New Construction off to a Shaky Start in 2023

According to a recent GlobeSt article, the US construction industry should prepare for a 3% drop-off in construction starts (i.e. new construction projects) in 2023. This follows on from a complicated couple of years for the industry in 2021-2022, as soaring materials prices and supply chain disruptions kept developers guessing about their next steps. 

GlobeSt was reporting on data from the Dodge Construction Outlook Conference which took place in November 2022. The Dodge Construction Network provides data analytics and insights to construction executives and industry leaders across the US, and the annual conference is cited as: “the leading economic forecast event for commercial construction.”

Multifamily set to slow

As is often the case, the expected decline will affect specific real estate sectors in different ways. GlobeSt notes, for example, that the value of multifamily construction may see a large decline (around 7% when adjusted for inflation).

In their own report on the data, industry news site Engineering News Record (ENR) adds: “In the multi-family sector, starts are expected to finish the year [2022] up 16%, but will drop 9% next year.”

Mixed bag for Retail, Office and Industrial

ENR also notes that the increases in retail and manufacturing starts seen in 2022 are likely to taper off, though it’s worth pointing out that the manufacturing industry saw gains of 196% over the year.

Quoted in the article, Dodge Chief Economist, Richard Branch, noted that despite an anticipated 43% drop for manufacturing construction, “that is still historically a very strong record level of activity.”

Meanwhile the dollar value of office construction is in for a “slight decline” of 1% in 2023, as remote work trends and the tight labor market continue to put pressure on the sector.

Niche sectors still offer respite

Despite these generally downhill trends, other predictions made during the conference include ongoing strong performance from some of the niche CRE sectors we’ve seen rise to prominence in recent years. As Archinect reports:

“While traditional school construction is set to fall, life science buildings and healthcare projects, including outpatient clinics and hospitals, continue to rise.”

These are assets we’ve seen big things from over the past year, and it seems they’re set to continue attracting investors in the year to come.

Recession effects

As the above predictions show, there are still many factors in play that will influence how things shake out for the construction sector in 2023. Arguably the biggest determinant is the likelihood and severity of a potential recession.

In Branch’s words: “We’re walking the razor’s edge here. In our estimation, there is a very, very, very narrow path to avoiding a technical recession in 2023.”

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Lunch Break

Alec J. Pacella

During my school days, lunchtime was always an interesting experience. In addition to providing a nice break and opportunity to socialize, there was the actual main event – food. And with this came great variety, sometimes in a good way and other times in a bad way. I have similar thoughts when looking back at the commercial real estate investment market in 2022.

To see how our real estate market relates to school lunches, read on.

PIZZA

Nothing made me happier heading down the lunch line than seeing a huge sheet of pizza, cut into squares, of course. And nothing made investors happier last year than seeing a new, net leased industrial warehouse offering. This sector continued to be red hot, both on the leasing and the sale side. Occupancy was at an all-time high and increasing rental rates coupled with falling cap rates led to record activity and pricing. Facilities leased to Amazon led the pack and routinely traded at cap rates in the upper 4% range with pricing eclipsing the $300 per square foot (psf) mark. But even more routine deals were greeted with cap rates around 6% and pricing of $75 to $85 per square foot. These include the JB Hudco facility in Bedford ($83 psf at a 6.25% cap rate), the ID Images facility in Brunswick ($77 per square foot at a 5.8% cap rate) and the True Value facility in Westlake ($75 per square foot at a 6.75% cap rate).

CHICKEN NUGGETS WITH CRINKLE FRIES

Nuggets and fries along with some packets of BBQ sauce was a close second in my book, similar to investor interest in apartment properties being right on the heels of industrial warehouses. And while glitzy complexes such as the 401 Lofts in Akron made headlines with equally glitzy per unit pricing that exceeded the six-figure mark, it was the solid activity amongst the Class B product that carried this sector last year. Examples include Clifton Plaza Apartments in Cleveland (108 units sold for $57,000 per unit), Oak Hill Village in Willoughby (182 units sold for $77,000 per unit), State Hill Manor in Parma (110 units sold for $75,000 per unit) and 200 West in Fairview Park (173 units sold for $65,000 per unit).

