What Happens to Real Estate in a Recession? What History Says

Published on
February 2, 2023
what happens to real estate in a recession

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Investors often look to real estate to protect their portfolios from the economic hardship of recession. But what effect does a recession have on real estate markets? To better understand this, let's review how these markets have historically reacted during such periods.

This article will examine past recessions and their impact on real estate and provide strategies for investing under such conditions. 

By understanding the impact of recessions on past markets, investors can make informed decisions about which investments may be best suited to protect their wealth from now on.

What Happens to Real Estate in a Recession?

A recession is a period of economic decline that affects investments and the economy, and can even impact real estate prices. During a recession, investors tend to pull out of stocks and move their money into safer investments such as bonds or cash. This shift results in decreased liquidity, often leading to a decrease in asset values.

Real estate has usually been considered a more stable form of investment during times of economic downturn. However, this might not always be the case during a recession. Housing prices dropped significantly in previous recessions due to decreased demand and lower investor confidence.

Source: St. Louis Fed

The Great Recession (2007–2009) saw the greatest decrease in the price of homes in modern history. Many investors were caught off-guard by this dramatic decline, and it took years for the US housing market to recover. During that time, house prices dropped by nearly 20%, leading to a rapid decrease in home equity values and an increase in foreclosures.

The recent COVID-19 pandemic caused a similar economic downturn. However, the impact on real estate has been less severe than during the Great Recession. In 2020, housing prices did see some decreases, but they were far less drastic than those experienced during 2007–2009.

Source: St. Louis Fed

It is important to note that rental stability often remains relatively constant during these periods because people still need to live somewhere and pay rent. Between 2007 and 2009, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for rent of a primary residence increased by about 4%. 

However, rental rates have increased significantly since the Great Recession, rising from an index of 249 to 385 in a little more than a decade, representing an increase of nearly 55%.

This rise in rent is due to several causes. An increase in rental demand from millennials and other young professionals and a decrease in new multifamily developments led to fewer available units on the market. Rising home prices over the past two years have made it more difficult for potential homebuyers, resulting in more people renting rather than owning.

Understanding Real Estate Markets in Recessionary Periods

Real estate markets can be highly affected by recessions, so it is helpful to understand how different markets respond in times of economic uncertainty. Several factors can impact these markets, such as location, cost of living, and the strength of the local economy.

For example, an area with a weak economy may be less resilient against recessionary pressures when compared to a more buoyant market. During recessions, a weaker market may experience greater volatility and uncertainty than a healthier economic environment. For example, in the wake of the Great Recession, the real estate market in Detroit, Michigan was hit particularly hard. Property values dropped significantly and foreclosure rates skyrocketed.

Higher cost-of-living areas may also struggle more during periods of financial insecurity. Buyers may postpone purchasing homes in the immediate aftermath of an economic shock. A recent example of this is in New York City, where the real estate market has softened considerably since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In contrast, secondary markets and suburban areas are experiencing increased interest from buyers seeking more affordable options outside major metropolitan areas. The pandemic exacerbated this trend as people look to relocate to less densely populated areas with more space. As a result, places like Austin, TX, and Boise, ID, are seeing strong population growth.

The commercial real estate market is a vital component of the overall economy and is also affected by recessions. During recessionary times, some sectors such as health care and self storage tend to perform better than others in terms of returns and resilience, as this chart from Nareit illustrates:

Historically, apartment buildings have been one of the most resilient sectors, as renters often opt to stay put during economic downturns. Office spaces typically see significant drops in occupancy rates and rents during recessions, though this can vary based on the area.

Retail and hospitality properties have also been prone to declines in revenue due to decreased consumer spending during economic contractions. Industrial properties are generally more resilient as e-commerce expands, regardless of economic conditions.

Despite the general pessimism regarding recessions, there are opportunities available for real estate investors who are willing to take calculated risks. Potential buyers will always be looking for properties with price discounts, so well-placed investments could reap substantial rewards over time if prices recover.

Strategies for Investment During a Recession

During a recession, the real estate market can be volatile and risky. However, there are strategies investors can use to minimize risk and maximize potential profits while investing in real estate during a recession.

