like vacation rentals). But like condos, price growth has been higher for apartments than for single-family homes — and also like condos, if you don’t choose your investment market wisely, then you might end up buying an asset that decreases in price year-over-year instead of increases.
There’s only one major apartment market where prices dropped year-over-year (Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, Virginia), and that drop wasn’t quite a full percentage point, so in general it seems that apartments are a less-risky bet than condos across the board. But the difference between a fraction of a percentage point in growth and 8.5 percentage points is clear — especially when we’re talking about an asset that typically costs hundreds of thousands of dollars — so investors in apartments should take advantage of that growth while it’s happening.
Like single-family homes and condos, apartment price seems to have a strong correlation with population growth and migration. They’re a good investment in the West and in Florida, both places where people are moving, and not a great investment in other areas on the East Coast that are seeing migration away from the metro areas.
In general, the West and Florida seem to have a disproportionate number of MSAs that show positive price growth across all property types, appearing in the top 20 MSAs across all property types and in the top 10 MSAs in at least one property type. Those markets include:
Salt Lake City, Utah, was also a top market, ranking No. 4 for single-family homes, No. 16 for condos, and No. 21 for apartments.
There were also some markets that showed slower price growth or price declines across all property types. Those markets that showed slower price growth or price declines across all property types (in the bottom 20 MSAs for all property types and in the bottom 10 MSAs for at least one property type) were typically clustered in the Southeast and Northeast, and include:
Other bottom markets that appeared in the bottom 10 in at least one category and were also relatively low-ranked for other categories include:
Besides geography, there isn’t a clear, identifiable pattern that ties all of these locations together; most of these metros have recovered at least partially from the Great Recession, and many of them have positive job growth, but there are other metros with better recovery and more robust job growth that aren’t seeing equivalent levels of positive price growth in single-family homes, condos, and apartments.
However, the rise in prices does seem to correlate with population growth — and lower price growth or declines in prices seem to correlate with population plateaus or decreases. Places where prices grew consistently across property types saw an influx of people over the past seven years, and places where price growth was consistently slower across property types saw much fewer people moving in, and even declines in some circumstances.
Here’s the U.S. Census Bureau’s record of population growth (where available) from 2010 to 2017 for the best markets across property types:
And here’s the population change (where available) from 2010 to 2017 for the worst markets across property types:
Some of the MSAs that were lower-ranked across property type did see significant population gains, like New Orleans and Winston-Salem. But most of the cities that did see migration into the area showed much more modest population gains than were evident in the stronger markets, and many of them showed an overall decrease in population as more people moved out than in.
And New Orleans’ population gain from 2010 through 2017 could be at least partially due to the city rebuilding its population after it lost more than half its citizens in the wake of Hurricane Katrina (late summer 2005); by 2015, the Census Bureau estimated that New Orleans had regained 80% of its population.
If you’re looking for strong investment opportunities across property types based on price growth, then focusing on areas with net population gains is a good strategy. Condos and apartments tend to increase in price more than single-family homes in areas where the population is growing, but they’re not always a safe bet — condo and apartment prices can decline year-over-year in markets where population growth is slow or markets where more people are migrating out than are moving in.
Price growth is strongest in the West and in Florida, and less robust in the Southeast, while parts of the Northeast may require even more digging to find a good investment deal. Pay attention to where people are moving and try to secure investment properties in those markets if you’re hoping to make the most money from your real estate investment upon sale.
HouseCanary examined the top 100 MSAs in the United States by population for this research. We looked at year-over-year average price change at a block-group level (where distinct property type indices are available and maintained), then rolled all of the applicable blocks for each property type up to the MSA level, creating a weighted average of all block groups and their price changes to determine the year-over-year price change for single-family homes, condos, and apartments in the MSA.