Recent CRE research shows an increasing number of colleges and universities are acquiring office buildings for adaptive reuse. Meanwhile, an overall surge in U.S. office-conversion projects scheduled for completion this year represents more than double the average annual pace. Federal, state and local conversion-incentive programs could play an important role going forward. (New York Times, Oct. 3 and CBRE, Rise in Office Conversions May Help to Reinvigorate Cities, Sept. 27)
Data from JLL cited in this week’s New York Times article shows dozens of U.S. institutions of higher education have bought office buildings since 2018—including 49 four-year private schools and 16 four-year public institutions—often for conversion to academic use.
Separately, CBRE research published Sept. 27 shows that a surge in office-conversion projects in major U.S. cities this year (nearly half of them in the multifamily sector) may help urban economies recover after the pandemic-induced shift to hybrid working. (Commercial Property Executive, Oct. 2 and GlobeSt, Sept. 29)
The CBRE report shows that 60 million square feet of office conversions are planned or in progress in 40 U.S. markets, which represents 1.4 percent of the nation’s office inventory. The report also notes that, despite a variety of government incentive programs, adaptive reuse is not a panacea for problems facing the U.S. office market, especially in a high interest rate environment.
Role of Policy
An Oct. 16 discussion during The Roundtable’s Fall Meeting in Washington, DC will address policy initiatives impacting building conversions, and other challenges facing CRE, during The Roundtable’s Fall Meeting in Washington, DC.
The Roundtable strongly supports policies that provide incentives for office-to-residential conversions. Last Dec, The Roundtable urged the Biden administration to support “legislation to facilitate the increased conversion of underutilized office and other commercial real estate to much-needed housing.” (RER letter to President Biden, Dec. 12, 2022 and Roundtable Weekly, Aug. 11, 2023)
This week, Roundtable Senior Vice President Chip Rodgers joined a group of business groups’ representatives to brief the staff of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Monetary Policy, and the Subcommittee on Capital Markets.
The Oct. 2 briefing emphasized the need for policymakers to address dislocations in the office market by 1) incentivizing the conversion of outmoded office properties to residential use to help meet the nation’s housing needs; and 2) requiring federal government workers return to their offices.
Federal government programs will incentivize local jurisdictions to pursue office-to-residential conversions, according to CBRE. Federal incentives also aim to encourage financing mechanisms to build and preserve more housing, while reducing land-use and zoning restrictions for affordable and zero-emissions housing. (CBRE, Sept. 27)
A Real Estate Roundtable property conversions working group has worked with lawmakers for several months on draft legislation to create a tax credit for converting older commercial buildings to housing.
This week, Real Estate Roundtable leaders emphasized the need for federal regulators to allow more flexibility for lenders and borrowers to restructure commercial real estate loans facing potential default—as the Federal Reserve reported that CRE poses a potential risk to financial stability. (Fed’s Financial Stability Report, May 2023)
Request for Time
Real Estate Roundtable Chair John Fish, above, (Chairman and CEO, SUFFOLK) summarized the industry’s views in a May 9 MarketWatch article, noting that the Fed and regulatory agencies should grant more flexibility for borrowers, including corporate real estate developers, to restructure CRE loans.
Fish explained how an impending wave of $1.5 trillion in CRE loans—combined with tight lending conditions and higher, unsustainable interest rates—could stifle construction and development in major cities struggling to bounce back from the pandemic. (MarketWatcharticle pdf)
Post-pandemic CRE values have dropped $453 billion, according to the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research, especially in cities with high vacancy rates due to ongoing work-from-home policies. Prior to the pandemic, 95% of U.S. offices were occupied. Today, that number is closer to 47%. Collapsing property values are threatening the fiscal health of cities across the nation. (GlobeSt, March 3)
Defaults on CRE loans hit a 14-year high in February. Fish emphasized that further economic damage can be avoided if federal regulators grant additional time for markets to stabilize, as they have done in the past. (See regulatory notices from 2009, 2020, and 2022)
“We are going to have to figure out a plan with the federal government to allow banks to have some time to work through some of these loans. It has been done before, so you can restructure, and get more equity into the deal, so that we don’t see this cascade of defaults that we’ve already started seeing happening. There has to be some thought to give banks, owners, and developers time to restructure loans,” Rudin said.
On Monday, the Fed released its bi-annual Financial Stability Report—a survey of market experts, economists, and academics that assesses concerns about the nation’s financial and economic health. The report, which includes a special section on commercial real estate-related risks, identifies CRE asthe fourth-largest financial stability concern. (Commercial Observer, May 10 and ConnectCRE, May11)
Many survey respondents noted CRE as a “possible trigger for systemic risk,” listing concerns about higher interest rates, valuations, and shifts in end-user demand. “With CRE valuations remaining elevated … the magnitude of a correction in property values could be sizable and therefore could lead to credit losses by holders of CRE debt,” according to the May report. (GlobeSt, May 10)
Over the first quarter of this year, the SLOOS shows a majority of banks reported concerns about an uncertain economic outlook, reduced tolerance for risk, worsening of industry-specific problems, and deterioration in their current or expected liquidity position. Mid-sized banks generally reported tightening both price and non-price terms more frequently than the largest banks and other banks, according to the loan officer survey.
