Orange County’s Multifamily Sector Remains Highly Sought After By Investors

by Jeff Shaw

— By Shane Shafer, Managing Director, Northmarq —

Orange County remains a highly desirable market for multifamily investors — and for good reason. It’s a flight-to-quality market with a strong employment base and continued expectations of future job growth. This drives demand for rental units and pushes rent growth and occupancy. 

Add to that a severe shortage of rental housing supply, more would-be homebuyers remaining renter, and Orange County’s affordability compared with other Southern California markets, and it points to a robust investor market.

Shane Shafer, Managing Director, Northmarq

The employment market continues to show signs of growth and resurgence, adding 73,000 jobs in 2022. Unemployment is an extremely low 2.5 percent. Orange County is long known for its tech startups, tourism and hospitality sectors, though healthcare and bioscience are expanding here as well. For example, Washington-based health system Providence is investing $712 million in Orange County to build two new multi-specialty medical centers and a new patient care tower for Providence Mission Hospital. The centers will be in San Clemente and Rancho Mission Viejo.

This strong job market gives multifamily investors confidence in their expected returns as they aggressively pursue assets when they hit the market.

Central OC Leads in Rental Gains

Central Orange County experienced a spike in demand due to limited new construction, in addition to renters seeking affordable rental levels and good-paying jobs. Average rents here are nearly $950 per month lower than the coastal markets and Class A core sector.

This renter migration is creating high demand and driving continued rent growth while maintaining very low vacancy rates in all sectors, but primarily in mid-market vintage properties. Rents in Central Orange County mainly expanded in first-quarter 2022 and eased in the remaining three quarters. Although rent growth slowed, it still remains stronger than most other markets in the county. 

Anaheim/Central Orange County led the market with the highest year-over-year rental growth of 6 percent and the lowest vacancy rate of 3.3 percent. Although rent growth is lower than last year’s increases, new leases being signed are still in the upper teens to 20 percent — with growth still very positive — and showing continued momentum.

Expensive Cost of Homeownership

Challenges surrounding the affordability of homes in Orange County continue, pushing more would-be homeowners to rent. The median single-family home price in Orange County is $1,036,000. Assuming a 20 percent down payment at current mortgage rates, monthly payments average $5,632. Newer construction multifamily product, which would compete for these residents, averages $2,992 per month, making renting more affordable than owning. This trend is fueling demand in all areas, particularly in the coastal and South Orange County markets, and in Class A core market buildings. 

Flight to Quality

Multifamily values in Orange County have maintained one of the highest prices per unit and, in many cases, the lowest cap rates of any Southern California market. The median sales price in 2022 was $366,400 per unit, with several Class A properties trading in excess of $500,000 per unit.

Orange County is typically a lower volume transaction market. When a multifamily asset becomes available, there is no shortage of investors bidding to take advantage of the consistent, stable returns. There is strong investor appetite here for quality locations that produce expected, consistent, good returns, and a lack of inventory could allow for competitive pricing levels in 2023.

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