FINANCIAL STRATEGIES: Get Smart

Alec J. Pacella

Growing up in a small town in western Pennsylvania meant that I wasn’t necessarily on the cutting edge of technology. Any new electronics took months if not years to trickle down and even then would usually mean a trip to bigger cities such as Youngstown or Pittsburgh to track down. A great example is the LED watch. It was initially developed in 1971 and became widely available by the mid-1970s. But it wasn’t until Darrell Knight showed up sporting one on his wrist right after Christmas break of 1978 that I actually saw one, live and in person.

The use of technology in real estate seems to follow a similar path, with innovations taking months, if not years, to be integrated into the industry. This month, we are going to discuss some ways, specifically in the area of smart buildings, that technology has finally begun to make a big impact.

Air quality

While certain sectors, such as medical and clean manufacturing, have been driving advances in clean air filtration and monitoring, the advent of COVID- 19 has placed a spotlight on this topic. The result is a whole ecosystem of products and strategies known as IAQ, or indoor air quality. The most common IAQ technologies revolve around higher-efficiency filters. Humidification and dehumidification systems have also become much more advanced, helping to control dust and mold while maintaining comfort. More advanced systems assist with heat and energy recovery ventilators to offset the increasingly “air- tight” nature of modern construction, as well as UV purifiers to neutralize airborne bacteria and viruses.

Voice-and touch-activated tech

Again, this type of technology received a huge boost in the wake of COVID-19. If you have ever used systems such as Alexa, Siri or Google, you are already well aware of the power and convenience voice-activation can offer. And while touch-activated technologies have been around for decades, the overwhelming popularity of smartphones and apps are leading to more advanced applications. In the commercial real estate sector, it’s no surprise that the hotel sector has taken the lead implementing this type of technology, ranging from speaking to control lights, temperature and entertainment to accessing the room and ordering room service from your smartphone. And don’t look now but many larger commercial property owners are beginning to integrate these same technologies, offering them to their tenants as a standard building amenity.

Smart parking

This may seem like something reserved for only big cities such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

In the commercial real estate sector, it’s no surprise that the hotel sector has taken the lead implementing [voice activation] technology, ranging from speaking to control lights, temperature and entertainment to accessing the room and ordering room service from your smartphone.

And these cities certainly began adopting technologies years ago, with the advent of apps such as SpotHero and ParkWhiz, which allow parking operators to maxi- mize their occupancy through digital notification, reservation and even sub- leasing processes. But if you’ve ever parked in the decks at Hopkins airport, you’ve probably seen another, even sim- pler example that uses a small green or red light above each space, allowing potential parkers to quickly differentiate vacant spots from occupied spots

Energy efficient systems

This can fall into two categories:

1) systems that optimize energy via continual monitoring and 2) clean or renewable energy features. The former is the real heavyweight when it comes to smart building design and is mainly based on the autonomic cycle of data analysis tasks (ACODAT) concept. Basically, the HVAC systems have a central processor that continually monitors usage, time of day, outside air temperature, building occupancy and a host of other factors to not only be reactive in running the HVAC system at peak efficiency but also be predictive by learning patterns over days, weeks and months. The latter includes a host of advances in technologies such as heat pumps and geothermal systems as well as solar- and wind-enabled sources.

The most common acknowledgement of building technology is a certification known as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), through the U.S. Green Building Council. A similar certification is known as the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology (BREEAM) rating. Both of these involve achieving points related to set standards that address carbon, energy, water, waste, transportation, materials, health and indoor environmental quality. There are many examples of LEED-certified buildings in Northeast Ohio, including the Maltz Performing Arts Center at Case Western Reserve University, UH Avon Health Center and the Children’s Museum of Cleveland, among hundreds of others.

And there have been many noteworthy projects worldwide, including the following high-achieving facilities.

Oakland City Center (Oakland, CA)

Developed by Siemens, the build- ing contains a variety of dynamic and artificial intelligence to power its operation. A noteworthy feature is an advanced air volume system that can put the entire building into “green mode,” which is a setting that uses aggregated historical data to optimize humidity, air pressure and temperature. It also has a decontamination mode that raises the temperature to acceler- ate the decay of airborne virus particles.

Cisco Systems Canada HQ (Toronto)

This was the first building in Toronto to be rated as a LEED Core and Shell Platinum building. It links up Cisco’s business operations and helps to power Cisco’s Internet of Everything (IoE) while also streamlining all building data into a single network.

Mitie (London)

Arguably the most striking example of the IoE in smart buildings, the Mitie building uses automated alarms, remote systems management, machine learn- ing and data analytics to achieve a 95% accuracy rate for predictive main- tenance calls and a 3% improvement of energy usage by clients.

