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.
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.”
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.
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?
Foreclosures in the US were up in the first quarter of 2022 – setting what the data provider calls a “post pandemic high”. The data provider in this case is Attom, who specialize in real estate and property data – including tax, mortgage, deed, risk and other information for “over 155 million properties” country-wide.
It must be noted however that this level of foreclosure activity is still considerably better than the highs seen in 2020, before government intervention (more below).
A tale of two months
Attom’s Q1 2022 U.S. Foreclosure Market Report – released in April 2022 – shows a total of 78 271 properties filed for foreclosure in the first quarter of 2022. This is, they write, “up 39% from the previous quarter and up 132% from a year ago”.
Additionally, in March 2022 alone, the data indicates over 33 000 US property foreclosure filings – an increase of 29% from the prior month, and 181% compared to March 2021.
A mere month later, however, in the month-to-month reporting from the same provider (April 2022, released in mid-May), showed “a total of 30,674 properties with foreclosure filings — default notices, scheduled auctions or bank repossessions”. This was down 8% from March, but up 160% from April 2021.
Questioning the headline
As covered before on this blog, it is important to assess data and market reports like this one as pieces of a larger picture – viewed in context of time and other indexes. It is also worth noting that there is typically a delay between economic “crunch”, consumers feeling the pressure, and market movements showing the effects of said pressure.
The above caveats notwithstanding, the trend line this report highlights is concerning for investors who watch the residential market, and commercial brokers whose specialty/sectors are affected by residential, such as multi-family.
Specifically, the data point that March 2022 was “the 11th consecutive month with a year-over-year increase in U.S. foreclosure activity”, is not a positive direction for this metric.
Post-moratorium balancingWriting about the Q1 2022 “record”, a spokesperson for Attom explained that this foreclosure activity is “gradually return[ing] to normal levels since the expiration of the government’s moratorium” and the CFPB’s enhanced mortgage servicing guidelines”.
What economic and commercial property data do you keep a close eye on?
One of my favorite types of cuisine is Thai food. I love the variety, flavors and especially the spiciness. Like many, I have my favorite go-to location but was recently in Scottsdale, came across a Thai restaurant and had to give it a try.
While the curry dish that I ordered was fantastic, I made a classic blunder that rendered it almost inedible. With Thai food, it’s common to be able to select a specific spice level, typically expressed as a range from one to 10. At my Lakewood go-to, I always chose a four, which hits me just right. And of course, I did the same thing at this Scottsdale establishment – after all, a four is a four is a four, right? After almost having my eyeballs melt, I was quickly reminded of the danger of assumptions and how a four in Lakewood, Ohio can mean something very different as compared to a four in Scottsdale, Arizona. I know what you are thinking right about now; how is Pacella ever going to tie red curry to real estate? And by now, you likely know the response – read on! The next day on that Scottsdale trip, I met with a developer that was building a flex-warehouse project. The discussion soon settled on economics and this developer quoted a figure that was preceded with the phrase “modified gross.” I immediately hit the brakes on the conversation, as the memory of my scorched tonsils was still very fresh. I needed to understand exactly what the developer’s definition of modified gross was, as this is one of those terms that can mean dramatically different things to different people. This month, we are going to discuss the terminology used to describe the most common lease structures. Along the way, I will point out specific items to be aware of and components that can vary. Leases generally fall into two camps: net and gross. The term “net” is an indication that, in addition to rent, the tenant is also responsible for a portion of the related occupancy expenses such as real estate taxes, insurance, common area maintenance, repairs, etc. The term “gross” is an indication that the rent includes landlord contributions to at least some portion of occupancy expenses.
The following is a hierarchy of lease types, ranging from the types with the greatest tenant responsibilities to the types with the greatest landlord responsibilities.
Absolute net lease This lease structure requires the tenant to pay for any costs related to the premises, including real estate taxes, property insurance, repairs, maintenance, utilities, etc. It also requires tenant to pay for large-scale items such as a roof replacement or new HVAC unit or even rebuilding the structure should it be damaged or destroyed. The best example of this type of lease is a ground lease, where a tenant pays rent associated with the underlying ground and is also responsible for all other types of occupancy cost, including constructing, maintaining, repairing and replacement of any improvements. This type of lease can also be referred to as a bond lease and is most often seen in single-tenant retail properties, especially restaurants.
The term “net” is an indication that, in addition to rent, the tenant is also responsible for a portion of the related occupancy expenses…. The term “gross” is an indication that the rent includes landlord contributions to at least some portion of occupancy expenses.
