American Dream For Rent: About this investigation
Investors have long been a fixture of the U.S. housing market. But in the last few years, something changed across metro Atlanta.
Study after study suggested that investors weren’t just buying distressed housing at bargain prices, they were competing in large numbers against middle-class families for starter homes to convert them to rentals.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution set out to determine the scale of investor activity across the metro area and better understand the effect large firms were having on the housing market.
State law prohibits landlord registries, and companies frequently hide behind obscure LLCs. That makes it difficult for local officials to get a handle on who owns what within their communities, let alone the entire metro area.
The AJC standardized owner names and addresses for more than a million records of single-family homes acquired from the assessor offices of 11 metro counties using open source pattern matching software, OpenRefine, and machine learning software, DeDupe.io. The AJC matched LLCs with their parent companies using common corporate addresses registered with the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office. From there, the AJC narrowed the field to companies that owned more than 50 houses. Traditional homebuilders, nonprofits and government entities were excluded from the analysis.
Homes change hands frequently, especially in a period marked by corporate consolidation. Sometimes, large corporate buyers don’t even change the name of the LLC they purchased. So the AJC’s data is only as current as government registries allow it to be. As of the third quarter of 2022, the AJC found that bulk buyers had acquired more than 65,000 single-family homes across the Atlanta metro area. Eleven companies own more than 1,000 homes each.
Using a regression analysis, the AJC found that home prices, as tracked by Zillow, climbed more sharply in places where investors bought more houses.
Reporters also interviewed dozens of renters, homebuyers, real estate agents, attorneys, academic experts and government officials, and reviewed hundreds of pages of public filings and corporate earnings call transcripts.
The AJC relied heavily on published academic research to inform and support the investigation’s findings, notably Brian An and Elora Raymond (Georgia Tech), Dan Immergluck (Georgia State), Desiree Fields (UC Berkeley) and Suzanne Lanyi Charles (Cornell University).
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