As Millennials start having children and wanting different things out of life, many find suburban living more appealing. This trend started before the global pandemic forced everyone to distance from one another, but there’s no denying that COVID has considerably sped up the process.
Today, many Millennials want to live away from the city’s bustle, in places they’re more likely to have a yard, access to parks, and good schools nearby. They’re also finding suburban properties more affordable.
At the same time, this generation wants shops, restaurants, and other essential services within an accessible distance. And soon, employers who set up offices in suburban neighborhoods could become more appealing, especially when people return to the office after the release of a successful vaccine.
The challenge is determining whether this movement from the cities is transitory or marks a lasting decentralization of the workforce. If it’s the latter, moving to a hub-and-spoke living and working environment could make suburban offices a far more valuable commodity.
Many factors are coming together and encouraging people to leave cities.
First, there’s the cost, as an apartment within the downtown area of a market like New York or Miami is prohibitively expensive. When buyers and renters can get far more living space at a lower price, suburban living becomes very appealing.
Living in the city is also a challenge because you’re unlikely to have any private outdoor areas. COVID has made this lack of space almost unbearable, forcing city-dwellers to either spend their time indoors or head to public outdoor areas and risk infection. The suburbs have yards and quiet streets, both of which are advantageous during a pandemic.
Buying in an urban area also involves far higher property taxes, despite owning less space. Millennials aren’t seeing value living in the city and are looking to stretch their real estate dollar a little further.
Of course, the current work-from-home opportunities are partially driving this trend. Those moving to the suburbs don’t have to worry about commuting because they’re working from home. However, we don’t know if these people will want to stay in the suburbs once they fight traffic on their way to a downtown office.
COVID-19 has brought numerous challenges for businesses of all sizes, not the least of which is keeping employees safe. For many companies, this means allowing workers to stay home.
Some companies, such as Microsoft, are turning work-from-home into a permanent solution. The company will allow most of its employees to stay home about 50% of the time post-COVID, with some individuals being eligible for full-time remote work with manager approval.
Microsoft’s headquarters are in Redmond, Washington, a suburb of Seattle, with other offices in smaller cities like Albany, New York, Bellevue, Washington, and Alpharetta, Georgia. The company also has a location in a suburban section of Austin, Texas, with its lone big-city urban office sitting in downtown Atlanta.
If the movement away from the cities continues, we could see more companies following Microsoft’s lead. More businesses may set up shop in less-populated cities and suburbs, allowing employees to work-from-home at least part-time.
If the workforce wants to remain in the suburbs, there’s a good chance commercial real estate values will follow the same trend. After all, the whole reason why many headquarters relocated to the cities in the first place was to attract Millennial talent that lived and played in those urban centers.
With a large percentage of the workforce now looking to escape the cities, it makes sense that companies would relocate again to give employees a shorter commute, which could potentially attract talent to their organizations.
There’s no telling if the move away from the metropolis is permanent. Once we have a safe and efficacious vaccine, individuals could realize that they miss the city and migrate back to the high-rises they abandoned in 2020. But they also may like the re-imagined suburbs, and permanent part-time-remote arrangements will mitigate the inconvenience of a long commute.
This trend creates an interesting CRE opportunity. A fundamental shift in the location and type of office space companies are looking for will, of course, impact the values of specific properties—and smart investors will be watching.
For more information on current CRE trends and the ever-changing market, call Morris Southeast Group at 954.474.1776. Ken Morris is also available directly at 954.240.4400 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
COVID-19 has done a number on the American economy, with unemployment rates reaching 14.4% in April. By November, that number had dropped to 6.7%, but we’re still seeing fallout because consumers now aren’t using certain businesses in the same way.
In Florida, a shift in consumer behavior is driving much of this downturn rather than government-mandated restrictions. For example, people aren’t traveling as frequently as in pre-pandemic days, leaving much of the state’s hospitality industry in a difficult position.
However, it isn’t all bad news, as some businesses are thriving in this economy. Here’s a look at how COVID affects various industries throughout the country and what it may mean for commercial real estate:
Perhaps no sector has experienced more significant COVID challenges than the hotel industry, which has seen occupancy and revenue decrease at record levels.
In Q2 2020, overall occupancy fell by over 60% from the previous year, despite the average daily rate (ADR) falling by over 37%. Rooms were cheaper, but people still weren’t renting them. The result: revenue per available room (RevPAR) is down by 75%.
