BY ALEX SODERSTROM | StaffWriter
Orlando native Sondra Grant was looking at leaving Central Florida.
The 40-year-old program manager for the Pinellas County Urban League looked at houses in Augusta, Georgia, drawn to the idea of shedding the three-bed-room apartment where she lived with her two children for a single-family home. However, past hits to Grant’s credit score kept her from getting approved for a loan, and rentals in Augusta were flying off the market faster than she could apply and get approved.
While searching online listings, Grant saw an ad for a rental home managed by American Homes 4 Rent (NYSE: AMH). She dug deeper, and learned about the Calabasas, California-based company’s rental home community that was under construction in Apopka. After a tour, Grant was sold. She and her family moved in last year on the day after Christmas.
“Being able to give my children a home with a backyard, not an apartment, I hope that a lot more communities like this will come up in this area,” Grant told Orlando Business Journal.
Similarly, people across the U.S. and Central Florida are drawn to single-family rentals as they spend more time at home for entertainment, school and work. For those who want more space and a yard but cannot or do not want to buy a home, rental homes make sense. Locally, residential brokers and property managers are witness-ing this rise in demand and the business opportunities it is creating.
Occupancy hits 26-year-high
At Atrium Management Co., more people are renting houses. In fact, single-family occupancy at the Lake Mary-based property management firm is up 3.6% year over year, Partner Adam Wonus told OBJ. Meanwhile, apartment occupancy at Atrium is unchanged com-pared to last year.
“People are staying in homes and renting more quickly,” Wonus said. “There are certain properties that have is-sues, but on the single-family side, delinquencies were not off from where they were before [the pandemic]."
That is part of a national trend. Single-family rentals averaged a 95.3% occupancy rate across the U.S. in third-quarter 2020, the most recent data from real estate financier Arbor Realty showed. That’s the highest rate for single-family rentals since 1994.
Single-family rentals 'best positioned'
The demand is drawing new players into the rental industry. Residential real estate brokerage Combs Premier Realty Group this year plans to launch a property management division, founder Emmitt Combs told OBJ. Combs Premier also will work with past homebuyers interested in becoming investors and renting out their homes.
The launch of that new business, combined with the frenzied demand for local homes, is expected to grow the Winter Garden-based firm by 40 agents in 2021, Combs said.
Meanwhile, rental homes are a good option for people who don’t want to commit to the long-term investment of buying a home. Demand for the housing product is primed for more growth, according to Arbor. “The single-family rental sector may be the best-positioned residential asset class to see continued growth through the end of the pandemic," the Uniondale, New York-based firm's report stated.