Home Conversions – and Reconversions – Expected to Generate More Remodeling Activity

Thursday, March 24, 2016 | Kermit Baker

During the housing bust, and continuing into this housing recovery, large numbers of owner-occupied homes have been converted to rental units. Distressed owner-occupied homes that were foreclosed or sold as short-sales often ended up as rentals because, given the weakness in the housing market and broader economy, few households were looking to buy or were able to buy. Private investors often bought up homes built for owner-occupancy once they saw the strong demand for rentals and the rising rents that these homes commanded.

Once the housing market settles and the demand for homeownership begins to pick up, it is likely that many of these homes will filter back into the owner-occupied housing stock. What will this process look like, and how much modification will be undertaken after this transition occurs? To begin to think about this issue, the Joint Center looked at homes that have already gone through this process; namely owner-occupied homes that have been converted to rentals, and then converted back to owner-occupancy.

While this phenomenon didn’t get much attention until the recent housing crash, it turns out to be fairly common. Starting with owner-occupied homes in 1995 from the American Housing Survey, we tracked these homes for the next 20 years to see which ones changed tenure. Almost a quarter (23.4%) of homes in this 1995 cohort was converted to a rental at least once over this period. While multifamily condos were the most likely type of owner-occupied home to be converted – over half of these condos was rented at least once over this period – so were over a third of single-family attached and manufactured homes, as were over 20% of single-family detached homes.

 Note: Sample composed of owner-occupied units in 1995 that were occupied in at least 7/10 surveys from 1995-2013.
Source: JCHS tabulations of HUD, 1995-2013 American Housing Surveys

Typically, homes that were converted to rentals were somewhat less desirable than homes that were continuously owner-occupied over this period. On average, they

  • are older – pre-1940 homes were 50% more likely to be converted than homes built after 1990,
  • have a lower value – homes valued at $100,000 or less were twice as likely to be converted as homes valued at $200,000 or more,
  • and are more likely to be located in central cities.

No doubt reflecting the lower value of these homes, spending on home improvement projects was generally lower. For the periods that they were owner-occupied, spending on homes that would be converted to rentals averaged 10% to 15% less than the average for all owner-occupied homes.

The pattern of home improvement spending on converted homes is particularly interesting. For homes that were converted to rentals and then converted back to homeownership, spending on home improvement projects was over 20% below average prior to being converted to a rental unit, and almost 20% above average after that same rental unit was converted back to homeownership.

 Notes: Rental sample composed of occupied units in 1995 that were occupied in at least 7/10 surveys from 1995-2013 and were owner-occupied in at least two surveys before first rental period and after last rental period. Average spending is calculated for years in which the unit was owner-occupied. Broader sample composed of occupied units in 1995 that were occupied in at least 7/10 surveys from 1995-2013 and were owner-occupied in at least one survey.
Source: JCHS tabulations of HUD, 1995-2013 American Housing Surveys

It may be that owners were underinvesting knowing that the home would be converted to a rental, or just the opposite – that the home was converted to a rental because it was in poor enough condition that a sale was difficult. Likewise, after reconversion to an owner-occupied home, higher spending may reflect the need to fix it up after a period of renting, or that the new owner wanted to upgrade the home or customize it to the household’s needs.

There are over four million more rental units now than there were in 2010, and over eight million more than there were in 2005. As many of these rental units return to the owner-occupied stock, we’ll see a boost in home improvement spending. On average, almost $1,000 more is spent per year on home improvements for a home that is converted from renting to owning as compared to a home converted from owning to renting. For every million rentals converted back to homeownership, therefore, there is expected to be almost a billion dollars more spent each year on home improvement activity.

Read More About: Remodeling

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