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.

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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”.

Market analysis: NYC counts the costs of Covid

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.

Three “glass-half-full” forecasts for the new year

Despite the ongoing uncertainty of the new virulent Omicron variant of Covid-19, there are a lot of positive signs that we can expect in 2022 for commercial real estate (CRE), according to a round-up of sources.

The case for optimism

First, however, an important caveat: Of course, all of these predictions are opinion. No matter how great the historical data used to inform those opinions, they are still not to be considered “financial advice”. Having said that, after a difficult two years (for global business, not just real estate), a little optimism is a welcome break.

Survey says…

First up, Deloitte’s annual forecast report for the CRE sector is out, and generally reflects a high degree of buoyancy.

“Eighty percent of respondents [to their survey] expect their institution’s revenues in 2022 to be slightly or significantly better than 2021 levels,” writes the report’s authors.

…And so does the data

Meanwhile, Forbes real estate contributor and economic analyst Calvin Schnure has done a list of predictions for the year ahead, starting with this one: “Property transactions will rise further in 2022 as the economic recovery gains momentum, and CRE prices will maintain growth in the mid-single digits. REIT mergers and acquisitions could top 2021 as well,” writes Schnure.

How does he come to this conclusion? It’s a matter of looking at the bigger (data) picture trends, he says – plotting this graph from RCA, Bloomberg and NAREIT data.

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/calvinschnure/2021/12/01/top-10-things-to-watch-in-commercial-real-estate-in-2022/?sh=352375d63002

“All in alert”

Finally, in December 2021, investment and commercial analysis publication The Motley Fool issued a “rare ‘all in’ buy alert” for CRE, offering three key points of their bullish positioning:

  • “Industrial and multifamily sectors look the most promising in the new year.”
  • “Retail and office CRE should have its good performers but see more headwinds.”
  • “REITs remain a promising avenue for overall returns.”

For the nitty-gritty in how they came to this conclusion, read the full analysis by author Marc Rappaport here.

As we said above, a prediction isn’t a guarantee, a forecast isn’t fact, but we think these bold analysts make a great case for optimism and a solid-looking year ahead for commercial property and investing.

From us to you, happy new year to our CRE network and peers!

Two Tales of One City

by Alec Pacella for Properties Magazine January 2022

The dust has finally settled on 2021 and, for better or worse, it looked a lot like 2020. It’s that “better or worse” part that will be the focus of my annual wrap-up column.

I’ve used this theme a few times in past columns, sometimes I termed it “best of times, worst of times’ while other times I called it “glass half full, glass half empty.’ As has been said several times in the recent past, COVID has accelerated trends that were already present and the concept of ‘better or worse’ is no exception. To see what fared better and what fared worse, read on.

Click the link for the complete article: http://digital.propertiesmag.com/publication/?m=&l=1&i=734292&p=64&pp=2&ver=html5