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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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.”

The Winner’s Circle

Alec J. Pacella, CCIM

Last month, we continued our “back to school” theme and started a discussion regarding capital accumulation. And equally important, we took a walk down memory lane, discussing slot car racing sets that were a part of my childhood in the 1960s and ’70s.

If you read last month’s column, you may recall that although Internal Rate of Return (IRR) is a well-established measure of an investment, it has some deficiencies. This is particularly true related to what I called the investor’s total pile of cash. IRR only cares about money in the deal and gives no consideration to money that comes out of the deal – even though an investor can reinvest these cash flows. Interwoven in that discussion was the story of AFX, a leader in the slot car racing scene of the ‘60s and ‘70s, and upstart Tyco, which proved to be a worthy alternative. This month, we are going to continue this discussion as AFX vs. Tyco isn’t the only battleline being drawn. This is the last period before our lunch break so let’s go! Modified Internal Rate of Return (MIRR) was initially developed in the 1960s and primarily used by businesses to make a more accurate comparison between investment alternatives. It addressed one of IRR’s main limitations of ignoring cash flows produced from a primary investment by introducing a couple concepts. If you recall, last month I used the analogy of putting money produced by an investment in a mason jar and burying it in the back yard. This would equate to a reinvest- ment rate of zero, as the money in that jar would be earning nothing. But we can do something more productive with those cash flows – like redeploy them at a realistic reinvestment rate, usually a rate comparable to the firm’s cost of capital. Also, any additional outlays that would be needed to cover anticipated shortfalls (i.e., negative cash flows) over the holding period are assumed to be funded upfront at the firm’s cost of debt. Figure 1 illustrates the MIRR process, using an 8% cost of capital and 4% financing cost. As you can see, the $10,000 negative cash flow anticipated to occur in year three is acknowledged at the beginning of the investment by dis- counting the shortfall back to time period 0 at 4% and adding this to the initial investment. Meanwhile, all of the positive cash flows are reinvested at 8% to end of the fifth year. As a result, the $108,890 initially invested is anticipated to produce $201,501, which equates to a MIRR of 13.10%.

Figure 1

Capital accumulation is newer, developed in the 1980s. While the basic premise is the same as MIRR, the concept is more specific to a real estate investor and introduces a few twists. A primary difference is the treatment of negative cash flows. MIRR eliminates future anticipated deficits by setting aside the additional capital necessary upfront, at time period 0. Capital accumulation discounts negative cash flows back one year at a time, offsetting it against any positive cash flows produced in the preceding year(s) until the deficit is eliminated. This is done at a “safe rate,” which represents the rate of a secondary investment that can confidently be achieved. After eliminating any negative cash flows, the remaining positive cash flows produced by the primary investment are assumed to be reinvested at rate representative of an investment alter- native readily available to the investor. But rather than compounding the positive cash flows produced each year to a corresponding future value at the end of the time horizon, capital accumulation only compounds each annual cash flow forward to the following year. This is added to any cash flow expected to be released in that following year and then the entire sum is again compounded forward one year. A second, related nuance is that capital accumulation can have multiple, or tiered, reinvestment rates. A higher reinvestment rate may be available as specific dollar thresholds are met. This acknowledges a premium in return as a result of the aggregate amount being reinvested. This kicker is a concept similar to “jumbo CDs” of years past. By compounding cash flows one year at a time, the opportunity to exceed any established thresholds can be realized. This acknowledges a premium in return as a result of the aggregate amount being reinvested. This kicker is a concept similar to “jumbo CDs” of years past. By compounding cash flows one year at a time, the opportunity to exceed any established thresholds can be realized.

Figure 2 illustrates an investment with the same series of cash flows but utilizing the capital accumulation approach, with a tiered reinvestment assumption of 8% for positive cash flows up to $50,000 and 9% thereafter as well as 4% safe rate for negative cash flows. Note the differences in handling of both positive and negative cash flows as compared to Figure 1. Capital accumulation uses periodic positive cash flow in year two to offset the discounted shortfall from year three. It then compounds the remaining positive cash flows one year at a time, which allows it to take advantage of the higher 9% return as a result of exceeding the $50,000 threshold in year four.

