July 25, 2024

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Ohio company now one of Omaha’s largest rental home owners

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This reporting is in partnership with Flatwater Free Press. You can read their story on Vinebrook Homes here.An Ohio-based company is now the third-largest owner of individual rental properties in the city of Omaha.”Vinebrook Homes,” often listed as VB one or VB two on real estate transactions, holds title to 154 Douglas County homes. Nearly two-thirds of them are in two North Omaha ZIP codes, and the company has purchased the majority of its homes in the span of about two years.In fact, if you spend some time driving around Northeast Omaha, you’ll likely pass a property now owned by Vinebrook Homes. “Well, they’ve been buying a lot of properties in Omaha. So there were six pages on the Douglas County Assessor’s website,” said Amanda Brewer, CEO of Habitat for Humanity Omaha. For the past two months, KETV NewsWatch 7 has partnered with Flatwater Free Press to look into Vinebrook and the concerns of tenants that the company is quick to raise rents and even quicker to evict if payments fall behind.The Dayton, Ohio, based company is not new to the rental game. It has properties in nearly two dozen U.S. cities. But its footprint in Omaha started growing more recently, with the bulk of its homes in the metro purchased in the last two years.It is now among the top 50 property owners in all of Douglas County, according to the assessor’s office. And Vinebrook Homes is one of the top three rental property owners by parcel registered with the city of Omaha, according to data from the planning department. “That is alarming because as property values increase, we want that appreciation and that equity to go to Omaha residents, not out-of-state investors,” Brewer said. Vinebrook describes itself as a “real estate company specializing in acquiring, renovating and leasing single-family homes, with a focus on “affordability and value in an effort to grow the single-family rental home industry.”It’s a private investment trust and part of a wave of real estate firms purchasing single-family homes.Read Vinebrook Homes’ full statement in response to this report “Companies are seeing that single-family homes are a great investment right now,” said Bill Swanson, who sits on the Omaha Area Board of Realtors. Not only is Swanson a current board member on the Omaha Area Board of Realtors, but he has also represented a sale to Vinebrook Homes. Swanson explained the low inventory of housing has driven up costs and rentals have proved to be a profitable business. He said the metro in particular remains an attractive market.”It’s always been priced very, very well compared to other cities. So I think that brought some attention to a few of the national companies, and they said this is a perfect place to start buying properties,” Swanson said. Companies like Vinebrook, armed with cash on hand, can make big offers. A check of sales to Vinebrook shows many of those offers came in well above assessed value, grabbing houses off the market.”It could defease an entire generation of people in that neighborhood of the opportunity of homeownership,” said Shannon Harner, executive director of the Nebraska Investment Finance Authority. NIFA is an organization that seeks to build communities by helping first-time homebuyers.Harner worries large investment groups, like Vinebrook, may create a generation of renters.”The institutional investors buy and hold. And so once that house gets placed into that inventory, it’s in that inventory for decades,” she said, “And when a small mom and pop investor or a homeowner purchases a house, they typically turn that house between seven and 11 years. And so that gives somebody else an opportunity to come in to what we’ve typically called a starter home.” We talked to more than a dozen previous homeowners or real estate agents who sold to Vinebrook and heard story after story of cash offers and quick closings.Melisha Potter is a realtor who represented two sales to the company.One was an owner-occupied home. When the couple passed away, their children ended up selling the home to Vinebrook. Potter recognizes how those investor offers can hurt would-be homebuyers. “It takes them out of the boat, because it’s hard to compete with the cash offer that can close in two weeks. So a lot of the first-time homebuyers are missing out on that,” she said. Shauna and Andre Mackins would like to own, rather than rent, but they struggle to get ahead.”It seems like we get one step forward and something happens and we’re 10 steps behind again,” Shauna said. The Mackins are Vinebrook tenants and said their out-of-town landlord can be unforgiving. The couple said they’ve missed their “first of the month” deadline for rent twice since moving into a Vinebrook home last August. In one case, Andre had COVID-19.”I didn’t work for two weeks, and it was like they didn’t care,” Andre said. Both times, the couple said they let Vinebrook know their plan to pay.”I always communicate. I will send an email saying this