Real Estate News & Commentary

BiggerPockets Presents: The 10 Best U.S. Markets for Real Estate Investors, 2017

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It’s that time of year again: BiggerPockets has released its 2017 Investment Market Index. This study takes a look at how investors across the country may have fared in the 50 most-populous metropolitan statistical areas (think the areas around big citiesthe most populous places in the country). This is an entertaining backward-facing study, so do not confuse this for a forward-looking prediction. For spreadsheet junkies and data nerds, the entire dataset is available for free to all BiggerPockets members (Plus, Pro, and FREE) here.

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The 10 Best Markets for Real Estate Investors

Nashville, Tennessee tops the list in 2017, with a combination of a massive 12.8% year-over-year appreciation rate and a middle-of-the-pack 6.32% rent-to-value ratio. The appreciation comes as no surprise to folks who live in Nashville, nor to those of us who have been watching Nashville during the past few years. Home to my alma mater, Vanderbilt University, Nashville saw perhaps the highest cost of living increase in the United States during this period of time, according to this study.

It was a good year for the South, with Memphis, Tennessee; three Florida cities (Tampa, Orlando, and Miami); Louisville, Kentucky; and Dallas, Texas all making the top 10.

Dallas earned the number one spot in the 2015 and 2016 investment market indexes, but it slightly fell to fourth place this year. This indicates that those who have invested in Dallas over the past few years may have seen some of the highest returns in the country.

Rounding out the top 10 are Seattle, Washington; Las Vegas, Nevada; and Josh Dorkin’s favoriteDetroit, Michigan.

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The 10 Cities Offering the Most Opportunity for Real Estate Investors, 2016

  1. Nashville, TN
  2. Tampa, FL
  3. Detroit, MI
  4. Dallas, TX
  5. Seattle, WA
  6. Orlando, FL
  7. Las Vegas, NV
  8. Louisville, KY
  9. Miami, FL
  10. Memphis, TN

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The 10 Worst Markets for Real Estate Investors

For the most part, the worst markets in the country had weak price-to-rent ratios (investors receive relatively little rent per dollar of property value) and saw low or modest appreciation during the time period. California investors continue to see some of the lowest rent-to-value ratios in the country, although they still saw some pretty decent appreciation as this was a strong year for appreciation across the country.

Related: The Real Estate Market: How to Analyze and Predict Cycles

Hartford, Connecticut offered the least opportunity for residential real estate investors overall, according to the study. In a year when average home value appreciation was just shy of 7%, Hartford residents and investors saw gains of just 1.31%. It’s not at the top of the pack for rent-to-value ratios either.

The relatively poor returns in Hartford were followed by the largest California markets. California investors, if they want to earn returns near the top of the study’s list, will have to see extraordinary appreciation rates, as the rent-to-value ratios in their major metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) are some of the worst in the country.

The Maryland/Washington, D.C./Virginia region also saw a relatively weak year compared with the rest of the country if the Washington D.C., Baltimore, and Virginia Beach, VA MSAs are any indication. Investors in those MSAs saw  3.33.6% annual appreciation, plus middle-of-the-pack rent-to-value ratios.

The other two cities to make the bottom 10 were New Orleans, and Houston, Texas. Note that this study uses data aggregated prior to the arrival of Hurricane Harvey.

The chart below shows the 10 worst markets for real estate investors:

The Top 10 Markets for Residential Property Appreciation

Appreciation gains drove much of the return for residential real estate investors. If we isolate the 10 markets with the strongest appreciation gains, we see a lot of overlap with the top 10 overall markets.

Nashville tops the list with a whopping 12.8% year-over-year increase in sales prices for residential real estate. Following Nashville are the long-time top-10 cities Seattle, Dallas, Tampa, Denver, and Miami. Breaking into the the top 10 are the new entrants of Milwaukee, Las Vegas, and Detroit.

The chart below shows the 10 best markets for appreciation for real estate investors:

The Top 10 Markets for Strong Rent-to-Value Ratios

Many investors prefer cash-flow potential of residential real estate over appreciation potential. While appreciation values are notoriously difficult to predict and highly speculative, it is perhaps more likely that the large metro regions in this study will continue to see similar levels of gross rent relative to the value of the property over the next few years. At the very least, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) releases the 2017 Fair Market Rents well in advance—and with a price floor set by the government, investors can perhaps more confident predict their cash flows than potential appreciation.

