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Commercial Real Estate Markets Stabilizing, But Prices Decline to Post-Crash Low

May 26, 2011

While prices for commercial properties reached a post-recession low, the improving economy and job creation mean growing demand for commercial real estate, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said job creation will be the biggest factor moving forward.

“Job growth creates demand for commercial space, and the economy should be adding between 1.5 million and 2 million jobs annually both this year and in 2012, with the unemployment rate falling to 8.0 percent by the end of next year,” he said. “Given the minimal new supply in recent years, the rising demand means vacancy rates will be trending down in the commercial real estate sectors. Individual markets are now stabilizing and in some cases rising.”

From the second quarter of this year to the second quarter of 2012, NAR forecasts vacancy rates to decline 1.0 percentage point in the office sector, 0.9 point in industrial real estate, 0.5 point in the retail sector and 1.1 percentage points in the multifamily rental market.

The Society of Industrial and Office Realtors®, in its SIOR Commercial Real Estate Index, an attitudinal survey of more than 360 local market experts, shows a firming up of market fundamentals.

The SIOR index, measuring the impact of 10 variables, rose 6.8 percentage points to 57.5 in the first quarter, the highest since the fall of 2008. The Northeast and South drove improvements in market conditions. Vacancy rates are improving, but concessions continue to make it a tenant’s market.

Although the SIOR index remains notably lower than a level of 100 that represents a balanced marketplace, this is the sixth consecutive quarterly improvement after almost three years of decline. The last time the index was at 100 was in the third quarter of 2007.

Meanwhile, U.S. commercial property prices fell to a post-recession low in March as sales of financially distressed assets weighed on the market, according to Moody’s Investors Service. The Moody’s/REAL Commercial Property Price Index dropped 4.2 percent from February and is now 47 percent below the peak of October 2007, Moody’s said in a statement today.

The national index has fallen for four straight months as sales of distressed properties hurt real estate values. Investor demand is strongest for well-leased buildings in such major markets as New York and Washington as vacancy rates decline and the economy grows.

The index “continues to bounce along the bottom as a large share of distressed transactions preclude a meaningful recovery of overall market prices,” Tad Philipp, Moody’s director of commercial real estate research, said in the statement. “Indeed, the post-peak low in price has been reached in the same period as a post-peak high in distressed transactions has been recorded.”

A separate NAR commercial lending survey shows 65 percent of Realtors report lending conditions have tightened thus far in 2011, and six out of 10 failed to complete a transaction this year due to financing problems. Regional banks provide the majority of commercial loans, followed by private investors. National banks are a distant third.

“Just as in the residential sector, lending problems are the biggest issue impacting commercial real estate,” Yun noted.

The multifamily sector is the only area that has clearly turned the corner, resulting in consistently falling vacancy rates and rising rents. “Solid rises in apartment rents will force some renters to consider home ownership,” Yun said.

NAR’s latest Commercial Real Estate Outlook offers projections for four major commercial sectors and analyzes quarterly data in the office, industrial, retail and multifamily markets. Historic data were provided by CBRE Econometric Advisors.

Office Markets

Vacancy rates in the office sector are expected to fall from 16.3 percent in the second quarter of this year to 15.3 percent in the second quarter of 2012.

The markets with the lowest office vacancy rates currently are Honolulu and New York City, each with vacancies below 9 percent.

Office rents are projected to rise 0.3 percent this year and another 4.3 percent in 2012. In 57 markets tracked, net absorption of office space, which includes the leasing of new space coming on the market as well as space in existing properties, is likely to be 26.6 million square feet in 2011.

Industrial Markets

Industrial vacancy rates are expected to decline from 13.9 percent in the current quarter to 13.0 percent in the second quarter of 2012.

At present, the areas with the lowest industrial vacancy rates are Los Angeles and Salt Lake City, with vacancies in the 7 to 8 percent range.

Annual industrial rent should decline 1.5 percent in 2011 before rising 2.0 percent next year. Net absorption of industrial space in 58 markets tracked is seen at 126.1 million square feet in 2011.

Retail Markets

Retail vacancy rates are forecast to decline from 13.1 percent in the second quarter of this year to 12.6 percent in the second quarter of 2012.

Markets with the lowest retail vacancy rates currently include Honolulu; Long Island, N.Y.; and San Jose, Calif., all with vacancies below 8 percent.

Average retail rent is expected to decline 1.4 percent in 2011, and then rise 0.7 percent next year. Net absorption of retail space in 53 tracked markets is projected to be 5.4 million square feet in 2011.

Multifamily Markets

The apartment rental market – multifamily housing – is continuing to tighten as household formation grows. Multifamily vacancy rates should drop from 5.8 percent in the current quarter to 4.7 percent in the second quarter of 2012.

Areas with the lowest multifamily vacancy rates presently are Pittsburgh; San Jose, Calif.; and Portland, Ore., with vacancies below 3 percent.

Average apartment rent is likely to rise 3.4 percent this year and another 4.3 percent in 2012. Multifamily net absorption is forecast at 250,800 units in 59 tracked metro areas in 2011.



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