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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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.”

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] 


 

DEAD IN THE WATER

Joseph Hauman

Do you know where the saying dead in the water comes from? It was originally used to refer to a boat that was stuck out at sea with no wind. No wind means no movement and as you could imagine, no movement is not good for a boat in a large body of water. Over the last 2 years, people have been telling me that the office market in Cleveland is “dead in the water” as everyone from your nephew’s Lemonade stand to Google decide if they need more space or if they even want any space. To be honest with you I believed it for a little bit too. I thought there is no wind in the sails of the office market in Cleveland, but then I allowed myself to take a real look at the industry.

Sailboats are great but they need something to push them. A tide, current, or wind is needed to make a boat with no motor move. I believe that office rents in the Cleveland Market have stayed stagnant because they have been the tide, current, or wind in the sails of our largely vacant office market.  What do I mean by that? Owners in Cleveland often think that they are in competition with each other. They attract tenants to their buildings by offering a low price, free rent, and higher tenant improvement allowances than what they view are their competitor’s. That, in turn, makes other owners lower their prices and it becomes a price war at its most basic level. For years, that has been the reason why the office market continued to truck along with very few new buildings and stagnated rent growth. Lower prices and increasing free rent packages were the slow wind that was pushing the sails of a fundamentally broken office market.

Why are low prices so bad in an office market? The answer is they aren’t when they can be controlled and used to attract quality businesses that will help the area grow. That, however, is not the situation that the Cleveland office market is in. We are in a vicious cycle of rent reduction to attract businesses that don’t choose Cleveland because of the lack of amenities, in both buildings and the city, and because they don’t choose Cleveland both the owner and city miss out on valuable tax and rental income that could be used to pay for new amenities to attract new businesses. This is the reason why the Cleveland office market is “Dead in the water”.

Nobody cared about this issue until the past two years when work from home skyrocketed and tenants didn’t care how much you reduced their rent; they just wanted out. It was no longer a price war because price mattered very little anymore. It became an agent’s job to keep tenants from bull rushing out of a building. Any wind that was ever present, was lost. No hope, right? Wrong.    

Going back to what I had said earlier when technology advanced we learned that we could put an engine on a boat and we had no more need for the wind to propel us. The wind and the sail didn’t matter anymore because the fundamental idea of a boat changed. It was no longer difficult to maneuver, slow, or relied on something totally out of one’s control. Instead, a boat became fun, attractive, and a sign of success for most. Office buildings need a motor. The entire idea of an office building needs to be changed. Low rent and new paint aren’t enough anymore. You need a space that makes people want to come to work. If your building doesn’t do that, then you need to take a hard look at the future success and viability of that building. If you are a landlord you must know your effective vacancy on any building you own. I don’t mean how many people you are getting checks from every month or the number of available square feet you tell your broker to put on the flyer. I mean how many people are coming in and using your space on a DAILY basis? If you have amazing tenants that don’t want that stuff then, congratulations, you have won the jackpot. If you have large amounts of vacant space and are wondering how to change it, then hold on because I’m going to tell you.

ASK AND YOU SHALL RECEIVE

I know most office buildings or parks are purchased as a semi-passive investment which is great and I fully support it, but if you have a high vacancy you need to get a broker, or property manager or go yourself to each tenant and ask what they are looking for. Ask what your building lacks and where it could be improved. If you have current amenities in the building ask if they use them and how often. If you have someone that works in an amenity like a dry cleaner, food service, or gym, ask them how often people come through and what sort of mood they are in when they come in. If you have services in the building you need to find out if people are using them because the service is good or if it’s convenient. If tenants are using it out of convenience then that’s great, but it’s not enough to keep them there at your building. The true testament to the amenities that you provide should be if a tenant leaves and still comes back to your building to use your amenities. Obviously, not all amenities are offered to people that are not tenants, but ones that are, such as an open cafeteria or dry-cleaning service should be good tests. If you ask tenants for their opinion make sure they are valued and listened to. Asking them questions only to do nothing in hopes that they will stay is going to do you no good. If you want to have a low vacancy you need to get things in the building that people want. Let the ideas flow. Everything from a VR gaming setup, driving simulator, or golf simulator might be options that are relatively inexpensive in comparison to renovating a cafeteria or building out a new gym. Take the answers to the questions that you get from your tenants and mix them with your ideas and see if it’s possible. Maybe call me and let me come take a look and allow me to give you my opinion.

If your building represents a sailboat that is quickly or slowly losing wind then pull it out of the water and put an engine on that sucker because if you don’t make a change soon your boat will be dead in the office market water. 

Have something to say? Great, I would love to hear it. Shoot me an email at Joe.Hauman@NAIPVC.com or give me a call 440-591-3723.