will be the day that we’re going to pay. We always pay the late fee,” Shauna said. The Mackins said in one case, they had trouble accessing Vinebrook’s online payment system. And in both cases, they said the company threatened to kick them out before the month was up.”If you told them that you were going to pay on the 21st, they still will send it to courts for evictions. Which, to me, I think is unfair. You should at least see if the payment comes before you evict us,” she said. Not only that, the Mackins said they had to pay $350 on top of the $50 late fee to drop the eviction case. They said the added fees only make it more difficult to get ahead. “It’s just disappointing whenever they’re not understanding at all, even though it’s not like we’re behind months and months of rent,” Shauna said. Tenant Kerry Blacketer said he and his wife have lived in the same rental home nearly 16-years. Vinebrook purchased it earlier this year, but Blacketer said as the property was changing hands he ended up sending a payment to his former landlord when it should have gone to Vinebrook. In the middle of the month, Blacketer received a startling piece of mail.”When I received their first letter in the mail, which is an eviction notice or seven day to quit notice, I was quite shocked,” Blacketer said. Blacketer said he didn’t even know Vinebrook was the new owner and connecting with the company was difficult.”We reached out several times. Got no callbacks or I would be in the middle of a conversation with one of their reps explaining what was going on with the house or ‘how come we don’t have a lease yet?’ And the phone call would be dropped. And then nobody would ever call us back,” he said. Local housing advocate Erin Feichtinger has been involved in eviction court for a number of years, and she started tracking eviction filings in March 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic began.”Had saw Vinebrook homes popping up when I hadn’t seen their name before,” she said. Feichtinger said based on that data tracking, she noticed a shift, seeing more out-of-state landlords like Vinebrook as frequent fliers in eviction filings.She said in her experience, it’s easier to have that conversation about a plan to pay with local landlords, and they’ll work to help connect tenants with financial assistance.”That is not the case with out-of-state landlords who have no real investment in our community. I mean, obviously they have an incredible financial investment in the community but no real ties to this community,” Feichtinger said. The Blacketers eventually did sign a lease and got the payments sorted out, but they said their rent went from $875 to $1,000 a month with Vinebrook as a landlord. That matches a pattern we found in several homes that were rentals before Vinebrook bought them. Nate Bjorklund sold his rental property to Vinebrook when he and his wife moved out of state.Bjroklund said they rented the home for $695 a month. This spring, Vinebrook had it listed for $995 a month.”In my situation, they wanted the tenant to leave so that they could clean it, put in new carpet, new paint. And then rent it for a lot more,” he said. Bjorklund said he and his wife were ‘small-time landlords’ who tried to take care of tenants, and he’s not sure an out-of-state investment firm has the same approach.”I think maybe they have too many properties. They look at it as a business and just transactional,” he said. Omaha Attorney Dave Pantos fears the out-of-town investors create a bigger problem: they’re draining the supply of affordable housing.”Places that folks can normally afford to live in — not the best places in the world, but at least affordable — either the rents are being jacked up, or there was some kind of effort to non renew a lot of those leases because they’re being sold to out of state purchasers,” Pantos said. A closer look at where Vinebrook is buying shows nearly two-thirds of its homes are concentrated in two North Omaha ZIP codes.Pantos also said this trend limits opportunities to potentially clear out older homes and build more dense, new, affordable housing on the lots. “I think that’s really the future of affordable housing is taking existing housing stock and making it like a three to four-family if possible,” Pantos said, “They are taking away land that might have been developed by local developers for the purposes of affordable housing.” Organizations like Habitat for Humanity have long focused on creating opportunities for homeownership. Earlier this month, it unveiled a sweeping plan to build 85 locally-owned homes at 52nd and Sorsensen Parkway. Habitat hopes those ready to sell will consider the community before accepting an offer.”My invitation to people that own their home that want to sell is to, when possible, sell locally. Really when possible, sell to someone that’s going to live there,” Brewer said. Selling to people like the Mackins, who have a dream to own their own home — a dream that feels further and further out of reach. “No matter how hard we’re trying to get ahead. Something always is coming up that’s setting us behind,” she said.

