PARTNERS, Thought leadership

Bear or bull: CRE’s investment prospects

The commercial real estate (CRE) reporter Konrad Putzier recently published a fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) about the sector’s resilience, and specifically investors’ confidence in that resilience. Published in May 2020, the article unpacks the factors that have worked into the sentiment analysis, showing that despite the hard knocks of the pandemic, there is a lot of positivity about the future of CRE.

No small troubles

In many ways, CRE was a prime candidate to be severely impacted by shelter-at-home orders and the migration of workers to their homes. High-rise office buildings, the report starts, stood largely empty, and around a half of hotel rooms went unoccupied. Retail was also under severe pressure. Despite these layered burdens, the CRE market in the US remained relatively strong and is looking up in 2021.

“Prices fell far less than after the 2008 financial crisis and are already rising again,” he writes. “The number of foreclosures barely increased. Pension funds and private-equity firms are once again spending record sums on buildings.” This is, the article argues, partly due to the federal government taking bold measures to support landlords and protect them from “suffering steep losses”.

According to Green Street analytics quoted in the piece, CRE prices did fall some 11% in the March to May 2020 period (compared to 37% after the 2008 crash), but have rebounded by 7% – “erasing more than half their pandemic declines”.

Investor confidence

The sector’s other saving grace is that it remains a darling of investors. The WSJ points to “big global pension funds… raising their allocations to commercial real estate”. Private investment funds with a real estate focus had $356 billion in cash reserves in April, and a study from Cornell University and Hodes Weill & Associations found that 29% of large institutions said they planned to increase their CRE exposure.

Inflation haven

Analysis from Globe St underlines some of the same findings as the WSJ report, specifically in that real estate is profiting from its perception as an inflation hedge, and despite a high vacancy rate for offices, it describes analysts as “still bullish on the sector”. In fact, real estate investment trusts (REITs) have been the best performing asset class in 2021 so far.

Moody’s however takes a more cautious view. Also speaking to Globe St, they say, “while industrial will remain steady and multifamily family rents and vacancies will turn around in the short term, the future of office, retail, and some hotel subtypes is uncertain”.

Part of the package

The contemporary CRE investor can however bet on both outcomes through diversification. Writing for the Forbes Real Estate Council, Andrew Lanoie of The Impatient Investor has penned an even-handed explanation of the divergence of real estate and CRE prospects in tough economic times, and how CRE in the investment portfolio – diversified by type and region – can still carry its weight in your wealth strategy.

In fact, he concludes “investing in commercial real estate the right way can shield your portfolio from the next downturn.”

Social: Are you bullish or bearish on the CRE investment prospects? Tell us what’s driving your investment choices in this volatile time…

Top Tech: CoStar

Top Tech: CoStar

In a recent series of blogs, we have been sharing some of our top technology tools for use in commercial real estate (CRE) – the kinds of tech we use to give us an edge. Please note, though, this is NOT a paid or sponsored blog. We are motivated only by sharing the tools of the trade with our wide network of partners and peers.

Here, in the third such post in the series, we are exploring CoStar – which bills itself as the largest commercial real estate information and analytics provider. Below we get into the specifics of just why we use them. You can find CoStar at www.costar.com.

What is CoStar?

CoStar is a supplier of information and information-powered tools, and they have the kind of data volume that can unlock nuanced analysis of trends and market movers – with 129 billion square feet of inventory tracked and data points on over six million commercial properties.

Their portfolio includes several products, offering a tool for just about any CRE stakeholder you can think of, including brokers, owners, lenders, appraisers, and more.

Established player

Currently being a “big data business” is very trendy, but CoStar are not a new operation. Rather, founded in 1987, they have been an information and research provider for over three decades.

The CoStar Group is listed on the NASDAQ and was recently included in Fortune Magazine’s top 100 Fastest-Growing Companies (in 29th position) – an annual list by the business-focused publication.

The information you need

The platform includes millions of CRE comparative statistics or “comparables”, such as transaction notes, rent, occupation, cap rates, and that ever-important pricing information. You can also use the tool to access data on the status of a property (for sale, under contract, or sold). They also offer the functionality of aerial and map overlays, so you can explore market activity data in direct relation to its location, so you have both content and context.

You can also customize reports, manage your own listings, and access their regular indices and research materials and forecasts.

The connections you want

Over and above crunching the numbers on all things CRE – like inventory, valuations, and more – CoStar maintains a professional directory on almost six million industry contacts in order to foster connections and enable collaborations. Through this, you can not only get the low down on a listing, but also link those deals with names, and those names with means to get in touch.

