Equity Residential (NYSE:EQR) is the largest publicly traded owner and operator of multi-family, apartment complexes in the U.S. (based on the aggregate market value of its outstanding Common Shares, the number of apartment units wholly owned and total revenues earned). With over 137,000 units in 25 states, the company focuses on the acquisition and operation of apartments in high growth population areas. The company's average monthly rental per unit is around $1,000, placing its offerings in the mid- to upper-market range (compared to $650 on average in the U.S.) Many of the company's properties are located in California, Florida, and Texas.
Equity Residential is intricately tied to interest rate tides, which have several important effects:
For 2009, EQR posted total revenues of $1.94 billion, a slight decrease from its 2008 total revenues of $2.14 billion. This led to a decrease in EQR's 2009 net income when compared to 2008. Between 2008 and 2009, EQR's net income declined from $420 million in 2008 to $382 million in 2009.
The strength of the labor market has important implications for the company. Jobs fuel demand for all types of housing, including multi-family/apartment dwellings. Strong job growth can drive higher occupancy rates and lead to increased unit rental revenue. High unemployment and slow job growth, on the other hand, can hamper the apartment rental market and, when job growth is negative, the company can experience falling occupancy rates and lower revenue per unit, which leads to less efficient apartment buildings as the utilization of the complex falls.
Factors driving the non-apartment, alternative housing market can have a substantial impact on the company. For instance, beginning in 2007, falling housing prices in the company’s key markets, coupled with decreasing new home construction and the rising cost of financing mortgages increased demand for apartments relative to houses and other living alternatives. However, if housing prices continue to fall, houses can become more attractive to purchasers, and they may substitute away from apartments and opt for single-family housing instead.
Rising interest rates have several effects on this company and other apartment REITs:
The attractiveness of mortgage financing for home purchasers has important ramifications for the apartment REITs. If mortgage rates fall and credit is plentiful, buying a home becomes more attractive than renting an apartment, thus stifling demand for the company’s rental units. On the other hand, if the availability and attractiveness of mortgages declines, as did during the fallout from the subprime lending crisis, renting an apartment becomes more appealing, so occupancy rates and rental revenue per apartment increase.
The rate of population growth in the company's operating regions is another key determinant of the company's success. In towns whose populations are rapidly increasing, limited housing supply and/or the lag time in building houses leads to greater demand for the company's apartment units. The growth in local population is also closely correlated to the rate of job growth.
A large portion (around 40%) of the company's properties are located in either California, Texas, or Florida. As compared to, say, competitor AIV, which is widely geographically diversified, the company is exposed more heavily to risks of the local economics of these three states. The rate of job growth, property taxes, zoning requirements and regulations, and other factors within these states can have important effects on the company's bottom line.
EQR has been gradually selling off Midwestern properties and shifting more toward coastal properties such as New York, DC, and California. These markets are traditionally higher barrier-to-entry areas, which could help isolate the company from highly intense competition going forward. Obtaining properties and dealing with zoning regulations in these areas is usually more complicated, which makes operating in these regions more difficult for competing real estate firms.
The company competes against a wide array of other apartment rental owner/operators. The National Multi Housing Council estimates that around 17 million apartment units exist nationwide. The median rental income per unit is around $650 per month.
The market for multi-family housing is highly fragmented geographically as well as within any given region. Some of EQR's major competitors include Apartment Investment and Management Company (AIV), United Dominion Realty Trust (UDR), Camden Property Trust (CPT), AvalonBay Communities (AVB), Essex Property Trust (ESS), and BRE Properties (BRE).