Triple net lease This is by far the most widely used lease term and, like the term “cap rate,” it is often thrown around with reckless abandon. While some may assume this type of lease to result in the tenant paying for everything, that’s not usually the case. Let’s talk about what the tenant does pay for – in addition to rent, the three “nets” are real estate taxes, insurance and common area maintenance. These can be paid either directly (the tenant contracts for and pays the snow plowing expense) or indirectly (the landlord contracts for and pays the snow plowing expense and then sends a bill to the tenant for reimbursement). Now let’s talk about what the tenant does not pay for. Top of the list is replacement of major items, such as roof, mechanicals, structure or parking lot. And some gray can creep into this, as the lines between maintenance and replacement can be blurry. For example, an HVAC unit may need the belts replaced and a control unit swapped out. Would that be considered a repair (and thus an expense borne by the tenant) or a replacement (and thus an expense borne by the landlord). Another item is rebuilding expense. Suppose part of the property’s façade is damaged due to high winds – is this the tenant’s responsibility to repair or the landlords? While a well- constructed lease document will make situations like these clearer, one cannot simply rely on the term “triple net” as a catch-all. This type of lease is most often seen among multi-tenant retail properties, as well as single-tenant retail, industrial and office properties.
Modified gross lease If ever there was a catch-all term, this would be it. Also known as a double net or a hybrid lease, this structure connotes that some of the expense responsibility falls on the tenant and some falls on the landlord. Unfortunately, that’s as clear as things get. Sometimes, it means that the landlord pays for insurance and common area maintenance and the tenant pays for real estate taxes. Other times, it can mean that the landlord pays for real estate taxes and the tenant pays for insurance and common area maintenance. And still other times, it may mean that the landlord pays for maintenance and real estate.
Full service gross lease typically implies that the tenant pays for all operating expenses, such as real estate taxes, insurance, repairs and maintenance of the grounds and building, etc. up to a set threshold. Future increases in these collective expenses that exceed the threshold are the responsibility of the tenant.
Full-service gross lease
This is a very common structure in multi-tenant office properties in our market. It typically implies that the tenant pays for all operating expenses, such as real estate taxes, insurance, repairs and maintenance of the grounds and building, etc. up to a set threshold. Future increases in these collective expenses that exceed the threshold are the responsibility of the tenant. The tenant is also responsible for electricity usage within their premises, sometimes referred to as “lights and plugs.” But even this common structure has some pitfalls. One is janitorial – sometimes the landlord contracts and pays for cleaning of the tenant’s premises and other times the tenant will be required to contract for cleaning directly. Another is electricity. As electrical usage can be directly metered to the tenant’s premises, it can be sub-metered to the tenant’s premises, or it can be fed via a master meter and then charged on a pro rata basis.
Absolute gross lease This structure is rarely seen, save for one type of tenant. And if any of you have ever been involved with a lease for the U.S. Government, you know exactly what I’m talking about. In an absolute gross lease, the landlord pays for everything for the entire term of the lease. There are no pass-throughs, escalations or separately metered utilities. The day the lease is signed, the tenant will know exactly what they will be paying each month for the entire duration of the lease. There is not a “one size fits all” lease structure and even when we hear a common term, there can still be nuances. As I was painfully reminded in Scottsdale, assuming you know something based on a commonly used term can be a sure way to get burned!
New York City (NYC) is virtually synonymous with commercial real estate. It’s a mega sector there, with legendary dealmakers and eye-watering costs. With an incredibly dense population and as a home to a huge number of global headquarters, the city was not only hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, but also responded with some of the strongest mitigation tactics seen stateside and in the world. A report from the New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli (published late 2021) now shows the true costs of Covid on NYC’s iconic commercial real estate (CRE).
Setting the scene
In 2019, reads the report, the office sector in NYC employed 1.6 million people, or a third of all city jobs. In the preceding decade, office market property values and billable values (on which property taxes are levied) had “more than doubled”. Off this incredibly strong base, employment in the office sector shrunk by 5.7% in 2020 – certainly a blow, but less than the 11.1% drop in total employment.
The gap here lies in remote work as a mitigation strategy, but that resulted in reduced office space demand. “Asking rents are down 4.2% in the second quarter of 2021, while vacancy rates are at 18.3%, a level not seen in over 30 years in New York City,” according to the report.
Market values down
The result is a steep drop in the full market value of office buildings (463 million square feet of inventory), which fell $28.6 billion citywide – based on the 2022 financial year (FY) final assessment roll. This is the first decline in total office property market values since FY 2000.
