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Impact of Technology Top 10 Issue for Multifamily

Published June 9th, 2013

Special Report: Gelbtuch Announces CRE’s Real Estate Top 10 Issues

By Suzann D. Silverman, Editorial Director, Commercial Property Executive

Atlanta—The top 10 issues to affect real estate this year offer some real investment opportunities, especially when taken in combination. In fact, while many have been frequent topics of discussion, consideration of their interrelationships may better reveal where the best opportunities—and risks—reside. In that context, Counselors of Real Estate chairman Howard Gelbtuch released the updated version of the organization’s annually adjusted list today at the National Association of Real Estate Editors conference in Atlanta.

The trends as identified are as follows:

Low interest and capitalization rate risks
Capital markets resurgence
Event risks
Effects of climate change/weather on coastal properties
Echo Boomer housing demand
Increased U.S. natural gas mining and reserves
Global real estate growth and risk
Impact of technology on office space
Retail malaise and repositioning

Addressing these trends in Letterman-style reverse order, Gelbtuch offered some key observations. He dismissed the so-called retail malaise with the response: “What malaise?” While much has been made of the Internet’s increasing attraction of shoppers, he cautioned, “don’t underestimate the social experience of going to the mall.” On Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue, retail rents are running at a record $2,500 to $3,000 per square foot. He also sees opportunity in the sale of what he termed the “dowdiest retailers,” such as Sears/Kmart and JC Penney. “There’s tremendous real estate value in the holdings of the dowdiest retailers,” he declared, noting that their average contacted rent is $4 per square foot, versus an average market rent of at least $8 if not as much as $11 per square foot. “It’s akin to having a building with a pawn shop at the street level,” he observed.

Younger workers continue to impact office space design, with the emphasis on collaborative spaces and a growing number of workers are independent contractors working from home—with 30 percent in 2013 growing to a projected 50 percent in 2020 and 80 percent in 2030. At the same time, he noted that the hoteling trend has come and gone in the past and could again.

In the global arena, Europe is of course a cause for concern, though it may also offer an opportunity to snap up distressed assets. Cuba has started to regain its real estate market, according to Counselors of Real Estate findings, while Latin America in general is demanding U.S.-style office buildings. And the next round of emerging markets may include Korea, Nigeria, Bangladesh and Vietnam. The U.S. market is still a “safe haven.”

North Dakota is now producing more oil than California, but Gelbtuch does not expect growth in the natural gas business to play a significant role in the shaping of cities in the near term.

Echo Boomers continue to attract attention as space users. While they prefer more urban lifestyles and are driving location-driven residential growth and the rise in micro units, though Gelbtuch did not completely dismiss the suburbs. The suburbs are fighting back, he said, and there are opportunities to build townhouses and other residential properties in them.

With the possibility of climate change resulting in more extreme weather patterns, it may become necessary to install a generator in order to sell your house in certain regions, he speculated—although despite losing power for two weeks during Hurricane Sandy, he himself has not yet opted to install one. He noted flood insurance has become so cost prohibitive he no longer owns a second home on the Jersey Shore. Lower Manhattan’s businesses continue to recover from the hurricane, but the residential market is hotter than it has been in years, Gelbtuch said, and the commercial market will follow behind it.

Many event risks are outside the United States, but regardless, they should be considered as a question of “when,” not “if,” according to the association’s findings.

As the capital markets return, coastal markets are strong and growth is occurring in the Midwest. A new, emerging asset class is single-family homes: As institutions purchase them in bulk, it is giving rise to new single-family REITs. “Wall Street was right to invest in single-family homes,” Gelbtuch declared, as people look for an exit strategy and prices start to appreciate again. “Single-family homes are the asset class that was always there but nobody knew it.”

Healthcare is attracting increasing attention, with the aging of the Baby Boomers giving rise to new housing options both in cities and suburbs. Medical facilities are often trading at higher cap rates than office buildings, yet seniors housing as a sector is performing well.

With interest rates sure to risk, the biggest risk is to the real estate markets, Gelbtuch warned. Lock in low interest rates now and evaluate your strategy in preparation. Cap rates will stay depressed in the gateway cities, but other markets are not experiencing the same downward pressure since they are attracting significantly less demand for property.