This study suggests that the best places to look for cash flow, given the returns over the past 18 months, are in Southern and Midwestern markets. Memphis, Tennessee offered residential investors the largest amount of gross rent in relation to property value for the third year in a row. It is trailed by Detroit and Birmingham, Alabama.

The chart below shows the 10 markets that offered the best rent-to-value ratios for residential real estate investors:

Methodology

Purpose: This index seeks to determine which of the 50 most-populous U.S. metro markets were most likely to have provided strong returns for residential real estate investors between early 2016 and early 2017. This index measures both appreciation and gross rents as a percentage of average purchase prices.

Analysis: Investor returns in real estate are largely driven by two key factors — appreciation and cash flow. Appreciation is fairly straightforward in most calculations. In this study, it is simply the price-increase percentage in residential real estate over the time period studied. Cash flow, conversely, is a function of both gross rents collected and expenses. Because a large number of factors influence rental property expenses, and many of these factors are difficult to accurately quantify (landlord “friendly” versus ”unfriendly” laws, for example), we ignore expenses for the purposes of this study, focusing solely on gross rents as a percentage of purchase price.

Calculations: Gross rents are calculated as a function of average Fair Market Rents (FMRs), as provided by HUD, as well as median property values in early 2014, as provided by Zillow’s Home Value Index. Where possible, actual sales data from Zillow was used for median home-price calculations. In the case of several markets, sales data was not available, and Zillow’s Home Value Index was used instead.

For example, a property purchased for $100,000 in early 2015 may have received $1,000 in monthly rent in 2016 and $1,100 in 2017, thus averaging $1,050 per month—or $12,600 annualized. Gross rents in this instance average out to 12.6% of the initial value.

Appreciation is calculated as the change in price from the beginning of the period studied to the end of the period studied. For example, if the average purchase price in an area studied was $100,000 in early 2015, and it increased to $105,000 in early 2016, then appreciation would be 5%.

Method: This study aggregates data from Zillow and HUD. It then uses that data to estimate appreciation and rent-to-value ratios for the top 50 most populous metropolitan statistical areas in the country. The goal of this is to give residential real estate investors a clear look backwards at the growth and decline of major markets around the country.

Aggregate property data ultimately derives from Zillow’s research center. Here, we look at the median sales price. For those looking to dig deeper, an original copy of the dataset is available upon request or at www.zillow.com/research/data.

The data for actual sales prices in the respective regions studied is a reflection of Zillow’s data. To combat the limitations of Zillow’s data, which may not be robust enough in smaller cities, the study is limited to only the top 50 U.S. metropolitan markets as measured by population. Higher population regions are more likely to experience a higher volume of transactions, giving Zillow more data points to work with, therefore increasing the likelihood of an accurate reflection of sales prices. Furthermore, by taking an average of sales prices across six months, we increase our sample size and lessen the risk of certain months significantly skewing our results.

In the first six months of 2016, the average property value is considered the “initial” property value or “purchase price,” while the average value across the first six months of 2017 is considered the “final” property value or “sale price.” The difference between the the two prices is then used to calculate appreciation.

Rent data is pulled directly from HUD (https://www.huduser.org/portal/datasets/fmr.html). HUD FMRs vary by county and were not readily available by metro. In order for the study to compare FMRs to the property values taken from Zillow, county data needed to be converted to reasonable estimates for each metro area. This study converts the data using a weighted average of FMRs across each of the counties comprising a given metro area.

rental-property-pros

Related: Don’t Believe the Housing Bubble Rumors—Unless You’re in These 7 Markets

In calculating a weighted average, many metrics could have been used, including population, land area, total housing units, etc. In this study, FMRs are weighted by population. This “weighted average” of FMRs is then applied to the entire metro area.

Note that FMRs also vary by number of bedrooms. This study takes the average FMR of units with up to 4 beds for each county.This process is repeated using FMRts for both 2016 and 2017.

