The American dream created after World War II of owning a house with a white picket fence is likely lost forever in the ashes of the Housing Bubble and Great Recession, but a real estate development fund is creating a New American Dream based not on owning, but renting.
Eric Granowsky, Founding Partner of ESG Kullen, is on a mission to create affordable housing with a luxury feel. Granowsky says it is the overlooked middle class who will fuel the next big real estate boom. “There has been virtually no innovation in the rental housing market since the GIs came back from WWII. We are changing that, and giving even people who could afford to own a home reasons to rent.”
After the Great Recession and the Housing Bubble collapse, the savviest financial planners are advising even affluent families that it may be better to rent than buy. Paul Rosen, an experienced financial advisor at Matrix Financial Group in Boca Raton, Florida, says that the numbers show that what was once economic “common sense” is now less clear. “If one takes all costs and benefits into account, home ownership is usually not a particularly rewarding financial situation when compared to renting a similar residence. Long term capital return on residential real estate ownership is just 0.5% above inflation. Home ownership does not generally compare well to other investment alternatives, as it has different features. Especially for those who are more mobile or have less stable life or financial situations, the leverage involved in ownership, as well as the lack of liquidity, places them in a more vulnerable financial situation than a rental.”
While the wealthy may choose renting as a better investment, middle class families are in a tough spot where neither home ownership nor paying for over-priced rentals makes financial sense. The luxury ‘Class A’ market demands a household income that equals or exceeds three times your rent. This is out of reach for most middle class people, so they have no choice but to either move in with family or rent in substandard buildings.
Millennials face an even greater challenge as they are building careers in the most unstable job market in decades. Millennials know they need to be ready to move whenever and wherever work takes them – owning a home is too much of a commitment and employment fluctuations make luxury rentals too financially risky.
“I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in 2010 when the recession was still in full swing,” says Heidi Bolduc, 26, who works as a freelance video editor and television production assistant out of Orlando, Florida. “Although there are houses that may be affordable, it seems beneficial to simply continue renting due to the feelings of insecurity I have experienced within the current job market. I know many people who have had to move on short notice. I would be willing to move quickly if the right opportunity came along.”
But young Americans do not want to accept a step-down from their parents’ quality of living. “Yet, that has long been the reality of the rental housing market until now,” says Granowsky. “Until the new middle market that ESG Kullen and a few other developers have created, renters faced an absurd choice between accepting run-down 30 year-old properties with linoleum floors and miss-matched appliances, or paying sky high rents for ultra-luxurious modern buildings built in the last decade. Imagine looking to buy a new car and discovering there are only Kias or Bentleys with no models in-between.”
That is rapidly changing in what may be the next big housing wave. Neither Millennials nor affluent renters-by-choice want to squander resources on over priced housing. Creating a “middle-ground” renting experience has been very successful for ESG Kullen which has acquired 3,500 plus multi-family apartments in Texas, Florida and Southern California. ESG Kullen’s fund buys Class B and sometimes Class C communities and re-develops them. Because they are not starting from scratch creating ultra-modern Class A units, the renovated apartments and communities are able to have all the luxury at a much more reasonable price without the astronomical income requirements.
Granowsky says their number one focus is to create a quality living experience. “I will not build an apartment I would not live in myself,” says Granowsky. “Our renters receive on day one luxuries home owners often spend a decade building up. We bring in the best energy-efficient appliances, green LED lighting packages, we build out the kitchens with designer finishes like mosaic tile backsplashes and brushed nickel fixtures. In bathrooms we use spa style fixtures, and modern water conserving showers and toilets.”
Renting also allows for amenities that even the most extravagant homes lack. ESG Kullen’s rental communities offer green spaces, resort-style pools, fitness centers, tennis courts, basketball courts, car wash stations, pet parks and club-houses with soft seating and business centers that offer free coffee all day. “We partner with each community to craft a resident experience that reflects their needs and desires. In April we offer free on-site tax consulting. Throughout the year we create social opportunities like monthly wine tasting events and food truck events. For children we offer free sports clinics, swim lessons, and special interest programs like digital photography. Our whole focus is to make a place where people both love to live and can afford to do so.”
The middle class – which increasingly seems all but forgotten except in election years – is taking notice and literally moving on these opportunities. The prime renter demographic has risen to 87.3 million and every year sees another 1.1 million leave homes to rent. These are the highest renting statics in US history. ESG Kullen says these new realities have allowed them to both offer true dream homes for the middle class and present investors with a completely unique business opportunity. “Our fund has already deployed more than $200 million as investors see that this is a market that has been virtually ignored. The opportunities for return on investment in places like Florida and Texas are substantial.”
This model is perhaps the next big housing wave,” says Granowsky. “We are challenging the old A, B, C real estate designations – we may need a whole new Asset Class category for affordable but luxurious. You still get the beautiful lawn of the traditional American Dream, but in the New American Dream someone else is responsible for keeping the lawn looking perfect.”