This reporting is in partnership with Flatwater Free Press. You can read their story on Vinebrook Homes here.

An Ohio-based company is now the third-largest owner of individual rental properties in the city of Omaha.

Vinebrook Homes,” often listed as VB one or VB two on real estate transactions, holds title to 154 Douglas County homes. Nearly two-thirds of them are in two North Omaha ZIP codes, and the company has purchased the majority of its homes in the span of about two years.

In fact, if you spend some time driving around Northeast Omaha, you’ll likely pass a property now owned by Vinebrook Homes.

“Well, they’ve been buying a lot of properties in Omaha. So there were six pages on the Douglas County Assessor’s website,” said Amanda Brewer, CEO of Habitat for Humanity Omaha.

For the past two months, KETV NewsWatch 7 has partnered with Flatwater Free Press to look into Vinebrook and the concerns of tenants that the company is quick to raise rents and even quicker to evict if payments fall behind.

The Dayton, Ohio, based company is not new to the rental game. It has properties in nearly two dozen U.S. cities. But its footprint in Omaha started growing more recently, with the bulk of its homes in the metro purchased in the last two years.

It is now among the top 50 property owners in all of Douglas County, according to the assessor’s office. And Vinebrook Homes is one of the top three rental property owners by parcel registered with the city of Omaha, according to data from the planning department.

“That is alarming because as property values increase, we want that appreciation and that equity to go to Omaha residents, not out-of-state investors,” Brewer said.

Vinebrook describes itself as a “real estate company specializing in acquiring, renovating and leasing single-family homes, with a focus on “affordability and value in an effort to grow the single-family rental home industry.”

It’s a private investment trust and part of a wave of real estate firms purchasing single-family homes.

Read Vinebrook Homes’ full statement in response to this report

“Companies are seeing that single-family homes are a great investment right now,” said Bill Swanson, who sits on the Omaha Area Board of Realtors.

Not only is Swanson a current board member on the Omaha Area Board of Realtors, but he has also represented a sale to Vinebrook Homes.

Swanson explained the low inventory of housing has driven up costs and rentals have proved to be a profitable business. He said the metro in particular remains an attractive market.

“It’s always been priced very, very well compared to other cities. So I think that brought some attention to a few of the national companies, and they said this is a perfect place to start buying properties,” Swanson said.

Companies like Vinebrook, armed with cash on hand, can make big offers. A check of sales to Vinebrook shows many of those offers came in well above assessed value, grabbing houses off the market.

“It could defease an entire generation of people in that neighborhood of the opportunity of homeownership,” said Shannon Harner, executive director of the Nebraska Investment Finance Authority.

NIFA is an organization that seeks to build communities by helping first-time homebuyers.

Harner worries large investment groups, like Vinebrook, may create a generation of renters.

“The institutional investors buy and hold. And so once that house gets placed into that inventory, it’s in that inventory for decades,” she said, “And when a small mom and pop investor or a homeowner purchases a house, they typically turn that house between seven and 11 years. And so that gives somebody else an opportunity to come in to what we’ve typically called a starter home.”

We talked to more than a dozen previous homeowners or real estate agents who sold to Vinebrook and heard story after story of cash offers and quick closings.

Melisha Potter is a realtor who represented two sales to the company.

One was an owner-occupied home. When the couple passed away, their children ended up selling the home to Vinebrook.

Potter recognizes how those investor offers can hurt would-be homebuyers.

“It takes them out of the boat, because it’s hard to compete with the cash offer that can close in two weeks. So a lot of the first-time homebuyers are missing out on that,” she said.

Shauna and Andre Mackins would like to own, rather than rent, but they struggle to get ahead.

“It seems like we get one step forward and something happens and we’re 10 steps behind again,” Shauna said.

The Mackins are Vinebrook tenants and said their out-of-town landlord can be unforgiving.

The couple said they’ve missed their “first of the month” deadline for rent twice since moving into a Vinebrook home last August.

In one case, Andre had COVID-19.

“I didn’t work for two weeks, and it was like they didn’t care,” Andre said.

Both times, the couple said they let Vinebrook know their plan to pay.

“I always communicate. I will send an email saying this will be the day that we’re going to pay. We always pay the late fee,” Shauna said.