The Roundtable continues to urge federal regulators to issue guidance that would give financial institutions increased flexibility to refinance loans with borrowers and lenders. The various market pressures facing CRE will be discussed during The Roundtable’s all-member Annual Meeting on June 13-14 in Washington.
This week, commercial real estate was a prominent focus of the Federal Reserve’s quarterly senior loan officer opinion survey and announcement about the hypothetical scenarios that 23 banks will be stress-tested against in 2023. (Fed Survey, Feb. 6 and Stress Test, Feb. 9)
On Thursday, the Fed released the hypothetical scenarios for its 2023 annual stress test, which measures and evaluates the ability of large banks to continue lending to businesses and households during a recession or weakened financial conditions.
The scenarios will include a severe global recession, heightened stress in both commercial and residential real estate markets, and a new, unspecified “exploratory market shock.” The new component will not count against capital requirements affected by the tests, the Fed said. (BGov, Feb. 10)
The Fed detailed additional key features of the “severely adverse scenario” by instructing banks, “Declines in commercial real estate prices should be assumed to be concentrated in properties most at risk of a sustained drop in income and asset values: offices that may be affected by remote work or hospitality sectors that continue to be affected by reduced business travel. Declines in U.S. house prices and U.S. commercial real estate prices should also be assumed to be representative of … those that experienced rapid price gains before the pandemic and were significantly affected by the event.” (pdf of instructions for 2023 Federal Reserve Stress Test Scenarios)
Delinquency Rate & CRE Outlook
Trepp’s CMBS Research reported this week that that the overall US CMBS special servicing rate dropped in January 2023 six basis points to 5.11%—down for the second month in a row after four consecutive increases from August to November. By comparison, the rate one year ago was 6.33% and six months registered at 4.79%. (Trepp, Feb. 8)
The office sector saw a 16-basis point increase in the special servicing rate in January, and it led all new special servicing transfers.
An industry panel discussion on Feb. 6 focused on Cutting Through Uncertainty: 2023 Economic & CRE Outlook. The on-demand webinar is moderated by Roundtable Member Hessam Nadji (President & CEO, Marcus & Millichap), who leads a discussion with Moody’s Analytics Chief Economist Mark Zandy, along with Roundtable Members Wendy Mann (CEO, CREW Network), Tom McGee (President and CEO, ICSC) and Marc Selvitelli (President & CEO, NAIOP).
This month, The Real Estate Roundtable will release its Q1 Economic Sentiment Survey, which will report on how leading CRE executives view current market conditions and their expectations for the year.
Trends in real estate capital and credit markets were the focus of a joint session of The Roundtable’s Real Estate Capital Policy Advisory Committee (RECPAC) and Research Committee on Jan. 24 during RER’s State of the Industry Meeting in Washington.
Research Committee Co-Chairs Paula Campbell Roberts (KKR), above left, and Spencer Levy (CBRE), right, led a discussion on market conditions and the economic outlook. Their findings suggest that the industry is facing challenges from shifting property fundamentals, rising rates, upward pressure on cap rates, and contracting credit capacity. (Download the slide presentation)
Other recent reports support the RECPAC-Research presentation, including one from CoStar that shows tightening credit conditions in the sector. “The office market is showing signs of weakness due to weak demand, driving higher vacancy rates and deteriorating operating performance, as well as challenging economic and capital market conditions,” said Mike Santomassimo, chief financial officer of Wells Fargo. He added that the bank is “… making sure we’re being proactive with our borrowers to make sure we’re thinking way ahead of any maturities or extensions, options that need to get put in place to help manage through it.” (CoStar, Jan. 18)
A report from Moody’s Analytics suggests that approximately $17 billion worth of mortgage bonds backed by office assets will come due in 2023, compared to $7 billion in 2022 and $4 billion in 2021. Victor Calanog, Moody’s head of commercial real estate economics told The Business Journals that the key issue for today’s office inventory is demand, due to the long-term effect of remote work and initiatives to increase adaptive use. (Washington Business Journal, Jan. 18)
The office paradigm shift is analyzed in a market risk assessment study of 11 metropolitan statistical areas released yesterday by Trepp and Compstak. Their findings show that a total of $40.7 billion in loans are scheduled to mature by the end of 2024. In addition to loan statistics, the report reviews leasing trends and headwinds. (Trepp/Compstak, Feb. 2)
The report analyzes the combined economic contributions of new commercial building development and the operations of existing commercial buildings in 2022. The NAIOP Research Foundation publication positive impacts on the U.S. economy, including:
$2.3 trillion to U.S. gross domestic product (GDP)
$831.8 billion in personal earnings
15.1 million jobs
Economic Impacts of Commercial Real Estate is authored by Brian Lewandowski, Adam Illig, Michael P. Kercheval, Ph.D., and Richard Wobbekind, Ph.D., at the University of Colorado Boulder Leeds School of Business.