SPAGETTI AND MEATBALLS

This lunch choice was always polarizing, with some loving a heaping platter of pasta while others hating it. It reminds me of the appetite for retail properties last year. A favorite type was well-located, smaller footprint centers occupied by credit tenants. Examples include Great Lakes Plaza, a 7,200-square-foot center occupied by Condoda Taco and Sleep Number, which traded for $5 million, and Parma Outlet Center, an 8,000-square- foot center anchored by Bank of America and Verizon, which sold for $1.8 million. Meanwhile, a clear unfavorite was tradi- tional, larger centers in mature locations. Examples include Stow Falls Center, a 95,000-square-foot center occupied by Planet Fitness and Litehouse Pools, which traded for $6.1 million, and Pheasants Run, a 30,000-square-foot center in North Olmsted, which sold for $1.7 million.

SLICED HAM WITH GREEN BEANS

When this showed up on the menu, most students opted to pack their lunch, which is similar to the activity in the office sector last year. When an office building showed up for sale, most investors headed in the opposite direction. The sector continues to struggle with weak fundamentals, including static occupancy, flat rent but rising expenses, all against a backdrop of uncertainty of the future of office space. As a result, pricing has languished. Examples of this softness include Westgate Plaza, a 92,500-square-foot building in Fairview Park that sold for $25 per square foot. Springside Place, a 97,000 square-foot property in Montrose that sold for $37 per square foot; the PDC Building, a 70,000 square-foot property in Beachwood that sold for $50 per square foot; and One Independence Place, a 100,000 square-foot building in Independence that sold for $50 per square foot.

ICE CREAM SANDWICHES

No matter how good or bad the lunch choices were, there was always a line when the ice cream freezer opened. This is very similar to investment activity in the single-tenant, net leased sector. Regardless of what may be going on in the broader real estate market, investors always seem to be able to make room for a good net leased offering. There were plenty of examples last year. A newly constructed Jiffy Lube in Avon traded for just over $700 per square foot, at a 7.2% cap rate. A Citizens Bank in Bainbridge sold for $1,400 per square foot, at a 5% cap rate. A Starbucks in Aurora sold for $1,100 per square foot, at a 5.75% cap rate. And a Wendy’s in Cleveland sold for $1,450 per square foot, at a 4.5% cap rate.

While the full effect [of the Fed rate hike] on the commercial real estate market isn’t readily apparent, the activity level clearly slowed over the last part of the year. More importantly, this sluggishness is anticipated to continue into the first part of 2023.

NEW MENU COMING

One of the most interesting days in the cafeteria was when the new menu for the upcoming month was posted on the bulletin board. Everyone would gather around to figure out what days they would packing their lunches and what days they would be buying them. Last year, the bulletin board was replaced by our phones or computers. But we weren’t looking for a menu but rather a news release on the results of the most recent Federal Reserve Board meeting. The Fed met eight times last year and raised the fund rate at seven of these meetings. As a result, the rate went from 0.75% to 4.5% and has obviously had a dramatic impact on the cost of borrowing. While the full effect on the commercial real estate market isn’t readily apparent, the activity level clearly slowed over the last part of the year. More importantly, this sluggishness is anticipated to continue into the first part of 2023.

But I’m starting to get into 5th period so for now, let’s just kick back and enjoy the rest of our lunch!

What I C @PVC

PAINTING A PRETTY PICTURE Last year ended with a bang when it was announced that Sherwin- Williams was entering into a sale/leaseback for the new 1 million-square-foot corporate headquarters. Benderson Realty Development is paying $210 million for a 90% interest in the property, which is currently under construction and scheduled to be completed in early 2025. –AP

For February 2023 Properties Magazine

Conflicting Signals: What do Layoffs Mean for the Labor Shortage?

