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.  

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.


At your service: the role of CRE retail management services

We all know the old real estate adage – “location, location, location” – but economies in the 21st century are tending towards “as a service” thinking, a trend characterized by a handful of big-name disruptors like Uber (transport-as-a-service) and Airbnb (accommodation-as-a-service).

In this model, the hassle and upkeep, the peripheral add-ons, are all rolled into the cost for clients and can make a compelling ‘sales pitch’ for would-be buyers.

“The other downstream effect of this is the emphasis on service itself – the quality thereof, more than its existence,” says Cliff Moskowitz, EVP, NAI Global. “Commercial real estate (CRE) professionals and firms that offer competitive, value-adding services can set themselves, and their listings, apart.”

A partner in time

For the owner and occupants of a retail property, having access to smart, speedy services as part of your property contract is a game-changer.

Services for occupiers include the obvious (like group marketing, facilities management, and lease administration), and then superior service offerings (such as omnichannel real estate solutions and supply chain advisory).

With services for investors, this category might include property marketing, valuation, and advisory services, and project management, which all exceed the traditional-but-still-essential landlord representation and leasing, and property management.

Next generation services

Retail properties can now include considerable benefits to occupants and tenants on the “as-a-service” model, including technological infrastructure, security, renewable energy generation and management, event management, and even click-to-collect services.

The increasing availability of these kinds of options means that retail property managers can offer far more for their clients without intense capital expenditure on their part or the client’s part, as these are now shifting to the operational expenses column in the books.

X marks the spot

When we pivot to thinking of ourselves as CRE service providers, we shift from a “sales first” approach to one of “service first”, and we also see the corresponding language shift from “renter” to “customer”.

This encapsulates the contemporary approach to business which centers the customer experience (CX) above everything.

With CX as a guiding principle, CRE professionals can position themselves for longer-term partnerships with their retail clients, and as premium providers, achieving both better numbers for themselves, and a higher return on investment for their clients – and that is the definition of a win-win deal.

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.