Thursday, June 4, 2020 / by Ken Couture
The novel coronavirus pandemic forced offices and retailers to shift operations online over the past three months — leading some to speculate that demand for commercial real estate will drop, sending prices plummeting.
But most commercial properties will not be selling for massive discounts, according to Hessam Nadji, CEO of Marcus & Millichap, a California-based national commercial real estate brokerage.
“There’s a broad brush sentiment that commercial real estate is going to get distressed pricing across the board and that is just not the case,” Nadji told Yahoo Finance. Apartments and warehouses, in particular, are performing “very well.”
As Americans shelter in place, demand for apartments and condos have remained stable. Some 41.4% of investors reported multifamily acquisitions in their market in May compared to 33.6% in April, according to a monthly survey of almost 500 members in the NAIOP (National Association of Industrial and Office Properties) Commercial Real Estate Development Association conducted May 18-20.
And a surge in online shopping during the pandemic has upped warehouse demand for last-mile delivery. Warehouse acquisitions increased to 58.7% in May from 54% in April, according to the NAIOP.
Commercial real estate has a history of resilience, said Nadji. The commercial market suffered for 18-24 months after September 11, 2001, as employers feared bringing employees into central business locations. But within a few years, office leasing behavior returned to normal, said Nadji, who expects the same resilience within two to three years, depending on the degree of economic growth.
We’ve seen from many companies, including IBM, that experimented heavily with telecommuting, that they eventually want to bring people back at least a few times a week to work in groups and be in person and have collaborative functions that bring people together in office locations,” said Nadji.
Hospitality and retail underperform
But properties that house hospitality or retail are a “whole different story,” he said, and could offer some “opportunistic investment situations.” Led by a few of these underperforming asset classes, commercial real estate properties had a 2.29% delinquency rate on mortgage loans in April, up from 2.07% March — its largest jump in three years, according to New York-based Trepp Research’s CMBS Delinquency Rate, which measures mortgage ayments that are late for more than 30 days.
With the country under lockdown, traveling virtually ceased during the pandemic. Hotel demand was down 42% in April compared to last year, prompting some 2.71% of hotels and motels to default on their loans in April, compared to only 1.53% in March. Commercial real estate suffered its highest jump in delinquencies in three years, but lodging had the highest uptick of all property types, according to Trepp Research.
The cities where commercial real estate will take the biggest hit are service-based hospitality economies, including Atlantic City, N.J., Myrtle Beach, S.C., Las Vegas, Nev., Fort Walton Beach, Fla. and Wilmington, N.C., according to MillionAcres, a real estate investing branch of the Motley Fool, an investing advice company based in Alexandria, Va.
With less investor demand for retail space, opportunistic investors could also find deals on vacant storefronts. Some 13.4% of NAIOP members said they had witnessed retail deal activity in May, unchanged from activity in April but significantly down from before the pandemic, according to the NAIOP. Notably, retail spaces with grocery stores are proving resilient, according to CrowdStreet, a Portland, Ore.-based investing platform.
While there will also be a short-term reduction in interest in city-based offices, suburban satellite offices may become more popular, said Nadji. Long-term, experts expect the office to remain an attractive investment.
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