Second Period

Alec J. Pacella

Last month, we went back to school and discussed some useful financial calculations incorporated within Microsoft Excel formulas. This month, we are going to continue the school day and, along the way, weave in the theme of renovation being covered throughout this issue of Properties. Both fit perfectly for me; I teach a course at the University of Denver and just finished writing a question for the midterm exam, as follows:

An investor is contemplating installing an automated ticketing system in their parking garage. If continued to be operated with a manned attendant, the garage is expected to produce $100,000 next year and anticipated to grow $2,500 annually in subsequent years as a result of planned increases in the parking rate. The reversion value at the end of five years is expected to be $1,200,000.

The automated system is anticipated to cost $250,000 but income will increase to $125,000 in the first year, as a result of no longer needing an attendant and thus realizing lower expenses. Annual increases are projected to remain the same, $2,500 per year, and the reversion value at the end of five years is expected to be $1,500,000, based on the higher income level.

Using a discount rate of 10%, which alternative should the investor choose?

This is a classic renovation analysis – should the investor keep on keeping on, as-is, and not incur the upfront expense which will result in lower annual cash flows and lower reversion. Or should the renovation be completed, which will result in a significant upfront expense but higher annual cash flow and higher reversion. Who’s ready to go back to school?

We are going to use a three-step approach to solve this problem, dragging in our old friend the CCIM T-bar to help. The first step is to model the cash flows associated with doing nothing. The present value (PV) component would be zero, as no initial money is being spent. The payment (PMT) component would start at $100,000 in the first year and increase $2,500 each subsequent year of the holding period. And the future value (FV) would be $1,200,000. Figure 1 represents the T-bar for these cash flows. The second step is to model the cash flows associated with making the renovation. The PV component would be ($250,000), reflecting the cost of installing the automation system. The PMT component would start at $125,000 in the first year and increase $2,500 each subsequent year of the holding period.

And the FV would be $1,500,000, which is the anticipated value of the garage at the end of the holding period. Figure 2 represents the T-bar for these cash flows.

The third step is to calculate the net present value (NPV) of each T-bar, using the 10% target rate. You’ll need a financial calculator to perform this function (unless you were paying attention to last month’s column). Once completed, you will discover the “as-is” scenario has a NPV of $1,141,339 while the “renovate” scenario has a NPV of $1,172,385. At this point, the decision is simple; based on the assumptions provided, it is worth it to pursue the renovation.

We are not done yet – the university students also have a related bonus question, so why shouldn’t you? We can take this analysis one step further by using a concept known as “IRR of the differential.” Calculating it is straightforward and is the IRR of the difference between the renovated series of cash flows less the as-is series of cash flows. As you can see in Figure 3, the PV of ($250,000) is found by subtracting the PV of the renovated T-bar (Figure 2) minus the as-is T-bar (Figure 1). The PMT in year one in Figure 3 is found by subtracting the year one PMT of the renovated T-bar minus the as-is T-bar. Lather, rinse, repeat for the cash flows in years two through five and the reversions. Plug these into a financial calculator (unless, again, you were paying attention to last month’s column) and we come up with an IRR of the differential of 13.08%.

But the bonus question on this insidious mid-term exam doesn’t ask for the IRR of the differential. C’mon, these are graduate students! It asks what this concept means – because to me, this is the most important number on the board. And I’ll save you the grief. From a purely mathematical perspective, 13.08% is the exact rate at which the NPV of the as-is scenario and the NPV of the renovate $1,500,000, which is the anticipated value of the garage at the end of the holding period. Figure 2 represents the T-bar for these cash flows.

scenario are equal. You are welcome to try it but, trust me, you will come up with an NPV of $1,015,465-ish for either scenario if you use a discount rate of 13.08%. But mathematics doesn’t pay the bills, understanding the practical application is what’s important. The 13.08% discount rate is considered the point of indifference or cross-over point. At that exact rate, there is no difference between the as-is and the renovate scenario. They are equivalent decisions. But at any rate less than 13.08%, the decision swings to the renovate scenario and the lower the rate, the more pronounced the renovate decision becomes. Conversely, at any discount rate greater than 13.08%, the decision swings to the as-is scenario and the higher the rate, the more pronounced the as-is decision becomes.

Gang, our business is all about under- standing and quantifying risk, and the concept of IRR of the differential is a hallmark example. The break-even risk versus return for this proposed renovation is 13.08%. If you believe the risk associated with this proposed renovation demands a return greater than this point of indifference, you are better off to not spend the money and keep on keeping on. But if you perceive a low degree of risk associated with the renovation, and are good earning a return at some rate less than this break-even rate, you are better off to spend the money. And if you liked second period, just wait to see what we have in store for third period!

by Alec Pacella for Properties Magazine, November 2022