Downtown Milwaukee Market Study with Tim Cornwell
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The Neutral Project
June 28, 2024

Market Criteria

Neutral’s Economic Thesis 

Neutral seeks to provide high quality sustainable housing for residents in attractive markets. Neutral develops properties to meet the highest standards of sustainability. These standards include Passive House Certification and Leed Certification. By developing buildings under these criteria, we reduce our carbon footprint and enhance the living quality of our residents.  

In each market, Neutral has a set of stringent market criteria that is required in order to progress with a development. These criteria ensure the financial viability of a development and adequate returns to investors while providing quality residences. 

Economic Requirements

Financial feasibility for multifamily development depends on a market with a strong renter population, high renter-to-homeowner ratio, a growing population and workforce, and a strong employee market to allow for a high-quality and sustainable building. We assess trends like new households and their relationship to renter’s salary to ensure our product is consistent with the economic landscape. We work with the local municipalities to ensure the demands of the community are met while also fulfilling our company thesis. Additionally, we look for areas where apartments are an attractive economic alternative to buying a home due to rising costs of homeownership in urban areas. 

Identifying Cities, Neighborhoods, and Sites

Neutral assesses both a market and a project site based on financial and economic metrics, as well as geographic and social qualities specific to each market and site. We assess natural amenities and implications due to climate change. We consider employment opportunities in the area, neighborhood amenities like professional or collegiate athletics, entertainment, food and beverage offerings, proximity to grocery stores, lakes or rivers, healthcare, bike paths, government, and higher education that will draw people to that submarket. 

As a part of our sustainability and efficiency thesis, we strive to place our residences where people can access their daily needs by a short walk, bike, or public transportation. 

Certain sites have qualities that allow for us to maximize the sustainability and efficiency of a building. Our upcoming development, The Edison, will feature a geothermal cooling system, leveraging its close proximity to the Milwaukee River. For heating, it will utilize a district system powered by steam, with the steam produced from waste heat generated by a nearby power plant.

Job Growth

Our analysis of  job growth looks at the quality of jobs and employer offerings in an area. We look for strong job growth and what prominent employers are doing in  proximity to a potential development. We believe that as quality employers bring in employment opportunities to an area, these professionals will search for quality places to live nearby. See the prospective markets section for our analysis on job growth within our pr 

Informed Unit Mix

Our unit mix analysis considers qualities of the local demographic and performance among unit types in comparable properties to identify the optimal unit mix. We assess how much our target market wants to spend on rent, given their income and other living options, through comparable analysis. The 30% rule states that you should not spend more than 30% of your income on rent. We see how the marketplace compares to that rule. The Concord Group does a comparable analysis that looks at similar properties in the area and factors important metrics like occupancy, concessions, rent per unit,  and rent per square foot. We utilize salary information and comparable properties rental rates in order to determine our pricing strategy. Utilizing information from market research, we create a unit mix to maximize the lease up and occupancy of a building. 

National Housing Analysis

Home Affordability  

The current economic environment pushes high earners to rent as home prices have increased dramatically in the last few years. Home prices have doubled in twenty counties in the United States in the last seven years (Tanner 2024). Home prices are still trending upwards, up 6.4% year over year as of February 2024. Seven years ago, the 30-Year Fixed Rate Mortgage in the United States was under 4% (Freddie Mac 2024). It was most recently over 7%. Considering these two factors, the monthly payment on a 30-year mortgage is almost three times more now than seven years ago. This strongly impacts  the ability to own a home and pushes high earners towards renting. 

Vacancy Rate

National vacancy among all housing types was 10.4% at the end of 2023, down almost 3% from the previous year (iPropertyManagement 2024). Multifamily vacancy rates have generally been trending down since 2010 and are currently at 7% (Statista 2024). 

Rental Rate

In April 2024, rent prices increased by .8% nationally. The sun belt has seen a 1.4% decrease in rents year over year, driven by cities like Austin and Atlanta having the largest rent decreases. According to Apartments.com, “Almost all of the top 10 markets that saw year-over-year rent increases were in the Midwest or Northeast.” The Midwest experienced 2.5% rent growth. Milwaukee had the 4th highest rent growth nationally (Pirulis 2024).

