Emerging Trends Sourced by the ULI [Urban Land Institute]
Commercial real estate is reaching an inflection point where “valuations will no longer be driven by capital markets.” In 2014, Emerging Trends interviewees expect “space market fundamentals and property enhancements to emerge as the primary drivers of total returns,” reducing the reliance on falling capitalization rates and high amounts of leverage.
The real estate recovery will gain momentum in 2014. This should be good news to an industry that has experienced a recovery of fundamentals that has been much slower than it is used to after a recession. In fact, the pace of the recovery can make it difficult to spot the signs of improvement until they are in full swing. At first glance, many of the trends identified for 2014 are similar to those identified in previous years. These trends were relevant when originally identified, but the slower pace of this economic recovery prevented them from coming to fruition in the expected time frame. The difference for 2014 is that the market has progressed further through the economic and real estate cycles and we are now seeing real evidence that the trends have the momentum to finally make an impact on the real estate market.
The real estate market continues to move through the recovery phase of this cycle. The trends identified for 2014 portend both opportunities and challenges for investors in 2014. Economic and demographic changes will drive demands for real estate that are familiar and some that will require the industry to adapt. Equity and debt capital will continue to be attracted to the asset class, and the deployment of this capital will include more investment strategies that will involve a wider set of markets and property types. The economic recovery is projected to continue in 2014—and with it rising interest rates. The expected impact of rising interest rates ranges from little to potentially leading capital to flow into alternative asset classes. Despite the wide range of opinions, everyone is convinced that the search for returns through cap rate compression will become the search for returns through improving fundamentals and/or operational improvements.
The year 2014 may well be the year that the real estate markets “recovers from the recovery.” Real estate professionals interviewed for Emerging Trends expect growth to be sufficient to generate consistent and growing demand for commercial real estate across all property types. As one fund manager says of the moderate 2.5 percent gross domestic product (GDP) growth in the second quarter of 2013, “That is not huge, but it is enough to create demand for real estate product—that is, demand for space and improving rent—because at the same time there’s almost no new supply. It’s a sweet spot for real estate.” An economist notes, “We have a new paradigm here. It is not the kind of recovery we have seen before with 250,000 new jobs a month. It’s a recovery with 100,000-plus jobs a month.”
“With the economy in a position where the tailwinds are now stronger than the prevailing headwinds, 2014 should be a year when we see real estate fundamentals improve in sectors beyond the already very healthy multifamily sector—and in a number of markets—to a point where we could see above inflation rate rental growth,” says a fund manager. According to Emerging Trends 2014 interviewees, the tailwinds include “good if not great” job growth—in industries that are, by no small coincidence, magnets for commercial real estate investment (energy, technology, health care and biological research, and, to some extent, education and financial services)—solid corporate profits, and a recovery in the housing market. These tailwinds are expected to trump the headwinds, which include a “stubbornly high” unemployment rate, uncertainty over government regulation and fiscal policy, and concern about the rising cost of debt capital.
The expected breadth of the recovery is illustrated by the view of Emerging Trends survey respondents toward the outlook for real estate business prospects. Prospects for almost all types of real estate businesses were rated more optimistically for 2014 than in last year’s survey for 2013. The improvement in business outlook was most significant for homebuilders, for whom prospects are not only expected to be significantly better than last year but whose prospects have more than doubled in the past two years. As a result, homebuilders have moved from the weakest real estate businesses in 2012 to one of the strongest in 2014. Business prospects for commercial bank real estate lenders and commercial mortgage–backed securities (CMBS) lenders and issuers also improved noticeably.