These subtle nuances have a significant cumulative impact on the results; the $100,000 initially invested is anticipated to produce $190,077 by the end of year five, resulting in a capital growth rate (CGR) of 13.71%.

AFX slot car racing has several similarities to MIRR. Both are more established and set a standard in their respective worlds. Both have a wide following. And both take a more conservative approach. Tyco and capital accumulation also have several similarities. Both are upstarts and offer some twists to their more established counterparts. Both have a niche following. And both take a more unconventional approach. By understanding these nuances and choosing the path that best fits your needs, you will be in a better position to end up in the winner’s circle.

What I C @ PVC                

STILL HOT Investment sales, particularly industrial warehouse product, continues to achieve record pricing. Last month, a 125,000-square- foot facility in Middleburg Heights sold for $13.7 million or $109 per square foot. This is the 12th industrial investment sale to break the $100 per square foot mark this year. –AP

From December 2022, Properties Magazine

Thought Leadership Women in CRE

Investing in Gender Equity is an Investment in CRE’s Future

When it comes to parity, commercial real estate (CRE) still has some ways to go in leveling the playing field for women in our industry. That’s the central message of the latest report from the Commercial Real Estate Women Network (CREW), a national organization with a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion in CRE.

Hidden figures

One of the biggest pain points for women in the industry according to the report is the culture of secrecy around salaries. Of the 1228 CRE professionals interviewed, 68% indicated they’d change jobs to work at a company with greater salary transparency (even with a similar salary offer on the table as what they currently earn). Around 82% said they wanted job listings to include wage and benefits information, with many adding this would give them more confidence in salary negotiations.

In an industry with a proven record of pay disparity, those numbers are especially telling and highlight an important point. Part of creating equity is building transparency into the recruiting and salary negotiation process.

Another concern raised was the disparity faced by women of color specifically, who, according to PayScale’s 2022 Gender Pay Gap data, typically earn far less (across a variety of industries) than white men or even their white women counterparts. CREW also noted in a previous report, that women of color were less likely to have a sponsor or mentor in CRE, blocking their opportunities for advancement in the industry.

Building better businesses

Besides the obvious social imperative to address these issues, investing in gender and racial equity is an increasingly important part of building business resilience.

As, Lily Trager, Head of Investing with Impact for Morgan Stanley Wealth Management, recently pointed out: “When our quantitative team analyzed global companies based on their percentage of female employees and other metrics of gender diversity, companies that have taken a holistic approach toward equal representation have outperformed their less diverse peers by 3.1% per year.”

Trager added that a growing requirement from Morgan Stanley’s “high-net-worth investors” is that Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) be a priority for the companies they invest in.

Promoting equity

For us in CRE, the challenge is to address the historically low numbers of women both in our industry, and especially in C-suite positions. And while that process should be driven by everyone, it’s especially important that the policy decisions and changes we make to promote equity are guided by the experience and expertise of women in the space.

The CREW Network’s recommendations in this regard include:

  • Committing to pay transparent practices – In other words ensuring that both salaries and the processes for earning pay increases are clear and accessible.
  • Supporting professional development – Encouraging women in your organization to pursue professional development opportunities (and join women’s forums) and financing those opportunities.
  • Formal mentorship and sponsorship programs for women – We all know that in the real estate industry, mentorships are invaluable in shaping the trajectory of an individual’s career. For women, and especially women of color, we should incorporate and encourage mentorship as a central part of our business.

A commitment to gender equity

The legacy of gender, and other, inequities won’t be undone overnight. What’s vital to accelerate the process is that, as business leaders, we commit to creating workplaces that make Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion a reality. In doing so, we can build a CRE future that enables the best in our people and our business.

For more information about NAI’s own commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion,  please visit our page here, or find more information about the NAI Global Women’s Alliance here.   Or join us in becoming signatories to the CREW Network’s Pledge for Action![SR2]