The Royalton Hotel NYC, once considered one of the city’s most exclusive properties for the rich and famous, sold to investors for $41 million in September. This price tag is a 25% reduction from its selling price in 2017. People simply aren’t visiting hotels as much during the pandemic, and it’s causing issues for investors.
Another industry that’s struggling is retail, which saw total sales decrease by 8.1% in Q2 of 2020. This decline is the most significant since the recession of 2009.
However, it’s worth noting that some retailers are thriving in this economy, particularly e-commerce outlets and those that sell essential goods. It’s the smaller stores, certain big-box retailers, and shopping malls are struggling, although some of these spaces were being repurposed, even before COVID.
With the pandemic forcing employees to work from home, the office sector is experiencing some challenges keeping spaces occupied. The second quarter of 2020 saw leasing activity fall by 44% from the previous year, and the national office vacancy rate increased to 13%.
Demand for downtown office space is decreasing at a more rapid rate than suburban real estate. This trend suggests that offices will still have plenty of value in the future, even if space in prestigious high-rises remains in less demand.
Again, it isn’t all bad news—some industries are actually reaping rewards from the change in consumer behavior.
Amazon’s e-commerce successes are well-documented, with the company posting a record-level revenue increase of 37% during the second quarter of 2020.
This trend isn’t exclusive to Amazon or online retail, though another windfall is related to the fortunes of e-commerce. The industrial and warehouse sector is seeing a bump due to the shift away from brick-and-mortar stores. Warehouses and distribution sites are in high demand, and these properties are experiencing low vacancy rates and asking for record-high rents as a result.
Distributors are also relying less on China and other overseas entities because of the logistical issues with shipping goods right now. Keeping the supply chain moving involves ordering more products at once and storing them until needed, which is good news for industrial property owners.
Also, since we’re dealing with a global health emergency and have an aging population, it makes sense that there’s a greater need for laboratory space. The life sciences industry is exploding, with properties re-selling for as much as 22-times their previous values.
Strong tenant demand is driving this trend. And it could continue because of the need for facilities adhering to the Good Manufacturing Practice regulations for human pharmaceuticals. Labs that can meet these requirements have immense value, and many remain open 24 hours per day to keep up with demand throughout the pandemic.
Multifamily properties are going through the ups and downs of the current economy. Despite the harsh economic downturn in Q2, there wasn’t quite the expected rise in vacancies in apartment buildings and condos. The assumed reason: stimulus packages provided people with unemployment benefits aimed at keeping a roof over their heads.
An average month’s rent has dropped by 1.4% since Q1, and vacancy rates increased slightly. But it could have been much worse, given the high unemployment rates.
Urban areas and states with particularly high unemployment rates are being hit much harder than others, and there is a great demand for affordable housing all over the country.
Of course, the challenges caused by COVID-19 are driving many changes to the commercial real estate industry. People can’t interact at the same levels as this time last year, so there’s far less immediate need for spaces that encourage gathering or travel.
But there is some light at the end of the tunnel that could see us return to normalcy sooner rather than later. With the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines rolling out to the public and others potentially soon to follow, we might largely put this pandemic behind us by Q3 2021.
At that time, hotels and retailers could see their numbers start to rebound, and demand for all office space could return, as well. For CRE investors, the coming months are incredibly important because a potential recovery could drastically change the economic landscape again.
For more commercial real estate insights, property management services, or CRE investment guidance, reach out to Morris Southeast Group at 954.474.1776. Ken Morris is also available directly at 954.240.4400 or via email at email@example.com.
When people get involved in commercial real estate investments, their goal is to increase the property’s value, diversify portfolio holdings, avoid volatility while hedging against inflation, and gain some tax benefits. In short, it’s about making money.
One of the available tools to achieve that goal is leverage. Also known as debt-financing, the idea is that in some cases, assuming debt on a property may be more financially lucrative than bypassing a loan. That being said, there is a time when leverage makes sense and, more importantly, when it does not.
In the simplest of terms, positive leverage occurs when the cost of borrowing money is less than the return on that property. This results in greater profits for the investor, ROI that can then be used to upgrade the property or diversify into additional properties, especially those that are less risky.
For example, let’s say a property comes on the market for $3 million. The buyer faces two options:
Depending on economic indicators, leverage may not be in the investor’s best interest, particularly if the cost of borrowing money vastly diminishes the cash return of the investment. The closer the cash-on-cash leverage result comes to the all-cash result, the less wiggle room there is to survive any unanticipated crises, such as immediate repairs to the property or an economic slump.