In recent news from the Washington post, tech giant Meta is cutting around 11 000 jobs, representing 13% of the company’s workforce. Twitter is also continuing with layoffs, after already slashing jobs drastically earlier in November.

Meanwhile Forbes reports large-scale layoffs at Amazon, adding that multiple other major companies – from Disney to Barclays, Salesforce, and Lyft have all already cut jobs or have announced cutbacks and hiring freezes.

With all of these changes incoming, the question that’s top of mind is: How will this affect the labor shortage we’ve seen since 2021?

In larger context

The names above are some of the biggest players (and employers) in the market, so it’s natural to assume that these cuts mean the labor shortage is inevitably reversing. Before making that deliberation, however, it’s worth taking a look at some of the figures from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (USCC) to get a sense of the bigger picture.

In October, Stephanie Ferguson, the USCC Director of Global Employment Policy & Special Initiatives outlined the magnitude of the shortage, stating: “We have a lot of jobs, but not enough workers to fill them. If every unemployed person in the country found a job, we would still have 4 million open jobs.”

State and sector

The shortage stems, Ferguson says, from the unprecedented number of jobs added in 2021 – approximately 3.8 million. At the same time, the labor force has shrunk, with many workers retiring early, and workers quitting their jobs in unprecedented numbers as part of the Great Resignation.

USCC data shows that these shortfalls are  largest in Northern and Eastern States, and that certain industries, like hospitality and healthcare, have disproportionately high levels of job openings.

All of which is to say, that while the big moves happening in the tech sector right now are certainly concerning, they still form part of a much larger, and more nuanced, picture.

CRE concerns?

For the commercial real estate (CRE) industry, the effects are likely to be similarly varied, depending on where and what type of business we look at. We have already seen some sharp downturns for specific Proptech companies. Redfin, for example, has cut a further 13% of its staff, following on from an earlier round of layoffs in June.

Other Proptech outfits are facing similar difficulties, as 2022 shapes up to be a tough year for CRE startups.

Labor market outlook

What these cuts ultimately mean for the labor market, and CRE operations in the Bay Area where many tech companies are concentrated, is still unclear.

For now, it seems that worker availability, even in tech, is still falling short of demand from employers. Amid the current economic uncertainty, however, that situation might well change as we head into 2023. As always, we’ll be keeping a sharp on the trends, and potential impacts in CRE markets.

Thought Leader Cybersecurity

Risky Business: Why Cybersecurity Should be Top of Mind for CRE Professionals

Over the past year, it’s sometimes felt like the number of factors that we, as commercial real estate (CRE) professionals, need to keep track of have grown exponentially. Especially in the face of challenging market conditions

At the same time, there’s an ever-increasing need to be conversant with new technology and tech tools that help boost productivity and add value for clients. The tools available  span the spectrum from social media to drone technology, climate-savvy building tech, and even augmented or virtual reality software.

For brokers, building managers, and developers incorporating these game-changing technologies, the possibilities are nearly endless.

There is, however, a flip side to this coin. And, like many things tech-related, it’s an area where CRE professionals have often been slow on the uptake: Implementing the right cybersecurity protocols.

A growing threat

Part of the problem is the idea that cybersecurity is something that’s handled exclusively by a dedicated team, or automatically built into the software being used. While that’s true to some extent, the fact remains that the tactics cyber criminals use, and the number of incidents each year, are continually growing.

Sophisticated “phishing” attacks, which aim to get staff to unwittingly compromise system security, and ransomware are the order of the day, and, as a recent incident in Australia shows, the real estate sector is far from exempt from these threats.

Given the amounts of sensitive data passing through or stored by the CRE industry, the question we need to ask is: Are we truly prepared in the event of a breach?

New risk vectors

The first thing all CRE businesses should consider is whether all possible systems, and avenues of access to those systems, have been identified and are properly protected. 

In an excellent recent interview on cyber threats in CRE, security consultant Coleman Wolf points out that many possible avenues of attack go unnoticed. These may be linked to building control systems (think temperature or lighting management) and other smart tech, or even to the specialized Internet-of-Things (IoT) systems being used in industrial operations.

