"I think that these funds, these investor groups are looking at a cultural move away from your garden apartment with elevators, swimming pools, tennis courts and common areas," Ellenburg said. "Homeownership is looking less desirable to some, particularly in the affordable arena, and they have a chance, for very close to the same price, to rent a three-bedroom, two-bath or a four-bedroom, three-bath home and are able to call it their own."
Foreclosures, however, are now few and far between. Distressed properties — foreclosures and short sales ) — make up just 2% of home sales today, down from a high of 49% in March 2009, according to the National Association of Realtors. The regular existing home market is very pricey, so investors are now turning to a new strategy: Buy new. And suddenly, the so-called build-to-rent market is exploding.
"We recently entered an agreement with one of our long-standing third-party relationships to build homes that will be purchased by that third-party in a stand-alone rental community," Lennar President Rick Beckwitt said on the company's earnings call. "This community is in Florida and is the first in what we believe will be an ongoing business strategy and relationship where we build and sell homes in bulk on land owned by third parties with no lease-up risk."
"It's viewed as an ancillary income stream. We see this as more and more renters may prefer to raise a family or live in a single-family home versus an apartment complex or community or building. And so it is part of our Apartment Living group," Toll Brothers CEO Douglas Yearley said on the company's second quarter earnings conference call last month.