I originally got interested in single-family rentals with the spinoffs of Silver Bay Realty (SBY) and Altisource Residential (RESI) in the last half year or so. These companies buy single-family homes with the intention of renting them out. Given that mortgage rates (5%), it is typically cheaper to own than rent. On face, these companies provide a compelling statement -
But how much does this translate to company profits? Rental yields are usually RESI presentation, slide 13) and mortgage/upkeep are ongoing while renters may leave and so profits depend on 1) maintaining a steady stream of renters while 2) keeping costs low.
The first might not be so easy, given that nationwide supply has increased by over a third since 2005 (the housing peak). Early players have amassed large holdings, leading to downward rental yield pressures even as new entrants, such as SBY/RESI, try to capitalize on the new trend. The result? Silver Bay Realty, one of the larger (new) public companies, is so far unprofitable with a 81% occupancy rate even on homes owned for 6 months. 81% might not sound so bad, but then why is SBY unprofitable?
This leads to the second point - just how much economies of scale does one get from managing thousands of houses? Does owning two lawns mean you only have to mow one of them? There may be the usual pricing power that comes with size, but such services to have to be applied to each individual house in different locations etc. If these costs are actually too high, how does one monetize/exit gracefully or at least protect downside? How about an IPO/spinoff?
So, given an industry that has low barriers to entry (only need plentiful capital), revenue that is not consistent, and costs that do scale with size, how well can we expect the institutional herd/interest in such companies to do?
Disclosure: no position in SBY/RESI
(Icon source: http://emersonblognews.blogspot.com/2013/05/lawn-mower-injuries-often-caused-by.html)