Moody’s: ‘No Market Will Be Spared,’ but Apartment Vacancies Highs Not Expected

A recent report by Moody’s Analytics forecasting the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on apartment vacancies found that, even under a “worst case scenario” model, apartment vacancies are not expected to reach or exceed the historic 8.1% high set in 2009.

In the “Protracted Slump” scenario, according to the “Q1 2020: Apartment First Glance” report,  Moody’s forecast model assumes the second quarter GDP will contract by more than 30% (annualized), and the economy will continue slide until late 2021. Under this scenario, multifamily vacancies are expected to rise to 7.3% by the end of the year, spiking to as high as 7.7% by the end of 2021. Meanwhile, asking and effective rents would decline by a total of 5.5% and 6.3% through the end of next year.

However, while these would be larger declines than what the sector experienced on the rent growth side during the Great Recession, the 8.1% record is still expected to remain out of reach under this scenario for a few reasons, the report notes.

“First, multifamily vacancies have trended to near-record lows given how well the sector has performed over the last decade—we are starting off from a lower base in this cycle, relative to 2006 and 2007 when multifamily vacancies actually began rising as a response to the housing market bust,” the report, released April 15, said. “National vacancies were at 4.7% at the end of 2019, whereas we started the Great Recession with vacancies at 5.7%.”

In addition, the Moody’s forecast model takes into account countervailing effects like a decline in new construction due to the economic slowdown.

“Several markets like Boston have classified construction as ‘non-essential,’ and this must be taken into account when it comes to predicting just how much of a supply growth slowdown will occur,” the report said. “In the Protracted Slump scenario, projects are postponed indefinitely, the original 300,000-plus construction figure at the national level is cut by close to 50%—and though vacancies rise, vacancies do not rise by as much as if we assume that there are to be no construction delays.”

The report concludes that multifamily properties will likely experience less distress than other property types—specifically relative to retail, for example.

“However, given how widespread the COVID-19 shock is, no market will be spared from the human sorrow and economic distress it has caused and is continuing to cause,” the report said.

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