Security For Sale: Converting NC homes to rentals
Institutional investors have bought at least 40,000 single-family homes across North Carolina in the past decade and now rent them out. The industry — primed for continued growth — says it improved the rental experience, providing safe, affordable houses that were previously inaccessible to renters. But owning a house traditionally offered financial security for most American families. And our investigation finds the business model of these companies is finely tuned to squeeze profit from the homes, often to the detriment of renters, neighbors or other would-be buyers.
As Raleigh and its suburbs explode with new residents, climbing home prices have pushed many families away from the dream of homeownership and into rentals.
A surprising new would-be landlord awaits them: Yamasa, a soy sauce company from Japan, one more player in the growing investor-owned home rental business in North Carolina.
Yamasa has scooped up 183 homes in single-family neighborhoods from Smithfield to Cary in the past four years, property records show, splashing nearly $49 million on the purchases.
They work in familiar patterns, buying homes in exclusively residential areas. They tend to come in within a few thousand dollars higher or lower according to purchasing data and sale prices published online, which averages out to about $267,000 per house. Nearly all their homes have either three or four bedrooms.
And every rental is managed by the same massive company: Progress Residential, a major player in the single-family home rental market.
Corporations are making similar bets in communities across North Carolina, an investigation by The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer revealed. Investment companies have bought at least 40,000 single-family properties around the state, turning them into rentals that churn out reliable profits.
In the Triangle area alone, Yamasa is collecting more than $4 million a year in rent, according to a News & Observer analysis of data pulled from Zillow.
Pet-friendly and easy to rent
When Kevin Sizer and his family decided in 2019 that they needed more space and would need to sell their home of two decades, they hired Mark Spain Real Estate, a brokerage whose billboards promise a “guaranteed offer on your home today.”
“I knew it needed some kind of repair work. I didn’t really want to go the traditional way and fix it up. I just kind of wanted to get out of it,” Sizer told The News & Observer. “In less than a week, they said a rental company was interested in purchasing the home.”
Yamasa has bought up four homes — including the Sizers’ — on the quiet suburban street of Waterford Landing Court in east Raleigh.
“It was very easy and it helped us to be able to move quickly,” Sizer said.
Yamasa, which says it’s been making soy sauce since the 1600s, incorporated in 1928 and has since expanded into pharmaceuticals and other industries around the globe. The private company made its first home purchase in the Triangle in Clayton in late 2018.
Real estate records list Yamasa as the owner of 167 homes around Wake County, primarily in heavily residential areas of Raleigh, though it’s also bought in Wake Forest, Fuquay Varina, Knightdale, Garner, Wendell, Cary and Apex.
They’ve got 16 homes in their name in Johnston County, though none in Durham or Orange counties.
According to the prices listed on Zillow, the homes are renting from $1,390 to $2,720 a month, averaging $1,863.
For just over $1,900 a month, Anthony Martin rents a four-bedroom home Yamasa bought the same month as the Sizers’, just a few streets over.
“I like the area. It’s diverse. It’s tranquil,” Martin said.
Martin, like all the tenants interviewed by The News & Observer, said they don’t do business with Yamasa. Everything has been handled by Progress Residential.
“I never met anybody. I went through and did everything online and paid the money,” Martin said.
Progress Residential, a major player in the single-family home rental market, declined to discuss their relationship with Yamasa.
‘Everything goes up’
In early 2021, Michael Austin moved into one of Yamasa’s homes with his girlfriend, child and dog.
The three-bedroom home, which Yamasa bought for $260,000 two months before the young family moved in, is at the end of a residential street on the northeastern outskirts of Raleigh. Austin spotted it on Zillow and put in an online application through Progress Residential.
“It was all online, all through either the app or emails. We were able to be given a key code to get in and everything,” Austin said.
They pay $1,800 a month, money Austin said they hope to instead be spending on a mortgage before long. Austin said they wanted to get to know the area better and consider what they wanted in a home before taking the leap.
“You know, it’s a long process, but we are looking to buy soon,” he said from the porch.
Montserrat Rubio lives in a four-bedroom home in Raleigh’s Hedingham neighborhood, where dozens of Yamasa’s rentals are clustered.
Like most of the rental homes visited by The News & Observer, barks punctuated Rubio’s walk to the door. Progress Residential’s pet-friendly policies are the whole reason their family is paying $2,500 to rent there.
“We were trying to find a company that accepts different types of dog breeds. We have a pit bull and most renters don’t accept that,” Rubio said.
She, too, never met anyone from the company in real life.
“It was all online. It went pretty smoothly. You know, when we would email them, it would be a quick response,” Rubio recounted.
That’s by design, and it’s become a lucrative, well-oiled machine for companies like Yamasa and Progress Residential.
Martin, whose home cost Yamasa $226,000, said he worries that corporations are pushing out locals, despite him enjoying his rental.
“They come in and they come with cash, so they can buy stuff and manipulate the market actually,” he said. “It really hurts the local people that live here because everything goes up.”
This story was originally published May 2, 2022 6:00 AM.