The Mackins said in one case, they had trouble accessing Vinebrook’s online payment system. And in both cases, they said the company threatened to kick them out before the month was up.

“If you told them that you were going to pay on the 21st, they still will send it to courts for evictions. Which, to me, I think is unfair. You should at least see if the payment comes before you evict us,” she said.

Not only that, the Mackins said they had to pay $350 on top of the $50 late fee to drop the eviction case. They said the added fees only make it more difficult to get ahead.

“It’s just disappointing whenever they’re not understanding at all, even though it’s not like we’re behind months and months of rent,” Shauna said.

Tenant Kerry Blacketer said he and his wife have lived in the same rental home nearly 16-years. Vinebrook purchased it earlier this year, but Blacketer said as the property was changing hands he ended up sending a payment to his former landlord when it should have gone to Vinebrook.

In the middle of the month, Blacketer received a startling piece of mail.

“When I received their first letter in the mail, which is an eviction notice or seven day to quit notice, I was quite shocked,” Blacketer said.

Blacketer said he didn’t even know Vinebrook was the new owner and connecting with the company was difficult.

“We reached out several times. Got no callbacks or I would be in the middle of a conversation with one of their reps explaining what was going on with the house or ‘how come we don’t have a lease yet?’ And the phone call would be dropped. And then nobody would ever call us back,” he said.

Local housing advocate Erin Feichtinger has been involved in eviction court for a number of years, and she started tracking eviction filings in March 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“Had saw Vinebrook homes popping up when I hadn’t seen their name before,” she said.

Feichtinger said based on that data tracking, she noticed a shift, seeing more out-of-state landlords like Vinebrook as frequent fliers in eviction filings.

She said in her experience, it’s easier to have that conversation about a plan to pay with local landlords, and they’ll work to help connect tenants with financial assistance.

“That is not the case with out-of-state landlords who have no real investment in our community. I mean, obviously they have an incredible financial investment in the community but no real ties to this community,” Feichtinger said.

The Blacketers eventually did sign a lease and got the payments sorted out, but they said their rent went from $875 to $1,000 a month with Vinebrook as a landlord.

That matches a pattern we found in several homes that were rentals before Vinebrook bought them.

Nate Bjorklund sold his rental property to Vinebrook when he and his wife moved out of state.

Bjroklund said they rented the home for $695 a month. This spring, Vinebrook had it listed for $995 a month.

“In my situation, they wanted the tenant to leave so that they could clean it, put in new carpet, new paint. And then rent it for a lot more,” he said.

Bjorklund said he and his wife were ‘small-time landlords’ who tried to take care of tenants, and he’s not sure an out-of-state investment firm has the same approach.

“I think maybe they have too many properties. They look at it as a business and just transactional,” he said.

Omaha Attorney Dave Pantos fears the out-of-town investors create a bigger problem: they’re draining the supply of affordable housing.

“Places that folks can normally afford to live in — not the best places in the world, but at least affordable — either the rents are being jacked up, or there was some kind of effort to non renew a lot of those leases because they’re being sold to out of state purchasers,” Pantos said.

A closer look at where Vinebrook is buying shows nearly two-thirds of its homes are concentrated in two North Omaha ZIP codes.

Pantos also said this trend limits opportunities to potentially clear out older homes and build more dense, new, affordable housing on the lots.

“I think that’s really the future of affordable housing is taking existing housing stock and making it like a three to four-family if possible,” Pantos said, “They are taking away land that might have been developed by local developers for the purposes of affordable housing.”

Organizations like Habitat for Humanity have long focused on creating opportunities for homeownership. Earlier this month, it unveiled a sweeping plan to build 85 locally-owned homes at 52nd and Sorsensen Parkway.

Habitat hopes those ready to sell will consider the community before accepting an offer.

“My invitation to people that own their home that want to sell is to, when possible, sell locally. Really when possible, sell to someone that’s going to live there,” Brewer said.

Selling to people like the Mackins, who have a dream to own their own home — a dream that feels further and further out of reach.

“No matter how hard we’re trying to get ahead. Something always is coming up that’s setting us behind,” she said.

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