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Deep Dive: Records reveal hundreds of Treasure Valley homes owned by out-of-state investors

The house next door might not be owned by your neighbor or someone who lives in Idaho at all. 

Last year, BoiseDev reported that as many as one in five homes in Boise are owned by someone who does not plan to live there. This matches with national real estate transfer data tracked by real estate consulting firm John Burns Real Estate Consulting, which estimates a fifth of homes sold nationwide go to investors. The percentage of investors buying homes climbs to 31% for homes priced under $200,000 nationwide. 

Who are these investors in the Treasure Valley? How many of them are Idahoans looking for extra income, and how many are linked to out-of-state interests cashing in on the real estate boom?

BoiseDev spent the past four months digging through hundreds of real estate property records in both Ada and Canyon counties, searching for investors to learn more about who owns homes in our neighborhoods and where they are. This analysis is not a complete picture of every single investor or property owner in the Treasure Valley due to the sheer number of records to review. Still, it uncovered the prevalence of large-scale investor-owned properties, particularly in the Treasure Valley’s outer suburbs. 

Records reveal at least over 400 single-family homes in the Treasure Valley owned by investors out of state, with the vast majority held by publicly traded California-based company American Homes 4 Rent. 

Are homes a new asset class of investments?

It’s not just in Idaho, where investment companies have taken a foothold, fundamentally changing the real estate market. 

A months-long investigation by the Charlotte Observer unearthed the scale of Wall Street-backed firms’ real estate holdings in North Carolina earlier this year. A team of reporters uncovered 40,000 properties owned across the state by less than two dozen investment companies with deep pockets. 

The United States has no laws preventing private companies or individual investors looking to broaden their holdings from purchasing as many single-family homes as they would like. Nothing about this change in the market is illegal, but it changes the dynamics of how supply and demand shape prices when growing families are bidding against Wall Street firms who can afford to pay cash, thousands over the asking price of homes. 

Steven Peterson, a clinical associate professor of economics at the University of Idaho, says out-of-state money-powering investment in real estate isn’t a negative thing on its face because it can help build more homes to house a growing population. But, he said, problems arise when investment firms purchase housing to grow their bottom line without building any more. 

“What concerns me is they’re treating it like an asset class of investments, like a stock type investment,” he said. “I can’t see on the surface how this leads to an increase in availability.”

He said this makes the real estate market more susceptible to the boom and bust cycles of the stock market, and it removes homes from the market that families could purchase. But, even as economic forecasts hint at a potential recession, Peterson cautioned anyone from hoping for a Wall Street crash, thinking it would free up some of these investor-owned properties and make buying a home easier for average Americans.

Peterson said unless officials loosen zoning laws and allow new housing to be built to meet the nation’s growing housing shortage, these homes will continue to be valuable assets for these companies, and prices will continue to rise. 

“We can easily have a recession, and it has no effect on this problem,” he said. “One has to be very careful what one wishes for. Recessions are generally not good things because they cause a lot of economic stress.”

Investors big and small

BoiseDev’s search revealed three loosely defined groups of investors populating the Treasure Valley’s neighborhoods. 

The first group is what people typically refer to as “mom-and-pop” landlords. The vast majority of properties reviewed by BoiseDev tied to LLCs on the Boise Bench and the North End were connected to individuals who live in the Treasure Valley and own one or maybe two properties. These properties might provide extra income to someone who lives locally or was initially purchased as a starter home decades ago and is now rented out. 

Meridian Idaho homes
An aerial view of homes at Locust Grove Rd and Ustick Rd. in Meridian Photo: Charles Knowles/Shutterstock

The second class of investors operating in the Treasure Valley are based out of state and own more than one or two properties. This includes outfits like investment firm WTS Investments LLC, which owns ten homes in Canyon County. The company is based out of Houston and is connected to Tanweer Ahmed, the CEO of restaurant business PAK Foods. WTS purchased all ten of the properties on the same day in 2011. 