In turn, Market Watch’s analysis says, the declines “cost more than $850 million in property taxes in the city’s fiscal 2022 budget.
Charting the return
What the ledger numbers don’t indicate, though, is “what next?”. Partnership for New York says that while the labor market recovery “remains sluggish”, NYC saw “strong income and sales tax revenues and pandemic-era highs in hotel occupancy and transit ridership” during Q3 2021.
The New York City Recovery Index – a joint project of Investopedia and NY1 – puts the state of the city’s recovery at a score of 85 out of 100, or “over four-fifths of the way back to early March 2020 levels”.
The CRE shakeup has also led to some much needed strategic thought and speculation about the future for NYC, including suggestions that empty office space be converted to residential to address the city’s need for affordable housing.
So far in this blog series, we’ve looked at some of the most cutting-edge emerging technologies: The Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, and virtual reality. We’ve discussed the potential these developments have to revolutionize the way we do business and work in the real estate space.
While each of those has its applications, none hold quite the same promise for changing the fundamental aspects of how we make, and document, commercial real estate (CRE) deals as blockchain. In this fourth entry in the emerging tech series, we have a look at the implications of this pivotal technology.
Nowadays, blockchain is a term everyone’s hearing with increasing regularity. To start, it’s worth having a brief recap of exactly what the tech is. At its simplest, a blockchain is a ledger – a record of information. Not all that different from the databases you’re already using to record details of properties, clients, or transactions.
The feature that makes blockchain unique is the way that information is recorded. Each “block” can hold a certain amount of data. Once a block is full, a new block is started and the previous block forms part of an immutable chain – essentially a timeline extending outwards from the first block to the current one.
Information on the blockchain is public and distributed across a network of computer systems – meaning that it’s very, very difficult for one person to hack or alter the information stored in the chain.
The opportunity blockchain presents for the CRE space, is the ability to streamline a lot of time-consuming tasks. Imagine having all of the paperwork for a given property digitized, accessible to everyone involved in the deal, and confirmed as accurate by multiple parties.
“There are two areas where I think the blockchain is. There’s going to be the intersection with legal tech, so that’s land registry and recording and ownership, and all of that paperwork that exists in the system… the other is the intersection with fintech.”
Of course, an issue that comes up here is how this system can be used with potentially sensitive information – client details that shouldn’t be a matter of public record. For business networks, private blockchains can be set up to only allow access to specified parties. In this case, the identity of participants is verified in the network as well, unlike public blockchain where users can remain anonymous. Private blockchains function more like a traditional database in this sense, trading off some of the immutability of their data for privileged access.
Sealing the smart deal
Maybe the most promising application of blockchain for CRE deals is being able to deploy “Smart Contracts” for things like tenancy agreements. Smart contracts hard code the details of an agreement on the blockchain, and are uniquely suited to real estate deals, because they can handle conditional clauses.
As an example, startups like UK-based Midasium are already providing a prototype platform that replaces traditional landlord-tenant agreements. Using smart tenancy contracts, clauses of the agreement are automatically enforced when certain conditions are met. This can include paying rent, returning a security deposit, and directly deducting maintenance costs from the rental amount paid across to the landlord.
It’s a system designed for transparency and rapid settlement, and the concept is gaining traction in other parts of the world. An added bonus of using smart contracts for tenancy is the possibility of building up a database of real-time data for rental prices and trends in the rental market.
A growing sector
Overall, enterprise reliance on blockchain is set for rapid acceleration. Forbes, quoting an International Data Corporation (IDC) report notes that:
“Investment in blockchain technology by businesses is forecast to reach almost $16 billion by 2023. By comparison, spending was said to be around $2.7 billion in 2019, and we will see this acceleration ramping up over the coming year.”
Blockchain adoption in CRE, however, is still in the early stages. The tech still needs to overcome a few growing pains – in terms of privacy concerns, operational complexity, and a lack of standardized processes – before we’ll necessarily see it forming the backbone of CRE transactions.
That said, it’s a space well worth keeping an eye on. There’s been growing interest, for example, in CRE tokenization – splitting the value of a given asset into separately buyable blockchain-based tokens. What this means in practice is that instead of looking for one buyer for an expensive asset the value gets subdivided and opened to a much broader market. Which in turn may actually boost the value of the underlying asset.
There’s a lot of potential and little doubt that blockchain will make its way into CRE one way or another. But, like many things in the cryptocurrency and blockchain space, the real challenge will be separating the wheat from the chaff, the fact from the hype, and identifying functional applications of the tech rather than purely fanciful ones.