If these systems are connected to the internet, but not adequately protected, they may act as a springboard for access to other systems or data. Hackers may then be able to tap into sensitive information, including financial and personal data stored elsewhere. Alternately, simply taking control of building systems can be used as a tactic in ransomware attacks.

As the CRE industry begins to adopt new smart building technologies, and we increasingly repurpose buildings for niche markets, like the booming medical office sector, the potential for sensitive information to form part of breaches also grows exponentially.

Other trends, like the Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) movement where employees use personal devices in the office, create additional avenues of attack if those devices aren’t properly secured.

Best principles

While all the above may make it sound like it’s impossible to keep track of potential threats to a building or CRE enterprise, the good news is that there are certain essential principles that can be followed to mitigate the risk.

In a recent article on cybersecurity best practices in CRE, J.P. Morgan advises that:

  • CRE companies should ensure all employees, beyond just the IT team, are aware of potential risks from phishing or ransomware and have been trained in how to minimize those risks.
  • Companies ensure there’s appropriate access control. For example, implementing multifactor authorization (MFA) and other safeguards.
  • Employees are aware of the risks of oversharing on social media (e.g., detailed information on job responsibilities and the type of data they have access to, which could make them phishing targets).

Of course, these recommendations are only starting points, and the exact requirements and level of detail needed will vary based on each firm’s unique context. There’s certainly no “one-size-fits-all” solution for CRE cybersecurity.

That said, an excellent resource to familiarize yourself with upcoming benchmarks and strategies for cyber-security can be found in PwC’s “C-suite united on cyber-ready futures” guide (you can register for free to download the report).

Securing the future

As we head into 2023 and beyond, some of the most exciting aspects of the CRE industry come in the form of new technology. There’s an ever-expanding array of Proptech tools on hand to help us close deals. Smarter building technologies ensure we meet environmental and climate imperatives while also offering something new and different for tenants and investors alike.

As CRE professionals, we’re right to be excited by the possibilities on offer. But we also need to make sure we keep security top of mind as we begin to integrate these tools.

As PwC summarizes: “Digitization makes security everyone’s business. The future promises more connected systems and exponentially more data — and more organized adversaries. With ever expanding cyber risks, business leaders have much more work to do.”

Another lender announces slow down for CRE credit

Credit for commercial real estate (CRE) looks to be entering a crunch state in the second half of 2022 as a number of the big lenders announced in July that they were pulling back in that sphere.

The latest to make such an announcement are Signature Bank and M&T Bank. The former said it “expected to cut back on lending for multifamily and other commercial real estate assets”, and the latter laid the blame squarely at the feet of higher interest rates in its decision to make “fewer CRE loans this year”.

Construction slump

M&T’s CRE loan balances decline by 2%, or $830m in Q2 2022, as reported by the Real Deal, who extracted key takeaways from an earnings call hosted by M&T chief financial officer Darren King. King reportedly specified that construction loans declined, alongside a decline in completed projects and new developments coming online.

Interest rates and inflation

King said the rates moves were “affecting cap rates and asset values” and that they were “not seeing the turnover in properties like you might have under normal circumstances. And that will affect the pace of decline and our growth in permanent CRE.”

According to BisNow reporting, “Interest rates, raised in an attempt to beat back record-high inflation, have contributed to a drop in investment volume from the highs of 2021 and early 2022, slowing CRE deal volume”.

Global pressures

In broad term, these economic conditions are seen at varying rates around the world right now. As S&P’s recent update explains: “Economic growth is slowing. Interest rates remain stubbornly high. Estimates of the risk of recession or even stagflation creep upward and questions persist on whether central banks are under- or over-reacting in pursuit of monetary normalization.”

Additionally, on the residential side, their PMI research indicates “a steep contraction in demand for real estate amid tightening financial cost of living”.

Social: How is the rising cost of living playing out in your market?