[Call for social] What are your go-to tools for commercial real estate? And what is the one set of property data you wish you could lay your eyeballs on? Share your ideas with us here.  

Imagining the Hospitality and Hotel CRE recovery

One of the hardest pandemic-hit sectors in the last 12 months is travel and tourism, a space with significant overlap with commercial real estate (CRE). For those who trade in and invest in hotels and hospitality CRE, it has been a dark time – and sadly analysts aren’t promising a rapid bounce back. Rather, we are hearing estimates in the region of two to three years for a return to pre-Covid-19 levels – or longer, if major markets are affected by further “waves”.

Economic Impact

According to research by Northern Trust, tourism and travel are worth an estimated 10% of global GDP, and provides jobs for 330 million people. Forecasts from Oxford Economics and the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) in 2020, predicted that international arrivals would drop by “over 70%, contributing to about 200 million job losses”.

That was their “worst case scenario” last year, but with multiple waves of this health crisis still being felt around the globe, the final impact is still to be assessed. 

Sector specifics

There are many things contributing to this, not least of all the correlation between travel and the spread of the coronavirus. Because this link was so immediately clear, international travel was all but shut down in 2020, and for many countries that remains the case with borders closed for anything other than essential travel.

As investors at Northern Trust explain, hotels are a “highly cyclical sector that experiences an overnight collapse in demand”. That speaks to the viability of tenants and operators in tough times, as well as the investment prospects that flow thereafter.

The acceptance for work-from-home will also keep more business travelers away and for longer, so areas that have economies built on conferencing and eventing are unlikely to see an uptick in business soon. Tourism recovery will, instead, start in cities that have clear pandemic-mitigation measures in place and those that can promise a safe “bubble” for tourists.

Looking forward for sustainability

On a more positive note, commentators have made the point that this is an opportunity to reset in many ways – shifting towards more sustainable tourism and hotel development practices. Deals with clear environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) principles will sweeten the deal for investors.

Outliers and options

A handful of destinations are expected to buck the trend, with sharper tourism increases, and a swifter hospitality CRE recovery in conjunction. Parts of Australia, for example, are already seeing a shift towards new inventory.

Hotel shares movements also reflect optimism. As Million Acres reports, “As of March 19, 2021, Park Hotels and Resorts (NYSE: PK) was up 33.4% YTD, Pebblebrook Hotel Trust (NYSE: PEB) 35.4%, and Hersha Hospitality (NYSE: HT) up 47%”.

“That makes a good case for real estate investment trusts (REITs), says Steven Vazquez, NAI Global Capital Markets Hotel Expert, “and shows a willingness to buy in now as people think the bottom was reached and things looking up.”

Thought leadership: How CRE fits into corporate strategy

The cliché of “Location, location, location” applies in commercial real estate (CRE) as much as residential, but what factors you bundle into that assessment are, naturally, vastly different and should be explicitly tied to corporate strategy. That’s the realm of corporate real estate management (CREM).

Corporate decisionmakers

A savvy corporate client on the hunt for premises will be asking whether a proposed site will support their corporate goals.

When considering a potential position for offices or logistics, for example, an assessor might ask about the transport links, the nearby shops and facilities. They may consider perception and whether the location is in keeping with brand identity.

They will need to understand the current and future demands the company will make of a location, and how the lease or sale terms will be perceived by a board or management team.

Access to (human) resources

There is another oft-overlooked location factor that NAI argues should form part of a CRE strategy: talent and access to the right people.

This is the nature of cities or areas that become hubs for specific industries and sectors: they have a rich pool of workers with the right mix of skills to draw from. If you’re looking for the top geologists in the world, you probably want to focus on an area associated with mining. Want people who are passionate and knowledgeable about the ocean? Try Hawaii. Silicon Valley, and increasingly Texas, are meccas for the technically minded.

There’s remote work and transferable skills to consider, of course, but generally speaking a talent pool linked to an area is self-sustaining, in the way that Silicon Valley and Stanford will always be linked in their mutual development paths.

What type of staff you envision filling your hallways and boardrooms will also inform other location considerations: like access to good schools, parks, or public transport.

Property as an asset

Last but definitely not least, the right property is an asset and an investment with future dividends. This is why a smart broker, or their corporate client isn’t just looking at what is now, but what could be, what’s on the horizon, and any prevailing trends that need to be considered.

A client with explicit return on investment (ROI) expectations or a particular appetite for risk – as just two examples – should place that information on the table from the get-go, as premises can be (and often are) serving the dual purposes of functional and financial.

Remember: business strategy should drive a real estate decision, not the other way round.