From Home Furnishing Business
Statistically Speaking: Apartments: Build Them and They Will Come?
2023 by HFBusiness Staff in Business Strategy, Industry
Traditional furniture stores have long focused marketing efforts on a specific segment of households, primarily homeowners with middle to higher incomes. Marketing to apartment renters, who have historically been profiled as lower income, younger, predominantly single households, has mostly been left to the discounters, internet companies, or lifestyle retailers like IKEA.
The strategy of traditional furniture stores to market to homeowners has been attractive because, after all, homeowner households outnumber rental households by about 1.8X, not quite double, and that ratio hasn’t moved much in the last few years. However, during the pandemic and since, some of the reasons this ratio has stayed stagnant have started to change (see Figure 1. Apartments Begin to Have Greater Appeal).
It is estimated, based on housing units already started, that over 450,000 new apartments will be completed in the first three quarters of this year, more than 100,000 units than last year. This represents an increase of 30%+ over the first three quarters of last year. Meanwhile single-family housing starts slowed over the last months, and new homes scheduled to be finished in the first three quarters of this year are estimated to be 20% less than the same period last year (Figure 2).
The demographics, psychographics and economics of apartment living may all be aligning at just the right time with the builders starting to address the pent-up demand for apartments. Traditional furniture stores and other furniture retailers may want to take another look at the special furniture needs and style preferences of apartment renters and how best to market to them. The last installment of Statistically Speaking began a two-part series on the housing industry – homeowners and renters. This issue addresses the growth in apartment construction and the opportunities for furniture retailers to target marketing efforts to these young, mobile, renters.
Age and Income Demographics
In 2021 there were over 128.5 million occupied housing units, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Housing Survey (AHS). (Note: The AHS is sponsored by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and conducted every other odd year by the U.S. Census Bureau. The survey is the most comprehensive national housing survey in the United States.) Homeowners represented 64.2% of the total in 2021 and renter households 35.8%. This ratio has been relatively stable in recent years with the race to own a home during the low interest rates of the pandemic increasing homeownership slightly. Table A compares the number of occupied housing units 2017 to 2021. In the last two years, 2019 to 2021, renter households grew 3.0% in the two years and homeowners 3.8%.
More than any other demographic, low income limits the ability of a household to make a significant furniture purchase. Table B segments total households 2017 to 2021 into three income ranges: Under $30,000 (24.6% of households in 2021), $30,000 to $99,999 (45% in 2021), and $100,000 and over (30.4% in 2021). Together, the renters and owners share the lower income households under $30,000 households -- 53% renters and 47% owners. On the other end of the economic spectrum, homeowners account for 82% of the 38.2 million households with annual incomes $100,000 and over. Between the low end and the more affluent end lies the broad range of $30,000 to $99,999 households totaling 45% of all units, where growth in apartment living is thriving (Tables B). It should be noted that the $100,000 and over group has benefited from post-pandemic growth in incomes, with the other broad categories declining since 2017.
A significant portion of each tenure type, renter or owner, is comprised of households with total income less than $30,000. Research has shown these households not to be significant purchasers of furniture. Table C gives a picture of more detailed income ranges shown in millions of homeowners. Zeroing in on key apartment furniture purchasers, Table D details percent of renter households compared to owners since 2015, excluding households with income less than $30,000. The data shows that the percent of households in the two upper income groups, over $80,000 to $99,900 and $100,000 and over, have been growing for both owner and renter housing units. Adding the perspective of age, the largest segment of households continues to be the 55 to 64 group as Baby Boomers age out of this group (Table E). They are 25.6 million strong and controlled by homeowners, 74.1% owners to 25.9% renters. As would be expected, renters dominate the 25-to-34-year-old age group 60.4% to 39.6% and control a significant portion of the 35-to-44 year olds, 41% renters to 59% homeowners. According to the National Association of Realtors, in 2021 the typical age of a first-time homebuyer was 33 and last year rose to 36.
Mapping the income of households to their householder ages brings the opportunities for furniture marketing to apartment dwellers into focus. Figure 4 shows the ratio of renter households to owners, with the highlighted areas indicating primary furniture purchasing segments where renter households outnumber homeowners. Profiles that reflect more renters than owners include ages 25 to 44 with incomes $30,000 to $99,999 and ages 45 to 54 years with incomes $30,000 to $79,999. (Note: Households with annual income under $30,000 as well as all ages under 25 years are not included in this analysis as they are not considered significant purchasers of home furniture.) Renters outpace homeowners in four key age/income ranges (Figure 3):
This profiled age/income segments where renters began to outnumber and grow faster than owners began between 2013 and 2015 (Table F). But since that time, even with tight apartment inventories and a pandemic, the number of renters in these middle-income ranges out surpassed the number of owners, increasing in 2021 to 12.1 million housing units (renters) compared to 8.2 million owners.
The remaining demographic comparison relates to composition of renter versus owner households (Figure 5). Renter households tend to be a combination of single individuals, either living alone, 38.3% of renters versus 22.9% of owners, or single and living with other adults or children, 36% renters versus 18.2% owners. Married couples with or without children tend to be homeowners, 25.7% of renters compared to 58.9% of owners. Interestingly, the percentage of households with children tends to be similar among renters and owners, 29.5% of renters versus 29.2% of owners.
Marketing to Renters
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the typical U.S. renter is 39 years old, has never been married, with at least 4-years of college education, and a median annual income of $42,500 (the national median annual income is $67,500). Within our profiled furniture-targeted renters (see Figure 2 profile), median household incomes are higher between $60,000 and $69,999, with many single, one-person households. Owners within this same profile show median household incomes of $80,000 to $89,999.
With renters significantly younger than owners within the same income groups (Figure 6), marketing requires a totally different approach, especially looking at the size and style requirements for smaller apartments versus larger homes.
The typical rental is a 2-bedroom apartment with 1.5 baths and an area between 1,000 and 1,999 square feet (500- 999 square feet for most recent renters) (Zillow).
Historically, monthly mortgage payments are higher than rents, but as demand has exceeded supply for apartments, that gap has narrowed. According to Business Insider, in 2022 the average mortgage payment nationwide was $2,064 on a 30-year fixed mortgage while average rent for a 2-bedroom apartment had grown to $2,048, a difference of only $12 (Rent.com). Comparing that same apartment rent to a 15-year fixed mortgage of $3,059 on average, the difference is more significant at $1,011 a month.
Another key element of marketing to renters is location. Numbers of renters versus home owners as well as age and income can vary significantly, depending on the market. Bear in mind that while home values have skyrocketed, so have rents. Realtor.com reports that New York, California and Massachusetts are the most expensive states in which to rent, and yet home prices are also much higher, making renting more attractive in some metro areas. They report the top 10 U.S. cities where the gap between rent and mortgage is most attractive for renters (Figure 7) with San Francisco, San Jose and New York city heading the list.
The metro areas where buying is cheaper than renting are scattered in the South and Midwest and include Pittsburgh, Birmingham, St. Louis, Cleveland, Baltimore, Louisville, Indianapolis, and Kansas City. The costs of renting vs. buying in these areas are less significant, between $12-522 a month, in favor of buying.
Build It and They Will Come
Once construction has begun, it takes on average 17+ months to complete an apartment building and eight months to build a house. Table G shows estimated completions over the first three quarters of this year. The market for apartment furniture in these new, often billed as luxury units, will respond.
And finally, when you couple increased apartment supply with continued growth in the population of 25- to 39-year-olds and 40- to 54-year-olds over the next 10 to 15 years (Table H), then the table is set for retailers to step up to address the demand for apartment furniture.