A council of federal financial regulators chaired by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen stated in their 2022 Annual Report released today: “the commercial real estate (CRE) and residential real estate sectors have the potential to increase risks to U.S. financial stability significantly.” (Treasury Department news release and PoliticoPro, Dec. 16)
“Rising interest rates, uncertain economic conditions, continuing weakness in urban commercial real estate, and the possibility that some post-pandemic changes in demand for CRE will become permanent have heightened concerns about CRE.”
“The Council recommends supervisors and financial institutions continue to monitor CRE exposures and concentrations, ensure the adequacy of credit loss allowances, assess CRE underwriting standards, and review contingency planning for a possible increase in delinquencies.”
“In extreme cases, CRE credit losses can lead to outright bank failures, particularly for banks with high exposure to CRE loans,” according to the regulators’ report.
Office Markets & Remote Work
The Council emphasized that the office property market may face the most uncertainty,with the prospect of weak future demand as return-to-office plans evolve and users decide how much space they need.
The 2022 Annual Report notes that office property demand may take time to stabilize as tenants navigate remote work decisions and adjust leasing decisions. The FSOC also reports that a slow return to densely populated urban office centers could reduce the desirability of office properties and nearby retail space.
“This may be especially true for older, less desirable office spaces with fewer modern amenities,” the report acknowledges.
The report also notes, “structural changes in the demand for office space can lead to weaker credit quality for loans secured by office properties over the long term.”
The Fed’s Influence
FSOC regulators also caution that more aggressive action by the Fed—either in its interest rate decisions or changes in its holdings of mortgage-backed securities—could lead to further increases in mortgage rates that could negatively affect financial stability. (FSOC 2022 Annual Report and PoliticoPro, Dec. 16 )
The Council’s mission is to identify risks to the financial stability of the United States, promote market discipline, and respond to emerging risks to the stability of its financial system. (FSOC website)
The Roundtable’s Real Estate Capital Policy Advisory Committee (RECPAC) met this week to discuss the current state of credit and capital markets. The Urban Land Institute (ULI) and PwC US also provided data points about market fundamentals in their recently issued publication, Emerging Trends in Real Estate 2023.
Shift to “New Normal”
RECPAC’s meeting in New York City focused on interest rate trends, global capital flows, and the implications for financing and property development. (For more information on RECPAC, contact Roundtable Senior Vice President Chip Rodgers or call 202-639-8400.)
ULI-PwC reports that industry participants are cautiously optimistic amid diminishing pandemic tailwinds and the potential for a “short yet shallow” recession. (ULI, Oct. 28 | download 125-page report)
The annual report—a compilation of data and insights from 2,000 real estate experts—shows the industry is:
Reassessing the use of office space,
Addressing climate change impacts and ESG demands,
Experiencing a shift in investor sentiment and capital, and
Facing new opportunities from government infrastructure spending.
The report’s survey revealed bifurcated market trends, with some aspects of the industry reverting to pre-pandemic patterns as others shift to a “new normal” that includes remote work arrangements. (PWC website | download full report)
Asset Classes in Flux
ULI Senior Vice President Anita Kramer commented that as people continue to adapt to pandemic-influenced changes in their lives, property asset classes are in flux as owners and investors assess how to move forward. (Bisnow, Oct. 27 and (ULI news release, Oct. 27)
Byron Carlock, US real estate leader for PwC and a member of The Real Estate Roundtable, told REjournals this week that challenges facing CRE include rising interest rates, return-to-the-office issues, and the possibility of converting office space to alternative uses. (Interview with Midwest Real Estate News, Nov. 2)
Roundtable President and CEO Jeffrey DeBoer this week discussed the industry’s public policy agenda on the verge of the midterm elections during the American and Development Association’s Fall 2022 Conference in Washington. [Photo, left to right: ARDA President and CEO Jason Gamel, Former Congressman (R-PA) and Chair of the House Transportation Committee Bill Shuster, Jeffrey DeBoer, and U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Geoff Freeman.]
The Roundtable plans to release its Q4 Economic Sentiment Index report next week. The quarterly index provides a gauge of CRE leaders’ views about the overall health of property markets, debt and capital availability, pricing, and asset values.