When leverage makes sense, some investors can fall into the assumption trap—assuming that if some leverage on a property deal is good, then more property leverage is better. But as the saying goes, never “assume” anything, or you can make an “ass” out of “u” and “me.”
To avoid the potential pitfalls of leverage, investors should wisely consider some key points:
Not surprisingly, COVID has left its imprint on leverage. And for guidance, many experts look to the Great Recession. Prior to 2008, a large number of loans were issued at peak property values and with high leverage amounts in the 85% and 90% range. When the bubble burst, investors found themselves in dire straits, with outstanding debt more elevated than the properties’ value. The solution for investors was to de-leverage, look for new, smaller mortgages, or default.
COVID is this and so much more—the fallout from the pandemic has been swift for specific sectors, and the overall impacts for CRE are still accruing and yet to come due. While interest rates are extraordinarily low, investors are also looking at a market that has resulted in higher-than-normal vacancies and tenants re-thinking space needs. And many tenants may not be able to return as Federal-relief loans are expiring in the face of surging cases. Nevertheless, there are two key developments:
The biggest takeaway is that any decision to use leverage can only be made on a case-by-case basis. Excellent financing, for example, can easily become undone with the purchase of the wrong property or by overlooking current and expected trends and comparable properties. Using leverage properly can only be achieved with sufficient due diligence.
We’re learning more every day about the novel coronavirus that’s wreaking havoc on our society, giving us additional insight on how to protect ourselves.
For example, it’s now common knowledge that the virus spreads person-to-person through close contact, but evidence also suggests that COVID-19 can remain airborne for hours in indoor spaces. It can even travel through HVAC systems. As a result, the longer people stay in an enclosed environment, the greater the potential transmission risk.
Indoor airborne transmission is causing problems in a variety of industries. Bars, restaurants, and retail establishments are riskier environments for staff and customers, while some office workers also feel unsafe returning to the job site.
The good news in South Florida is that we’re well-positioned to take advantage of the mild winter weather and can make better use of outdoor spaces than pretty much any other location in the country.
The restaurant industry is an excellent example of how to use outdoor space to keep a business open. The more fortunate restaurants have patios, and others are developing them, allowing patrons to stay outdoors while enjoying food and drinks.
One drawback is that patios can get crowded, with tables next to each other allowing for transmission to occur between diners.
We’re seeing some businesses create proactive solutions to this issue by expanding their outdoor dining spaces. While extending a patio often relies on cities making exceptions or changing their laws, municipalities worldwide are doing just that to encourage a safer environment for restaurant-goers.
Open-air shopping centers also allow for a safer experience for consumers with fewer restrictions on the number of people who can be in an area at one time. This additional flexibility assists businesses as they attempt to stay afloat during this difficult time.
New York City is taking the outdoor shopping experience to a new level by allowing retail shops to extend into outdoor spaces. As the holidays approach, as many as 40,000 small businesses could begin using nearby outdoor areas.
The weather in South Florida is clearly better than winter in New York, so it makes sense for businesses and commercial property owners to begin exploring the concept of open storefronts to allow shoppers to socially distance.
It isn’t just retail spaces that can use the outdoors to their advantage in South Florida, as offices can also shift certain meetings and tasks outside.
The easiest way to accomplish this is by using courtyards and nearby parks when face-to-face interaction is necessary. This trend isn’t new, either, as 79% of new construction in Manhattan since 2010 features outdoor space.
If your building has some outdoor space, like a usable rooftop or a place to build a terrace, property owners can consider renovating to create a brand-new amenity for tenants. Even though COVID-19 likely won’t last forever, the addition of outdoor space can attract renters well into the future.
Staying outdoors isn’t always feasible, as there are situations where the weather won’t cooperate or people have sensitive information that they aren’t comfortable discussing in a public setting. There’s also the fact that businesses are paying for these buildings, so they’ll want to use them.
That’s fair, and there are ways to make interior offices, stores, and restaurants safer for all who visit. Of course, cleaning and sanitizing help reduce the spread of the virus, but what about the air?
Encouraging employees and customers to maintain distance and using physical shields are part of the equation. However, as mentioned earlier, aerosols can linger in the air for hours and spread through HVAC systems.
One solution is to add ultraviolet lights to the interior of the building’s ductwork. In doing so, 99.9% of seasonal viruses will die before circulating through the building, keeping people safer from this type of transmission.