One strategy is the diversification of investments, which involves building a portfolio of properties from different asset classes and locations with varying levels of risk. This approach helps balance out the potential losses that could occur if certain asset classes or regions take an economic hit during a recession.

Debt investing is also an attractive option for investors looking to make money during a recession. Debt investments may provide a surprisingly stable alternative when the economy slows down and traditional investments become unpredictable. 

With debt investments, the fixed income from interest payments can generate a consistent cash flow stream. Borrowers make monthly payments, regardless of how the market shifts and decreases the value of their investments.

Crowdfunding is another option for investors who want to pool resources and invest in larger projects without taking on all the risk themselves. Being part of a larger investment group allows investors to spread their risk and still potentially benefit from any profits earned from these shared investments.

Finally, investors should consider expanding their network to access more opportunities when looking into real estate during a recession. Talking to other experienced investors and professionals in the industry may give investors more options when it comes time to decide what type of investments they should pursue and where.

Investing in Debt during a Recession

Investing in debt during a recession can be an effective way to protect your portfolio while simultaneously generating cash flow. Short-term debt, such as corporate bonds, treasury bills, commercial paper, and real estate debt, are all options that may provide investors with numerous financial benefits when used cautiously.

These investments provide stable returns from interest payments, with the added benefit of shorter time horizons for the investor and greater liquidity than long-term investments. They allow more flexibility to take advantage of other investment opportunities during a recession. 

Finally, short-term debt can provide diversification benefits for an investment portfolio, which is especially beneficial during recessions when stock prices tend to drop dramatically.

The Pros and Cons of Investing in Real Estate during a Recession

One advantage of investing in real estate during a recession is that property prices can decrease significantly, allowing investors to buy properties at lower prices than usual. Also, rental income from tenants could remain consistent and provide a healthy return on investment over the long term. 

However, a key disadvantage of investing in real estate during a recession is the heightened risk of vacancy or non-payment of rent due to a lack of employment and people relocating for more job opportunities. Additionally, financing new mortgage rates or refinancing existing ones may become more difficult or expensive due to higher interest rates or tightened credit markets.

To maximize returns while minimizing losses when investing in real estate during an economic slump, investors should focus on purchasing properties in areas with robust job markets. These areas can include tech hubs or university cities where vacancies are less likely to occur. 

Investors may also consider diversifying their investments by combining different asset types. An example would be investing in real estate equity and debt as well as stocks and bonds.

Wrapping Up

A recession is an economic downturn characterized by a decline in the overall gross domestic product (GDP), high unemployment rates, and decreased consumer spending. Knowing how the real estate market responds to recessions helps investors decide if they should invest during these periods.

There are some strategies investors can use to minimize risk and maximize returns when investing in real estate during a recession. 

One strategy is investing in real estate debt. It offers lower potential risk and still allows investors to gain exposure to the potential appreciation of the underlying asset. Investors may also consider buying discounted properties such as foreclosures or short sales as another way of taking advantage of low prices.

Investing in real estate during a recession can offer unique opportunities. However, investors should be prepared for volatility and perform due diligence before making investment decisions.

Researching local market conditions and understanding the risks associated with investing during a recession will help investors make informed decisions. Investors should also remember to diversify their investments and not put all their eggs in one basket when considering real estate investments.

Debt instruments can provide a layer of financial security during a recession by giving investors access to lower-risk investments with steady returns even when stock markets struggle. You can learn more about investing in real estate debt by visiting the Concreit website.  

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This information is educational, and is not an offer to sell or a solicitation of an offer to buy any security which can only be made through official documents such as a private placement memorandum or a prospectus. This information is not a recommendation to buy, hold, or sell an investment or financial product, or take any action. This information is neither individualized nor a research report, and must not serve as the basis for any investment decision. All investments involve risk, including the possible loss of capital. Past performance does not guarantee future results or returns. Neither Concreit nor any of its affiliates provides tax advice or investment recommendations and do not represent in any manner that the outcomes described herein or on the Site will result in any particular investment or tax consequence.Before making decisions with legal, tax, or accounting effects, you should consult appropriate professionals. Information is from sources deemed reliable on the date of publication, but Concreit does not guarantee its accuracy.

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