The FMR for the each metro area is then used to calculate gross rents as a percentage of the purchase price. Again, as mentioned previously, a $100,000 property generating $1,000 in rent in 2016 and $1,100 in 2017 would average $1,050 per month, or $12,600 per year. Gross rents per dollar invested would come to about 12.6%.

The final step in this process adds appreciation (as a percentage of initial property values) to average gross annual rents (as a percentage of initial property values). This calculation reveals, in percentage terms, the markets where residential real estate investors were most likely to receive a favorable combination of both gross rents and total appreciation per dollar invested, over the period from early 2016 to mid 2017.

It will be obvious to any investor who looks at this data that expenses are not included in this study. Expenses vary widely across the 50 metros studied and are impacted by factors such as taxes, insurance, climate, cost of living, landlord laws, contractor costs, and other similar variables. Furthermore, even if accurate data on each of the many expenses listed were readily available to the public, expenses can also vary from investor to investor based on non-market forces like diligence in property management, variations in tenant screening processes, experience with contractors and handyman work, and other experience-related advantages. Due to the complexity of creating any kind of index that would measure expenses in the top 50 metro areas, expenses were excluded from this study entirely.

Special thanks to Umar Javaid for helping with much of the data entry for this 2017 Investment Market Index!

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What do you think of this study? Are you surprised by any of the results? Does your market appear above?
Leave a comment!

Scott Trench is a perpetual student of personal finance, real estate investing, sales, business, and personal development. He is CEO of BiggerPockets.com, a real estate investor, and author of the best-selling book Set for Life. He hopes to now share the knowledge he has acquired with others so that they will have the tools they need to repeat his results in just 3-5 years, giving them the option to go anywhere they want in the world, work any job, start any business, or finish out the journey to financial independence and retire young. Scott lives in Denver, Colorado and enjoys skiing, rugby, craft beers, and terrible punny jokes. Find out more about Scott’s story at JoeFairless.com, MadFientist, and ChooseFI.