Morris Southeast Group is on top of the newest retail, dining, and office space trends, ensuring that you can make the necessary adjustments to thrive in the current business landscape. A little flexibility can go a long way, and maximizing outdoor space usage, can be a novel way to attract consumers and tenants while keeping them safer.
Call us at 954.474.1776 to learn how Morris Southeast Group can assist you. You can also reach out to Ken Morris directly at 954.240.4400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Technology makes many aspects of residential real estate more accessible, as anyone can go online, select a property, and begin researching. From there, interested parties can schedule tours, check market comps, or even make offers before ever speaking with a person.
Virtual tours make it possible to walk through a property without actually visiting, adding another layer of insight for prospective buyers. The process has become more efficient, and over 44% of home buyers begin their search online.
We’re now seeing similar technology make its way into commercial real estate (CRE), as investors and business owners can evaluate and even purchase or lease assets with minimal human contact.
This has its limitations particular to CRE, however. Online showings and virtual reality tours don’t supply comprehensive market insights or analyze all crucial available data before purchasing. Tech also doesn’t craft a CRE strategy that accounts for a client’s current and prospective needs. This missing information provides immense value—and many buyers will be left without it when shopping exclusively online.
Here are some of the effects technology is having on commercial and residential real estate and where these advances have benefits and limitations.
Online property shopping has become a stable of the residential market, and many websites provide the opportunity to look for a home online. The best known, Zillow, has countless options for home buyers and allows them to get much of the information they require in one place.
At its core, Zillow allows you to search through available residential real estate listings in your area. You can also look at pictures, take virtual tours, and connect with a real estate agent through the platform.
More in-depth features include market reports, housing data, and inventory information, with much of this information presented as easy-to-read graphs. In short, Zillow provides a great deal of knowledge throughout the home-buying process. However, it can’t provide you with real, local insight, such as hidden trends or intangible quality-of-life aspects about a neighborhood; only an excellent real estate agent or more profound research by the buyer can do that.
Redfin, RealScout, Realtor.com, and OpenDoor are similar services that list houses and connect buyers with agents. Most real estate companies and agents have websites with their listings and other information, as well. These websites provide value through the ease with which sellers can list, and the easy access and information they give buyers.
Another innovative residential feature worth mentioning is that OpenDoor and Zillow will buy a seller’s home and then list it on the market. Buyers are purchasing directly from these platforms, in some cases.
Keep in mind that all of these services use local real estate agents and brokers to facilitate the deals. However, in the future, websites like Zillow and OpenDoor will likely begin making more direct sales online, adding an entirely new dynamic to the process.
Technology’s influence on residential real estate is evident, and it is becoming more prevalent in the commercial real estate world.
The most talked-about new platform is Ten-X. It links brokers, buyers, and sellers in the CRE industry, making it easier for these properties to change hands. This end-to-end platform can already facilitate an entire sales process, and it dominates the market—Ten-X is behind 90% of all online commercial real estate transactions.
There are also auctions on the platform, so sellers or brokers will set a starting bid, and interested parties can attempt to purchase it with the highest offer getting the property.
Currently, brokers are still a huge part of the process at Ten-X, at least when it comes to selling. However, buyers can place bids or agree to make purchases directly through the platform. This technology is sure to alter the CRE landscape even further as it becomes more common.
It’s easy to see why investors are considering technology like Ten-X, as it provides a quick look at properties all over the country without having to leave the office. This convenience makes the basics of evaluating commercial real estate more accessible than ever before.
But there is a drawback. Online CRE shopping could lead investors to make snap decisions without considering underlying market conditions and vital data that can make or break a deal’s profitability.
When it comes to finding information relevant to your objectives, there’s no substitute for speaking with a local, human expert on the subject. An algorithm or virtual real estate agent can provide you with data. But figuring out what the numbers really mean—or even knowing which data are crucial for your situation—requires a deeper dive.
The same can be said for commercial tenants, as tech seeks to take on some of the responsibilities of a tenant rep advisor. But no platform will help negotiate a deal, find the exact property to suit a business’s needs, or focus on your interests and understand your situation like an advisor does. And in-depth local knowledge is often the difference between a successful contract and a regretful decision.
Thus, some aspects of this CRE tech trend may leave commercial tenants and investors at a disadvantage.
Morris Southeast Group is excited about this technology and how it will provide CRE clients with greater knowledge and access. And we are already using much of it! But where we—and other highly-qualified advisors—shine is in helping commercial real estate investors and tenants conduct due diligence before signing any agreement.