Absorption Rate

The absorption rate is measured as the number of properties available for sale/lease divided by the number of properties sold/leased in a specific market and time period. Multifamily absorption was very strong in the first quarter of 2024, leasing 50% of available units. Additionally, the national renewal rate was 66% (Etling, 2024). 

Net Migration 

The net migration rate for the U.S. in 2024 is 2.768 per 1000 population, a 0.73% increase from 2023 (MacroTrends 2024). The growing population demands more units for housing.

Prospective Markets

Milwaukee, WI

Home Prices

Milwaukee home prices doubled in the last seven years. As of May 2024, home prices increased 9.5% from the previous year (Zillow Milwaukee 2024). The listing to pending date  duration in Milwaukee is 22 days, which is eight days longer than the national average. This suggests that home buyers are having more difficulty finding a home in Milwaukee than they are in the United States as a whole. 

While Milwaukee as a whole has seen encouraging trends for multifamily buildings, the Competitive Market Area (CMA) shows even better signs for development. According to The Concord Group, the average monthly housing payment in the Competitive Market Area increased by 25.2% from 2022 to 2024. Between 2017-2022, the CMA saw a 13% increase in renter households. In the same time period, there was a 136% increase in the number of renter households that have over $150,000 in household income. We expect 500 new households per year until 2028 in the MSA with household incomes over $100,000. In Milwaukee County, ⅓ of the demand for housing is in the CMA. Within the PMA, 70.2% of new households are created in the CMA(The Concord Group Milwaukee Market Study 2024). These characteristics identify the CMA as a strong potential market for multifamily apartments. 

Rent vs. Own

The figure below factors in home prices, interest rates, insurance, maintenance, and taxes when comparing the large disparity between the cost of homeownership as opposed to rent in the Milwaukee CMA. 

Effective CMA rents were 22% higher than PMA rents as of the first quarter of 2024. The 5-year average change in effective rents was 2.1% for the CMA, and 3.0% for the PMA. This shows that the centralized CMA’s positive rental growth is also supported by the positive rental growth of the surrounding area. 

Jobs

In 2023, the Milwaukee MSA saw 5,000 net new jobs added to the economy. New work opportunities exist downtown Milwaukee as employers relocate and expand their campuses. Northwestern Mutual will increase their workforce by 2,000 employees. Milwaukee Tool is adding 200 roles. Rite-Hite is adding 300 roles. Fiserv is relocating headquarters from Brookfield to Milwaukee. 

Milwaukee Government 

The city of Milwaukee is investing in green spaces in its communities. This effort has been reciprocated by the community as previously vacant or run down buildings have been restored and given new opportunities for the space, like wedding and event venues, corporate office space (Milwaukee Tool), and restaurants (City of Milwaukee 2024). This increases the vibrancy and livability of the city in terms of not just employment but also enjoyment. 

Madison, WI

Population and Job Growth

The smaller Competitive Market Area (CMA) and Primary Market Area (PMA) have both seen positive population and income growth since 2010, with the trend forecasted to continue over the next five years. The Madison CMA saw a population growth of 1.4% and median income growth of 2.5%(The Concord Group Madison Market Study 2023). In addition to full time residents, the UW-Madison college brings in large masses of out of state residents that may stay after graduation. As the university continues to grow, so will the faculty and staff in the local area. UW currently has 49,000 students, an increase of 8,000 over the last ten years and has a student to faculty ratio of 1.8:1. 

Madison has a variety of employment opportunities. In addition to the university employing 26,775 people, UW Health has 24,000 employees, the State of Wisconsin has 57,400 employees in Madison, Epic has 12,500 employees in Verona, Exact Sciences has 6,400 employees in Madison, and American Family Insurance has their headquarters in Madison. 

Rent Vs. Own

Similar to Milwaukee, Madison has a large disparity between homeownership cost and rent. As of May 2024, home prices increased 6.7% from the previous year(Zillow Madison 2024). 

Renter households with incomes over $75,000 in Madison from 2016 to 2021 increased 77% in the CMA, similar to the 82% increase in the PMA. For $150,000 and greater income households, renter households increased by 87% and 118% in the CMA and PMA respectively. This shows that high income households are driving the increase in renter households in this area.  

