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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Lunch Break

Alec J. Pacella

During my school days, lunchtime was always an interesting experience. In addition to providing a nice break and opportunity to socialize, there was the actual main event – food. And with this came great variety, sometimes in a good way and other times in a bad way. I have similar thoughts when looking back at the commercial real estate investment market in 2022.

To see how our real estate market relates to school lunches, read on.

PIZZA

Nothing made me happier heading down the lunch line than seeing a huge sheet of pizza, cut into squares, of course. And nothing made investors happier last year than seeing a new, net leased industrial warehouse offering. This sector continued to be red hot, both on the leasing and the sale side. Occupancy was at an all-time high and increasing rental rates coupled with falling cap rates led to record activity and pricing. Facilities leased to Amazon led the pack and routinely traded at cap rates in the upper 4% range with pricing eclipsing the $300 per square foot (psf) mark. But even more routine deals were greeted with cap rates around 6% and pricing of $75 to $85 per square foot. These include the JB Hudco facility in Bedford ($83 psf at a 6.25% cap rate), the ID Images facility in Brunswick ($77 per square foot at a 5.8% cap rate) and the True Value facility in Westlake ($75 per square foot at a 6.75% cap rate).

CHICKEN NUGGETS WITH CRINKLE FRIES

Nuggets and fries along with some packets of BBQ sauce was a close second in my book, similar to investor interest in apartment properties being right on the heels of industrial warehouses. And while glitzy complexes such as the 401 Lofts in Akron made headlines with equally glitzy per unit pricing that exceeded the six-figure mark, it was the solid activity amongst the Class B product that carried this sector last year. Examples include Clifton Plaza Apartments in Cleveland (108 units sold for $57,000 per unit), Oak Hill Village in Willoughby (182 units sold for $77,000 per unit), State Hill Manor in Parma (110 units sold for $75,000 per unit) and 200 West in Fairview Park (173 units sold for $65,000 per unit).

SPAGETTI AND MEATBALLS

This lunch choice was always polarizing, with some loving a heaping platter of pasta while others hating it. It reminds me of the appetite for retail properties last year. A favorite type was well-located, smaller footprint centers occupied by credit tenants. Examples include Great Lakes Plaza, a 7,200-square-foot center occupied by Condoda Taco and Sleep Number, which traded for $5 million, and Parma Outlet Center, an 8,000-square- foot center anchored by Bank of America and Verizon, which sold for $1.8 million. Meanwhile, a clear unfavorite was tradi- tional, larger centers in mature locations. Examples include Stow Falls Center, a 95,000-square-foot center occupied by Planet Fitness and Litehouse Pools, which traded for $6.1 million, and Pheasants Run, a 30,000-square-foot center in North Olmsted, which sold for $1.7 million.

SLICED HAM WITH GREEN BEANS

When this showed up on the menu, most students opted to pack their lunch, which is similar to the activity in the office sector last year. When an office building showed up for sale, most investors headed in the opposite direction. The sector continues to struggle with weak fundamentals, including static occupancy, flat rent but rising expenses, all against a backdrop of uncertainty of the future of office space. As a result, pricing has languished. Examples of this softness include Westgate Plaza, a 92,500-square-foot building in Fairview Park that sold for $25 per square foot. Springside Place, a 97,000 square-foot property in Montrose that sold for $37 per square foot; the PDC Building, a 70,000 square-foot property in Beachwood that sold for $50 per square foot; and One Independence Place, a 100,000 square-foot building in Independence that sold for $50 per square foot.

ICE CREAM SANDWICHES

No matter how good or bad the lunch choices were, there was always a line when the ice cream freezer opened. This is very similar to investment activity in the single-tenant, net leased sector. Regardless of what may be going on in the broader real estate market, investors always seem to be able to make room for a good net leased offering. There were plenty of examples last year. A newly constructed Jiffy Lube in Avon traded for just over $700 per square foot, at a 7.2% cap rate. A Citizens Bank in Bainbridge sold for $1,400 per square foot, at a 5% cap rate. A Starbucks in Aurora sold for $1,100 per square foot, at a 5.75% cap rate. And a Wendy’s in Cleveland sold for $1,450 per square foot, at a 4.5% cap rate.

While the full effect [of the Fed rate hike] on the commercial real estate market isn’t readily apparent, the activity level clearly slowed over the last part of the year. More importantly, this sluggishness is anticipated to continue into the first part of 2023.

NEW MENU COMING

One of the most interesting days in the cafeteria was when the new menu for the upcoming month was posted on the bulletin board. Everyone would gather around to figure out what days they would packing their lunches and what days they would be buying them. Last year, the bulletin board was replaced by our phones or computers. But we weren’t looking for a menu but rather a news release on the results of the most recent Federal Reserve Board meeting. The Fed met eight times last year and raised the fund rate at seven of these meetings. As a result, the rate went from 0.75% to 4.5% and has obviously had a dramatic impact on the cost of borrowing. While the full effect on the commercial real estate market isn’t readily apparent, the activity level clearly slowed over the last part of the year. More importantly, this sluggishness is anticipated to continue into the first part of 2023.

But I’m starting to get into 5th period so for now, let’s just kick back and enjoy the rest of our lunch!

What I C @PVC

PAINTING A PRETTY PICTURE Last year ended with a bang when it was announced that Sherwin- Williams was entering into a sale/leaseback for the new 1 million-square-foot corporate headquarters. Benderson Realty Development is paying $210 million for a 90% interest in the property, which is currently under construction and scheduled to be completed in early 2025. –AP

For February 2023 Properties Magazine

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]