Our team will gather all relevant data, organize inspections, go over the legal contracts, assess your financial goals to ensure the deal is right, “future-proof” decisions, and quite a bit more. And having a SIOR designee advisor on your side is an immensely valuable asset in many transactions.
To learn more about what Morris Southeast Group can do for you, call us at 954.474.1776. Ken Morris is also available directly at 954.240.4400 or email@example.com.
In the rush to predict how an economy crippled by COVID will look, many experts have tossed around the shapes of letters to illustrate how an economic recovery will look. There is the gradual but steady upturn of a U, a V’s immediacy, and the yo-yo effect of a W.
The newest letter to be added to the alphabet soup is K. While it assumes that everyone starts at the same point, it depicts what has taken shape since the virus reached the United States—different trajectories traveling away from each other.
K represents the differences between Wall Street and Main Street, people who can work from home and many of those who can’t, and individuals with the liquid assets to survive or thrive in a recession and those without them.
The K-model can also be applied to commercial real estate, where each sector faces its own unique challenges and opportunities. Some will move upward while others will face a greater struggle during recovery—if they recover at all.
For example, here are a few sectors seen as winners:
Sadly, COVID has had a more substantial negative impact on some sectors. These areas look to have a tougher time bouncing back to pre-pandemic levels:
When looking at the K recovery model, there’s that point where the two trajectories begin their outward journeys. It’s here that some sectors may linger for the foreseeable future before picking a definitive course.
These examples, of course, are far from exhaustive. The crucial lesson of a K-shaped recovery and its impact on CRE is that different properties will have significantly different trajectories. Investors must closely evaluate an investment’s potential in the new environment.
More than likely, the economy will recover in phases. And there may be setbacks (depending on a future surge) and lags (especially in sectors that cater to underprivileged socio-economic communities). At the same time, other factors—consumer confidence, virus positivity rate, cost-control efforts from the corporate sector, the arrival of a vaccine, and a Presidential election—are influencing not only the speed and scope of the recovery but also the exact shape of the K.
As an investor, the reality is that any rebound, regardless of the letter, will take time. Therefore, it’s essential to diligently assess investments and property improvements and choose those that make sense. A regional mall project or an office skyscraper that requires significant capital investment, for example, likely wouldn’t be wise choices.
For assistance in determining how to proceed with an investment or to find the right property for your needs, please call Morris Southeast Group at 954.474.1776. You can also reach Ken Morris directly at 954.240.4400 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The economic impacts of COVID-19 won’t be fully measured for quite some time, but one thing is clear: many commercial real estate owners aren’t receiving rental payments from tenants.
Even as communities reopen, numerous restaurants, personal-service providers, and retailers don’t do enough business to pay their bills. Restaurants operating at 25% of capacity, for example, are seeing revenues well below normal, even though they are now technically open for business. In March, industry experts predicted that 2020 would see a loss of up to 75% of independent restaurants in the United States, representing five to seven million lost jobs and $225 billion in revenue.
Small businesses are unable to pay their bills across the country, leaving commercial real estate landlords to ask, “What about the rent?”
In the spring, as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the federal government imposed a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions, keeping both homeowners and small businesses in their properties during the initial shutdown. But that moratorium expired in July.
In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis extended the statewide moratorium to September 1st. But that extension only applied to residential tenants who have been “adversely affected by the COVID-19 emergency”—the order did not affect CRE rental payments.
Then, on August 8th, 2020, President Donald Trump signed four executive orders for coronavirus relief, including one that was positioned as preventing evictions. That executive order is widely seen as having no legal teeth, however. It merely recommends that federal agencies consider whether a moratorium on residential evictions is needed—it doesn’t actually prevent evictions of any kind.
And while Florida currently has no statewide order preventing commercial real estate evictions, both Miami-Dade and Broward Counties have enacted some moratoriums.
Broward’s “order prohibits the issuance of any writs of possession until normal court operations resume,” and “the sheriff’s office has suspended serving eviction notices during the COVID-19 pandemic.” Miami-Dade has “suspended [police department] enforcement of any eviction orders until the COVID-19 emergency expires.”
Broward County’s order is in place “until further notice,” and Miami-Dade County’s directive is in effect until “expiration of the emergency period”—which was extended on March 18th and remains ongoing.
All rental agreements are contracts, of course. And when contracts lose meaning, much of the foundation of our economy and society unravels.
Landlords are caught in the middle—between compassion for their tenants and the need to make their own mortgage, insurance, and property tax payments. While almost everyone in the CRE equation understands and empathizes with the unique economic burden COVID-19 has placed on businesses, it’s vital that contracts become enforceable again—and that evictions happen when they are absolutely necessary.