Madison Government

The city of Madison is investing in its community through Metro Transit. The city redesigned bus routes and invested in new infrastructure intended to better meet the needs of area residents and businesses by increasing access and bus route frequency, decreasing travel times, and improving the quality of transit riders’ experience. This will better connect residents to employment and other valuable services. The city of Madison is taking initiative to take care of their community by expanding opportunities for STEM education for Madison’s youth and young adults as well as investment in quality childcare intended for underrepresented groups. 

Fayetteville, AR

Population

Since 1990, the population of Fayetteville has more than doubled. The population is expected to double again by 2050.  Fayetteville is within close proximity to Bentonville, the headquarters of Walmart. Walmart’s new Bentonville campus will move more than 15,000 jobs to the site. Walmart hosts their shareholder meetings each year at the Bud Walton Arts Center. 

Employment

Employment in Fayetteville is projected to grow by 112.1% by 2060, while personal income per capita is projected to grow from $80,366 in 2022 to $517,387 in 2060.

Attractions

The project site at 329 S Duncan Avenue is located within walking distance to University of Arkansas (UA), Fayetteville High School, the Walton Arts Center and Downtown Fayetteville (all 1 mi or less distance). The site has great proximity to daily necessities like restaurants, grocery stores and recreational activities.  Fayetteville had the lowest vacancy rate for multifamily apartments compared to neighboring cities in Northwestern Arkansas. 

Works Cited

City of Milwaukee. "Mayor's Design Awards." City of Milwaukee, Department of City Development, https://city.milwaukee.gov/DCD/Planning/UrbanDesign/MayorsDesignAwards. Accessed 14 June 2024.

Etling, Leah. “Multifamily Absorption Volume Powers April Rent Growth, Reports Yardi Matrix.” Yardi, 8 May 2024, www.yardi.com/news/press-releases/multifamily-absorption-volume-powers-april-rent-growth-reports-yardi-matrix/#:~:text=In%20the%20first%20quarter%2C%2072%2C800,secondary%20markets%20(47%2C100%20units). 

Freddie Mac. “30-Year Fixed Rate Mortgage Average in the United States.” FRED Economic Data, 6 June 2024, fred.stlouisfed.org/series/MORTGAGE30US

iPropertyManagement. “Homeowners vs Renters Statistics [2024]: By Year + Demographic.” iPropertyManagement.Com, 4 Jan. 2024, ipropertymanagement.com/research/renters-vs-homeowners-statistics#:~:text=Highlights.,the%20previous%20quarter%20(2023Q2). 

MacroTrends. “U.S. Net Migration Rate 1950-2024.” MacroTrends, 2024, www.macrotrends.net/global-metrics/countries/USA/united-states/net-migration#:~:text=The%20net%20migration%20rate%20for,a%201.3%25%20decline%20from%202020. 

Pirulis, Alecia. “Apartments.Com Rent Report for May 2024: Louisville Takes the Reins.” Renterverse, 7 June 2024, www.apartments.com/blog/apartments.com-national-rent-trends-report. 

Statista. “U.S. Multifamily Vacancy Rate 2010-2023.” Statista, 13 May 2024, www.statista.com/statistics/241286/us-multi-family-rent-growth-forecast/#:~:text=The%20U.S.%20multifamily%20vacancy%20rate,the%20long%2Dterm%20historical%20average. 

Tanner, Jeremy. “Sticker Shock: Home Prices Doubled in under 7 Years in These Major U.S. Cities.” KTLA, KTLA, 21 Apr. 2024, ktla.com/news/local-news/sticker-shock-home-prices-doubled-in-under-7-years-in-these-major-u-s-cities/

The Concord Group (leading real estate advisory firm with deep experience and extensive relationships across all residential and commercial asset types) (Madison Market Study) - 14 Nov. 2023

The Concord Group (leading real estate advisory firm with deep experience and extensive relationships across all residential and commercial asset types) (Milwaukee Market Study) - 15 Mar. 2024

Zillow. "Madison WI Home Values." Zillow, Zillow Group, Inc., www.zillow.com/home-values/5976/milwaukee-wi/. Accessed 14 June 2024.

Zillow. "Milwaukee WI Home Values." Zillow, Zillow Group, Inc., www.zillow.com/home-values/5976/milwaukee-wi/. Accessed 14 June 2024.

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