    Alik Levin from Sammamish, Washington
    Replied about 2 years ago
    Nice! I am considering entering Las Vegas market. Any Turnkey Rentals operators here? Please reach out to chat offline. Thank you!
    pon b jumat
    Replied almost 2 years ago
    its realy not that good,as price soars,I owned 10 rentals in las vegas,pricess ranges from 200K to 500K, rental is highest about 1500 montly before repairs,insurance and tax. but Buffalo is hot right now, with duplex and triplex around 30 to 40k and rental is between 650 for 2 bedroom and 900 to 3 bedroom.
    Andrew Syrios Residential Real Estate Investor from Kansas City, Missouri
    Replied about 2 years ago
    Great information! It’s interesting to see Detroit coming back.
    Chris Ayers Rental Property Investor from Warrenton, VA
    Replied about 2 years ago
    No Charlotte? I see it on the tops of every other list. https://www.biggerpockets.com/blogs/4291/59829-charlotte-nc-ranked-3rd-best-in-us-real-estate-market https://www.mashvisor.com/blog/top-cities-buy-and-hold-investment-properties/ https://wallethub.com/edu/fastest-growing-cities/7010/
    Scott Trench President of BiggerPockets from Denver, CO
    Replied almost 2 years ago
    Charlotte is definitely up there. You can see the entire raw dataset by following the link at the end of the first paragraph. No, in this study it is not at the top. The datasets used (Zillow Home Values and HUD FMR) do not indicate that this market was among the top 10 in the nation in terms of producing appreciation and offering a high rent to value.
    Manon Sheiman Rental Property Investor from Santa Maria, CA
    Replied almost 2 years ago
    Thank you very much for these links. I am interested in the Charlotte, Raleigh, Durham triangle area, which has appreciated dramatically, almost too much for my taste. However, I want to invest in a place with a future, as this area is one of the up-and-coming research and technology hubs of America, from what I’ve read. Does your research bear that out? Also, I want to invest in a place that I would enjoy visiting, and as I’ve been a West Coast person all my life, the East intrigues me, as well as the historic charm and the ocean. Have also been looking at San Antonio, TX, but it worries me, as property taxes are high (with no income tax in the state), and oil prices having come down so much, I read that many jobs have been lost. Also, most SFHs I look at have reductions in price, and I want to know why. So you have anything you could enlighten me about these two areas, or another area you think has good potential? Thanks.
    Manon Sheiman Rental Property Investor from Santa Maria, CA
    Replied almost 2 years ago
    I forgot to hit the please notify me by email of follow up comments, so will do now 😉
    Chris Ayers Rental Property Investor from Warrenton, VA
    Replied almost 2 years ago
    Probably not more than you already know or what those articles can tell you. Follow the population and jobs and appreciation will follow.
    Jonathan Bonck Investor from Houston, Texas
    Replied about 2 years ago
    #HoustonStrong No place I rather invest my money. Oil and Gas, Energy, Job growth, Diversity of people and culture, 100+ different languages spoken here. 2nd most diverse city in the US next to New York. Lots of Healthcare industries and finance industries. Long term, which is what a rental property investor is, Houston will always be a top10 investor market for buy and holds. Houston will also pass Chicago in 5 years as the 3rd largest city in US.
    Lance Cherisier from Bloomfield, New Jersey
    Replied about 2 years ago
    Always wanted to entertain the Texas market. Could you recommend a broker in this area that mainly deals with REO’s?
    Chris Ayers Rental Property Investor from Warrenton, VA
    Replied almost 2 years ago
    Are your properties there above water? — bad joke sorry. Seriously though, does the latest flooding scare you at all?
    Lance Cherisier from Bloomfield, New Jersey
    Replied about 2 years ago
    Not sure how NJ did not make this list. I am seeing huge returns for the buy and hold side!
    Scott Trench President of BiggerPockets from Denver, CO
    Replied almost 2 years ago
    New Jersey is interesting as it touches two of the biggest MSAs in the country – Philly and NYC. Those two MSAs are included in this study, but are not in the top 10.
    Chris Luz Investor from Dallas, Texas
    Replied almost 2 years ago
    Which areas? It’s a place that has drawn my curiosity.
    Lamaine Hargrove from Atlantic highlands , New Jersey
    Replied almost 2 years ago
    Great to know jersey is picking up. Looking to get my first property here.
    Eric Bilderback Real Estate Agent from Sisters, Oregon
    Replied almost 2 years ago
    I’d like to hear your prediction Scott. I know this Was not intended to be forward looking but do you see think these hot markets will cool? I invest strictly locally but if I were a big time guy Indianapolis looks great because the tennets pay a lower percentage of their income for rent then any other city. Just for fun what are your top 3? Thx for the interesting info as always. I have given your book to at least 4 guys in their twenties who work for me, I tell them this guy is a financial stud!
    Scott Trench President of BiggerPockets from Denver, CO
    Replied almost 2 years ago
    I do not presume to be able to predict the markets at this point in my career Eric – I’m still so new to all of this, with only 4 years of investing experience. Personally, the only place I can even somewhat speak for is the Denver, CO market. I see lots of people moving here, great jobs, and a great environment in general. I hope to see appreciation above the national average over the next few decades, though I also suspect we will have our booms and busts here, sometimes painfully.
    Alex Brant Investor from Indianapolis, Indiana
    Replied almost 2 years ago
    Love this article! Looks like you can’t really go wrong in the Midwest. Glad to see Indy (my market currently) is #4.
    Nina Musgrave Specialist from Louisville, KY
    Replied almost 2 years ago
    Is this for 2017 or 2016? I’m confused by the subheading: The 10 Cities Offering the Most Opportunity for Real Estate Investors, 2016. Thanks for clarifying!
    Mark Fotohabadi Real Estate Investor from Beverly Hills, California
    Replied almost 2 years ago
    Excellent article, thanks to both Scott & Umar! The rent dataset link seems to be https://www.huduser.gov/portal/datasets/fmr.html (original had .org as opposed to .gov)
    Account Closed from Tampa, Florida
    Replied almost 2 years ago
    Great article, I am located in Tampa FL if any other investors want to meet!
    Matthew Shay Investor from Great Neck, NY
    Replied 8 months ago
    Does this apply to multifamily properties or just to sfh, duplex, triplex, ect.?