By the time we hit high school, Darrell Knight’s simple, push-button, red-hued LED watch had been eclipsed by a series of LCD watches that integrated features like alarms (with music, no less), stop watches and the ability to track multiple time zones. And while today’s smart buildings have shown great advances over the last two decades, the pace of technology promises to have an even greater impact on this sector.

Article from September 2022 Properties Magazine

Report says CRE leaders expect post covid resurgence

In May, law firm DLA Piper released the 2022 edition of their Annual State of the Market Survey report, highlighting that “optimism about the future of commercial real estate (CRE)” remains strong despite the headwinds the industry faces.

The survey on which the report is built was conducted in February and March of 2022, by collating and analyzing input from CRE leaders and professionals in the US – specifically their take on matters including “pandemic recovery, economic outlook, attractiveness of investment markets and overall expectations over the next 12 months”. This input is further contextualized with additional research, presented the report.

Highlights

Overall, the report [PDF] shows “increased bullishness”, with “more respondents in 2022 [having] a higher level of confidence for the real estate industry’s next 12 months”.

Findings from the report also include that 73 percent of respondents are “expecting a bullish market”. This is consistent with 2021 expectations. “However,” they added, “this year, respondents reported feeling a higher level of confidence in a bull market over the next 12 months; 33 percent described their bullishness as an 8 or higher in 2022, compared to just 16 percent in 2021.”

Top contributing reasons include the apparent availability of capital in the market, with over half of the respondents citing this as the main source of their confidence.

Viewed per sector, Commercial Property Executive says in their analysis of the report, “Industrial (66 percent) and multifamily (57 percent) remain the property types that investors believe offer the best risk-adjusted returns over the next 12 months.”

Shaping CRE

Inflation and interest rate changes were ranked most likely to have an impact specifically in the CRE market in the coming year, but ecommerce, migration of workers out of city centers, and the “redesign/reimagining use of office and other commercial spaces” were also common responses.

Concerns remain

Top concerns included interest rate increases (cited by 26 percent of respondents), inflation (18 percent), as well as the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

US gains and advice

Finally, respondents to the survey said they felt the US would be seen as a safe and stable option, attracting non-US investment. “During times of uncertainty – like the pandemic or the conflict in Ukraine — investors often flock to safe havens,” the report reads, adding “a well-defined legal system, transparency and proven economic resiliency” are among the US’s assets.  

In the face of global uncertainty though, the report authors caution that CRE professionals and firms must “remain agile and prioritize adaption, with an eye towards staying ahead of the curve”.

SOCIAL: Do you see the US CRE market as a safe haven in times of global uncertainty? How do you expect inflation to make itself known in your CRE specialty?

Forecasted mortgage metrics for 2022 show strength in commercial, multifamily

According to a forecast from the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA), 2022 is set to be a record-breaking year with mortgage borrowing and lending activity for commercial real estate (CRE) assets surpassing one trillion USD. The figure was released during the MBA’s annual CREF Finance Conference and Expo , where several industry experts discussed the way forward for CRE this year.

The general feeling seemed to be that 2022 will build on the overall strong figures from 2021, carrying forward the market momentum despite concerns from some about headwinds from the current rates environment. As with last year, specific asset classes are again expected to steal the show in terms of growth metrics.

Multifamily and industrial: Still real estate darlings

One of the strongest performers is multifamily, with a large part of the one trillion USD forecast attributable to properties in this class. Lending for multifamily is expected to make up 493 billion USD of the overall total, a 5% increase on 2021’s 470 billion USD.

Speaking at CREF, Angela Mago, president of Key Commercial Bank Real Estate Capital at KeyCorp, stated that multifamily and industrial are still favored asset classes, adding: “You will see stability there.”

Building on 2021’s foundation

The ongoing demand for these asset classes is unsurprising, given their recent performance. In 2021, both classes recorded record-breaking metrics for rent growth according to Moody’s Multifamily and CRE in 2021 analysis.

For multifamily, Moody’s reported that: “asking and effective rents grew by 7.5% and 7.9%, respectively.” These figures present the highest growth rates on record since the start of quarterly data recording in 1999. Multifamily vacancy rates also dropped to pre-pandemic levels by Q3, making these properties an increasingly sure-footed investment. 

The third quarter also posted some strong gains for industrial, with vacancies falling to 8% and effective rents reaching 1.9%, the strongest quarterly growth for the class in five years. In particular, warehouses turned out to be one of 2021’s savviest investments.

Moody’s reports that vacancies for warehouse properties dropped to 7.5% by Q3 and effective rents rose a staggering 3%, the highest upwards shift in over 10 years.

