Investors Aim to Buy Thousands of Homes to Rent to Tenants
At least 20 times a day, Alan Hladik walks into a fixer-upper and tries to figure out if it is worth buying.
As an inspector for the Waypoint Real Estate Group, Mr. Hladik takes about 20 minutes to walk through each home, noting worn kitchen cabinets or missing roof tiles. The blistering pace is necessary to keep up with Waypoint’s appetite: the company, which has bought about 1,200 homes since 2008 — and is now buying five to seven a day — is an early entrant in a business that some deep-pocketed investors are betting is poised to explode.
With home prices down more than a third from their peak and the market swamped with foreclosures, large investors are salivating at the opportunity to buy perhaps thousands of homes at deep discounts and fill them with tenants. Nobody has ever tried this on such a large scale, and critics worry these new investors could face big challenges managing large portfolios of dispersed rental houses. Typically, landlords tend to be individuals or small firms that own just a handful of homes.
But the new investors believe the rental income can deliver returns well above those offered by Treasury securities or stock dividends. At the same time, economists say, they could help areas hardest hit by the housing crash reach a bottom of the market.
This year, Waypoint signed a $400 million deal with GI Partners, a private equity firm in Silicon Valley. Gary Beasley, Waypoint’s managing director, says the company plans to buy 10,000 to 15,000 more homes by the end of next year. Other large private equity investors — including Colony Capital, GTIS Partners and Oaktree Capital Management, in partnership with the Carrington Holding Company — have committed millions to this new market, and Lewis Ranieri, often called the inventor of the mortgage bond, is considering it, too.
In February, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees the government-backed mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, announced that it would sell about 2,500 homes in a pilot program in eight metropolitan areas, including Atlanta, Chicago and Los Angeles.
And Bank of America said in late March that it would begin testing a plan to allow homeowners facing foreclosure the chance to rent back their homes and wipe out their mortgage debt. Eventually, the bank said, it could sell the houses to investors.
Waypoint executives say they can handle large volumes because they have developed computer systems that help them make quick buying decisions and manage renovations and rentals.
“We realized that there is a tremendous amount of brain damage around acquiring single-family homes, renovating them and renting them out,” said Colin Wiel, a Waypoint co-founder. “We think this is a huge opportunity and we are going to treat it like a factory and create a production line to do this.”
Mr. Hladik, who is one of seven inspectors working full time for Waypoint’s Southern California office, is one cog in that production line.
On a recent morning, he walked through a vacant three-bedroom home with a red tiled roof here about 60 miles east of Los Angeles, one of the areas flooded with foreclosures after the housing market bust. Scribbling on a clipboard, he noted the dated bathroom vanities, the tatty family room carpet and a hole in a bedroom wall. Twenty minutes later, he plugged these details into a program on his iPad, choosing from drop-down menus to indicate the house had dual pane windows and that the kitchen appliances needed replacing.