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…

Piece of the Pie

Alex Pacella, for Properties Magazine April 2021

The youngest of my family is an interesting sort. While all of my children are different, this one is an outlier. A few years ago, when he came home to proudly announce he had gotten a job at a local pizza shop, I wasn’t surprised.

For the full article, click here.http://digital.propertiesmag.com/publication/?m=15890&i=702819&p=32&ver=html5

What’s happening in… Seoul, Korea?

A quick reminder to NAI Professionals and clients: NAI Global’s reach is, well, global. We are proud of all NAI Offices around the world as well as their regional and local insight. For today’s edition of the ‘What’s happening in…’ blogs, we turn our attention to Seoul, the capital of South Korea – and specifically its office real estate vertical.

Located in the north-west of the country, Seoul is home to some nine million people (including over 400,000 non-nationals), and is the largest city in Korea. It is strongly associated with technology, finance, and business, and some 14 companies from the Fortune Global 500 are headquartered here, including Samsung, Hyundai, and LG.

Changing lives

In Seoul, our local experts and partners describe a commercial real estate (CRE) and office space environment that is relatively stable despite the hardships of the Covid-19 pandemic, with a limited amount of new supply expected to come on to the market in 2021. In early Feb 2021, Korea, as a country, had some 80,000 infections and a death toll of 1464, and Seoul was a key concern for pandemic management because it is such a densely populated city.

Still, there have been considerable social and work-life changes in Seoul as a result of the pandemic. The Korean Herald reports that residents of Seoul worked less and relaxed more during 2020. This comes from the findings of a city government survey that shows a 12-minute decline in daily working time compared to 2019.

Seoul itself offers a vibrant and diverse community, and it is a regional center of economic activity, in easy travel distance of many of Asia’s highlights. Industrial action has however led to a decline in working days, and tourism has been greatly slowed by Covid-19 fears. As the vaccination efforts roll out, these are some of the economic areas where analysts are hoping for a recovery in 2021..

Latest data

Despite the pressures of lockdowns and distancing, 2020 was reportedly a record-breaker year for office investment volume. Analysts suggest that this is underpinned by a healthy investor appetite for stable real estate assets and see Seoul as offering this.

According to the NAI Korea [HM1] monthly data analysis focusing on its market, published in January 2021, the average vacancy rate of office buildings in Seoul’s central business district (CBD) is 7.62%, with the average net occupancy cost (NOC) at $52.39 as of December 2020. NOC is the cost that 1㎡ of gross floor area incurs to a tenant who rents the property. NOC can be useful to compare different types of office buildings.

On the residential side, driven by low supply, there has been strong growth in prices, and this is likely to see policymakers relaxing some restrictions.

For a detailed breakdown of NAI Korea’s Seoul data, click here.


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.

Prop trends: Sustainability is the new black

The Covid-19 pandemic might have been an unforeseen crisis that sent the world spinning but, general volatility and the incidence of global or major crises are expected to rise in the coming decades. This is the result of a complex matrix of overlapping issues, including climate change, globalization, population growth and urbanization, and migration.

Against this backdrop, analysts have been warning that companies need to relook at their plans and forecasts through an ESG criteria lens. ESG stands for environmental, social, and governance.

According to a McKinsey report on the topic (published in Nov 2019), “ESG-oriented investing has experienced a meteoric rise. Global sustainable investment now tops $30 trillion—up 68 percent since 2014…” They ascribe this sharp acceleration to “heightened social, governmental, and consumer attention on the broader impact of corporations, as well as by the investors and executives who realize that a strong ESG proposition can safeguard a company’s long-term success.”

ESG in CRE

ESG is a rising concern for all businesses, and commercial real estate (CRE) is not exempt. ESG within this context would include matters such as the energy footprint of a property or development, its carbon emissions, ethical and local supply chains, labor relations, diversity, and inclusivity, and then the governance procedures and controls in place to comply with the law and meet the needs and expectations of all stakeholders.

A solid ESG strategy creates opportunities for partnerships, strengthens ties with communities, and links back directly to things like corporate missions and visions, for the way you want to operate and the changes you want to make in the world. On the other hand, failing to account for ESG in your property or development plans can become a material risk for your business.

Competitive advantage

ESG platform Goby looks at these issues specifically within CRE, and they believe having an ESG strategy is a competitive advantage for CRE professionals and brokerages. There are, they say, many tangible benefits to this – such as lowering your energy costs – but moreover, emphasize the intangible benefits that flow from a solid ESG strategy.

Goby’s ESG in CRE report (hosted on HubSpot) argues: “Intangible benefits are harder to measure directly, and include metrics like tenant comfort, word-of-mouth advertising from tenants about building improvements, and a reduced environmental impact.

Attracting investment through ESG

Over and above “doing the right thing”, ESG advocates believe that these holistic sustainability matters can make a compelling investment case within CRE investing.

As the Goby report outlines, when asked what they considered essential and important elements of ESG investments some 79% of investors cited ethical parameters and values, 78% mentioned positive environmental and social impacts, and 77% reported that they believed ESG factors could play a critical role in broader financial performance.

This echoes the McKinsey investment growth story, and with those numbers, it’s not a leap to say that that’s the final word on the bottom line.