Future forecasts

Looking ahead to 2023, MBA predicts similarly high numbers, with commercial borrowing and lending expected to exceed 1 trillion USD for the year. Multifamily remains their top contender and with around 474 billion USD in lending anticipated.

Worth bearing in mind, however, is that there’s always the potential for a market shift, so we’ll be keeping a close eye on incoming predictions as we move ahead in 2022.

SOCIAL: How are multifamily vacancy rates and rentals adjusting in your area? And do you anticipate that the trend will continue?


What’s happening in… Vancouver?

Vancouver, in British Columbia, is one of Canada’s most well-known and densely populated cities. It is positioned on the west coast, just 45km north of the border with the United States. Some 650 000 people live in the “city proper”, while the larger metropole (bearing the name “Greater Vancouver”) is home to almost 2.5 million people. Vancouver is reportedly Canada’s most cosmopolitan city, with an ethnically and linguistically diverse population.

The city is a popular destination for the film industry (nicknamed “Hollywood North”), and for tourists, as well as enjoying a reputation as a cultural hub with many galleries, museums, and theatres. With a busy port, rail network, and as a nexus for the transcontinental highway, Vancouver’s economy was built on trade, and has expanded to include film and TV, tourism, raw materials, construction, and technology. Recently digital entertainment and the green economy are also driving GDP growth.

Post-pandemic landscape

Like most of the world, Vancouver was rocked by Covid-19, with business shutdowns and job losses. However, it was relatively more resilient than other Canadian metros. The region’s gross domestic product (GDP) is expected to bounce back by 6.8% in 2021, and forecast to grow by 4.1% in 2022.

By September 2021, however, the Vancouver region’s employment figures had recovered in absolute terms. The Vancouver Economic Commission says: “Some jobs have migrated sectors; retail & hospitality are still recovering, while other sectors – such as tech and construction – have gained jobs.” Employment in the Metro Vancouver area hit 101.3 in September 2021, the highest figure in the country and “finally surpassing pre-pandemic levels”.

Property watch

Vancouver is the country’s most expensive residential market and the most expensive place to live, which means that while it enjoys high scores in quality of life metrics, it has priced a lot of younger buyers out of the market. It enjoys high demand, and is considered a strong commercial real estate (CRE) market – especially for the multifamily and office sectors.

Software and data provider Altus Group says CRE investment in the Vancouver market area “saw a significant surge in the second quarter of 2021”, adding that the robust multifamily and apartment market is “fueled by the highest apartment rental rate in Canada, a shortage of rental product in the construction stage, and the anticipation of border openings to international students and immigration in the near future”.

Commercial vacancies naturally increased during the pandemic (increasing from 4.4% in late 2019 to 7.5% in late 2020) and the “return to office” expectations  of 2021 was tempered by news of variants and secondary outbreak waves.

Companies seeking space in the city are increasingly looking to develop former industrial space in the east, according to Business in Vancouver, with particular interest from firms in high tech and the medical and life sciences. They are however competing for space with a powerhouse industrial segment. In Q1 and Q2 2021, investment in the industrial market in Vancouver surpassed $1.1 billion, and lease pricing reached a new record high of $15.50 per square foot.

Flood and extreme weather, coming for commercial property too

According to The Washington Post – drawing from the studies presented at the world’s largest climate science conference in December 2021 – extreme weather events as a result of climate change are here to stay, and will get worse. The word from researchers is brace yourselves for a “new era of climate disasters”.

The new normal forecasts

Just last month, Malaysia experienced torrential rain and flooding, Australians were told to prepare for extreme heatwave conditions, and South Africa experienced golf-ball-sized hail in the middle of summer.

Extreme weather has already had huge ramifications for residential property – planning, building, and critically insuring – and the global commercial property sector must grapple with the same set of issues.

Residential and commercial

In the US, a new report from nonprofit, First Street Foundation and engineering firm, Arup suggests that an estimated “730 000 retail, office and multi-unit residential properties face an annualized risk of flood damage”. The risk assessment they used did incorporate fundamentals like sea-level rise, but – the researchers told CNBC – “focused more on flash floods, also known as pluvial flooding”.

According to NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, there were 22 separate “billion-dollar weather-related climate disasters” in the United States in 2020.  

Financial and investing implications

First Street Foundation previously worked with Realtor.com to enable flood scoring for all US-based residential properties, and tools like this and other research models are increasingly going to be a part of the real estate developer’s toolbox.

Harvard finance lecturer John Macomber – writing in the Harvard Business Review – says that “climate risk has become financial risk”, and he argues that owners and developers have five options open to them for risk mitigation or “in investing in resilience” as he calls it. These are “reinforce, rebuild, rebound, restrict, and retreat”.

The challenge, he concludes, is “to look ahead, not behind, and to make these choices with intent”.