A KPMG survey of global CEOs shows that only 17% are considering downsizing their office space in the post-pandemic period – a drop from 69% recorded last August. Approximately one-third of the 500 CEOs in 11 key markets interviewed also anticipate a return to normal business operations this year, while 45 percent expect normality to resume in 2022. (KPMG 2021 CEO Outlook Pulse Survey)
“The COVID-19 vaccine rollout is providing leaders with a dose of optimism as they prepare for a new reality,” KPMG Global Chairman and CEO Bill Thomas said. The report shows that global CEOS are:
» Less likely to downsize their physical footprint compared to 6 months ago
» Encouraged to reopening workplaces by government action and vaccination rates
» Apprehensive about a fully remote workforce
» Concerned increasingly about cyber security as remote working has increased
» Overwhelmingly looking to increase focus on ESG issues
Office Demand Improving:
Additionally, the survey shows only 21% of businesses are looking to hire employees who work predominantly remotely – a significant reduction from 73% in 2020. The KPMG interviews with CEOs were conducted in February and March of this year. (Workplace Insight, March 24 and GlobeSt, March 25)
The outlook for office demand is on the upswing, supported by recent data by the national VTS Office Demand Index (VODI) that shows both in-person and virtual tenant tours posted large gains in January and February.
The VTS report shows that recent office demand activity is 38% lower compared to pre-pandemic levels – after having plummeted over 85% from February to May 2020. Additionally, all seven core office markets covered by VODI saw an increase in demand for office space in February 2021 compared to October 2020.
“While we saw some growth in demand in the back half of 2020, the exponential increase in the first two months of 2021, (combined) with the announcement from the Biden Administration that all Americans will be eligible for the vaccine by May 1, 2021, is providing confidence that a meaningful recovery is on the horizon,” VTS CEO Nick Romito said. (GlobeSt, March 25)
Microsoft will allow 57,000 employees back to its headquarters in suburban Seattle on March 28, although workers can choose whether to continue working remotely or a hybrid approach combining home and office. (AP, March 22)
The publication Emerging Trends in Real Estate 2020, released by the Urban Land Institute (ULI) and PwC, reports that U.S. real estate remains a favored asset class, as economic uncertainty and societal changes have resulted in successful industry adaptations to space design, development and business operations.
“Throughout this period of extended economic growth, real estate development has been dominated by creative mixed-use projects that have revived many urban areas,” said ULI Global Chairman W. Edward Walter. “Going forward, those who continue to innovate with spaces that can be easily be repurposed as cities evolve will have a competitive edge. Staying ahead of change means being flexible and adaptable.” (ULI news release, Sept. 19)
Trends highlighted in the report include:
ESG – There is a growing commitment to the tenets of ESG (environmental, social and governance) principles among corporations in general and real estate in particular. Sustainability evaluation is becoming a checklist item for institutional investors domestically and worldwide. Strong interest by millennials in environmentally and socially conscious business practices is a major factor driving this trend.
Infrastructure – Real estate professionals waiting for a federal solution to America’s infrastructure needs are looking to states and localities that are committed to improved infrastructure as a foundation for economic growth.
Housing Affordability has reached a crucial point, even in markets that previously boasted of low-cost housing. There is a rise in co-living arrangements, among older as well as younger generations.
Hipsturbia – The live-work-play districts that spurred 24-hour downtowns in the 1990s has spread to many suburban communities, which are seeking to become hip destinations, or “hipsturbs.” The key to success: transit access, walkability, and abundant retail, restaurant and recreation options.
Technology – Property managers are turning to technology solutions for productivity enhancements and improved operational efficiency. Demand is also increasing from occupants and capital sources for technological sophistication across all sectors.
The report also notes that the industrial/distribution sector continues to be ranked highest for investment and development prospects, reflecting the impact of e-commerce and rising demand for storage and delivery facilities. Multifamily and single-family housing are also highly favored, as housing needs continue to change for millennials and baby boomers.
Societal trends and public policy issues affecting commercial real estate are also featured in an Oct. 1 interview with Roundtable President and CEO Jeffrey DeBoer (left in photo above) during an episode of the podcast, “Through The Noise.”
In a wide-ranging, 50-minute interview, DeBoer explains The Roundtable’s role in industry efforts in Washington, including terrorism insurance, affordable housing needs, energy efficiency and opportunity zones.
DeBoer states in the podcast, ““Whether rural or urban; multifamily or office … we’re working together as an industry and talking about how development projects contribute to jobs and local communities. Commercial real estate provides 70% of local budgets to pay teachers and build roads. Healthy, strong real estate is good for everyone and helps every part of our society.”
Public policies affecting CRE will be discussed during The Roundtable’s Fall Meeting on Oct. 30 in Washington, where guests will include U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson.