Commercial real estate executives expressed a modest increase in optimism about market conditions despite serious COVID-related challenges, according to The Real Estate Roundtable’s Q4 Economic Sentiment Index released this week. (Roundtable news release, Dec. 2)
- A majority of respondents to the survey also noted that general conditions one year from now will be either “somewhat better” or “much better” than today.
- “Nearly every sector of the commercial real estate industry is facing serious economic challenges due to the overall impact of the pandemic. High unemployment, closed businesses, travel reductions and more have ripped into otherwise healthy real estate portfolios, creating challenges for all building owners in meeting their payroll, utility, tax and debt service obligations. Overall industry low leverage, general market balance, and functioning capital markets are positive influences that – when coupled with growing good news regarding vaccines – results in an increased optimism on part of industry leaders," said Real Estate Roundtable President and CEO Jeffrey DeBoer.
- DeBoer also said, “That optimism is dependent however on urgently-needed additional COVID relief from Washington and on the rapid testing and availability of effective vaccines. Federal lawmakers and regulators must support further assistance to bridge people and businesses into a post-COVID economy. Help is needed quickly for local governmental budgets, as well as for people and businesses negatively economically impacted by the pandemic. And some protection from unnecessary lawsuits must be provided to businesses to spur a more robust transition back to workplaces. ”
The Roundtable’s Q4 Sentiment Index topline findings include:
- The Sentiment Index registered a score of 44, an increase of two points from the third quarter of 2020. Respondents continued to express optimism about future conditions, and many noted increasingly positive trends in their own portfolios. Participants from the hospitality and retail sectors were understandably less optimistic, but felt market dynamics were strong enough that successful recoveries were possible.
- Respondents referenced stronger markets for industrial and multifamily properties, while retail and hospitality properties were perceived as challenging in this environment. Dynamics in the office sector remain uncertain for most participants as work from home policies have created an uncertain future operating environment.
- Lower leverage and continued forbearance have combined to allow owners to retain their positions, despite distress within their portfolios. As a result, owners are resistant to realizing discounted asset prices while buyers are seeking discounts as steep as 30% within the hospitality industry.
- Most respondents cited accessible capital markets for high quality assets, and an increase in debt as well as equity availability. Many also noted the real estate market in general has lower levels of leverage than seen in the last downturn.
Future of Urban Real Estate
On this week's Walker Webcast, Roundtable Member Willy Walker (Chairman & CEO, Walker & Dunlop) discussed the pandemic's impact on urban centers with Roundtable Board Member Owen Thomas (CEO, Boston Properties) and Roundtable Member Mark J. Parrell (President & CEO, Equity Residential Investments).
- Thomas commented, “It's all about the virus. CEOs increasingly are understanding the problems with all remote work. Cultures are getting stretched and it is difficult to do more creative and strategic work, to procure new customers when everyone is working remotely. Companies want to get their employees back to work but companies are also very concerned about liability. What's going to change all that around is health security.”
- He added, “We have to get people back to the offices, back to the big cities for the overall economy to recover.”
- Parrell noted, “When we think about our urban centers, there are places like New York that have been around 400 years and they've been resilient over time. (During) the last two decades in New York, up to the pandemic, the quality of life improved so much. These cities are capable of recovery, but good leadership is required. It will be very important that these cities be led by both public and private minded individuals who, like the Partnership for New York for example, are trying to put the city back together and on its feet. Once the cities re-energize, renters will return.”
- Parrell added, “I do think there’s going to be a migration back into city centers, based initially on price and on activation as the vaccine gets broadly distributed.”
The pandemic’s ongoing impact on CRE and the policy response will be a focus of discussion during The Roundtable’s virtual State of the Industry Business Meeting and policy committee advisory committee meetings on January 27-28, 2021.
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