Another example is Elco Enterprises LLC, which owns 15 properties in Ada County. It is associated with a large family home in Billings, Montana. The LLC, which is now listed as defunct with the Idaho Secretary of State, is linked to Billings-based trucking company owner Carl Baltrusch. Sunset West LLC, which owns three properties in Ada County and is connected to a law firm in Cedar City, Utah, specializes in creating LLCs and being a registered agent for companies. Public records do not reveal the direct owner. 

Wall Street comes to Main Street 

Operations like public-traded American Homes 4 Rent is on a different scale than any of these other companies or individuals running some rental properties. 

The company was one of the first large public companies to invest heavily in single-family homes starting roughly a decade ago. Since then, American Homes 4 Rent amassed tens of thousands of homes across the country. A June U.S. Security Exchange Commission filing said the company owns 57,000 homes across 22 states. The report noted a high concentration of ownership in cities like Atlanta, Dallas, and Charlotte.

“American Homes 4 Rent is transforming the single-family rental industry,” American Homes 4 Rent CEO David Singelyn said in a video on the company’s website. 

Public real estate records show American Homes 4 Rent owns 443 properties across both Ada and Canyon County, with 344 of the properties in Idaho’s largest county. Most of the homes are located in the once affordably priced outer suburbs of Kuna, Star, Meridian, and unincorporated Ada County. For example, in one Star subdivision with 214 homes, seven are owned by American Homes 4 Rent. 

A screenshot of homes available for rent in one Kuna subdivision by American Homes 4 Rent

These homes are often for rent in nondescript, suburban neighborhoods with backyards and the typical amenities common in any subdivision. The average home owned by the company is 17 years old and hovers just under 2,000 square feet. They rent for an average of $1,856 per month, roughly equivalent to the mortgage payment on a $375,000 home with a 4.25% interest rate on a 30-year mortgage. Homes in Kuna listed on the company’s website are rented for at least $2,300 a month

And those are just the homes American Homes 4 Rent bought that already exist. The company has now pivoted toward building subdivisions of homes to rent them out. American Homes 4 Rent expects to bring between 2,100 and 2,400 new homes to rent online by the end of 2022. The company’s SEC filings boast a “20,000+ unit land pipeline” that creates “years of growth stability” for potential investors to consider. 

One of these subdivisions is set to go up on the once planned site for a Boise Independent School District school. The school district opted to sell the land instead, and the highest bidder was AMH Development, American Homes 4 Rent’s homebuilding arm, for $6.3 million earlier this year. 

‘You don’t even know who to contact’

Investor-owned rentals are a whole different ballgame for eviction prevention nonprofit Jesse Tree.

Executive Director Ali Rabe said her nonprofit’s strategy to help prevent evictions is to negotiate with landlords and use a combination of rental assistance and case management to resolve the problem for the client. This gets more complicated when tenants live in rentals owned by investors who don’t have a relationship with their tenants and might just be looking to move ahead to the next renter. 

“Communication is much more of a challenge for us with those companies, and then they operate a lot more by the books when it comes to evictions,” Rabe said. “Whereas mom-and-pop landlords will treat every situation differently. These bigger companies will just hire a contract attorney that they pay on contract instead of case by case, and if a tenant doesn’t pay their rent, they will give them a 3-day pay or quit notice, and they will file in court, and there’s no opportunity to have a conversation.”

Eviction notice
Eviction notice

Rabe recounted several stories from clients facing evictions from out-of-state investment firms, including a woman who was taken to court while in hospice care and the landlord did not know. She once spent an entire afternoon on hold with American Homes 4 Rent trying to talk to someone at the company about a family of five who was evicted from a mobile home the company bought in Canyon County with only notices in the mail and no other follow-up. 

“We’re actually pulling records from eviction court to identify the top evictors, and a lot them are these big companies coming into Idaho and buying up a lot of multifamily units,” Rabe said. “You don’t even know who to contact.”

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Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at [email protected] or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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