In the meantime, is it fair if landlords lose their investments? And what about tenants who may be experiencing temporary economic hardship?
The current situation calls for flexibility and a diligent eye on the longer-term implications of each tenant-landlord relationship. Landlords and tenants should keep open communication lines and review leases to see if any necessary accommodations can be reached as the economy reopens.
Starbucks, for example, has reached out to all of its commercial landlords to renegotiate rental payments.
“Effective June 1st and for at least a period of 12 consecutive months, Starbucks will require concessions to support modified operations and adjustments to lease terms and base rent structures,” said the letter distributed [in May] signed by Starbucks Chief Operating Officer Roz Brewer.
Chipotle Mexican Grill and Shake Shack have followed suit. Dunkin’ Donuts, Applebee’s, and Yum Brands, which includes Pizza Hut, KFC, and Taco Bell, are undertaking similar efforts, including tying terms to lease extensions.
It’s not out of the question to expect this trend to continue as various businesses—large and small—operate under government capacity restrictions and other limitations.
Many landlords hesitate to drop the amount for rental payments to accommodate tenants because “accounting rules still allow them to book income if rent is deferred, as long as it isn’t reduced. Temporary rent forgiveness or discounts would also reduce their property valuations, which could hurt an owner’s ability to get a loan.”
That said, landlords may be able to work out temporary deferments or other measures to keep some income flowing, tenants in business, and property values stable.
Again, landlords and tenants should keep the lines of communication open. If you are a landlord, tell your tenants not just to go dark and stop paying: “Keep us in the loop so we can help, and let us know what’s going on with your income stream.” Having those numbers will make it easier to approach your commercial lenders with renegotiations or forbearance requests.
Also, keep in mind: While landlords might work something out with bank lenders and insurance companies, commercial-backed mortgage securities (CMBS) are another matter. CMBS are a type of financing with no single “entity”—investors pull together into a security instrument, so there is no one to speak with about renegotiating terms.
Thus, if you have CMBS financing, tenants stop paying, and you can’t pay, there’s little you can do. The moment you are late with a payment, the financing goes into special servicing, and the property is in immediate jeopardy.
This creates a unique problem for CRE investors with this type of financing—and getting overdue rent payments or being able to evict non-paying tenants becomes even more critical.
The pandemic continues to contribute to disrupted business and high unemployment, which snowballs into even lower business revenues, among other consequences. All of these factors are affecting the ability of many commercial real estate tenants to pay their rent. The federal government is still working on a follow-up to the CARES Act that may provide some relief, but government assistance can only do so much. And it’s essential for CRE investors to closely monitor the national and local economic outlooks and stay adaptable.
In these most uncertain of times, a trusted advisor and property manager can be a valuable resource. At Morris Southeast Group, we’re closely watching how all of this plays out, and we’ll be sure to keep our readers and clients informed as the situation changes.
If you have questions about CRE investing strategies, property leasing needs, or property management services, call us at 954.474.1776. You can also reach Ken Morris directly at 954.240.4400 or via email at email@example.com.
When it comes to hurricane season, Floridians know the drill: stock up on canned goods and water, fire up the generator for a test run, keep cash on hand, and ensure the storm shutters are in working order. It’s usually the same idea when it comes to weathering a bad economic forecast. For the most part, investors and tenants know the steps to take to somewhat manage an economic downturn.
But hurricanes, as we all know, can be unpredictable—and the COVID recession is proving to be just as difficult to anticipate. The timing of a vaccine, lingering surges of infections, the prospect of a second wave, and the financial fallout of lockdowns and relief packages have resulted in the great unknown. And that, in turn, is creating uncertainty that surpasses that of the Great Recession.
Markets always go through cyclical changes, and these swings are usually separated into four distinct phases, with unique CRE impacts:
COVID-19, though, is making it difficult to predict any of these “normal” phases.
The current factors are mixed. Technically speaking, for example, we have seen more than two consecutive months of employment gains. As of this writing, there have been four straight months of decreasing unemployment, from April’s astounding high of 14.7 million to July’s 10.2 million. But the combination of uncertainties, as well as a full recovery that may be dependent upon a vaccine, has made these “definitive” phases not so well-defined.
The typical first step in grappling with a recession is determining what phase the economy happens to be in. But with so much uncertainty, that’s no easy task.
With the onset of the school year and the potential for new outbreaks—as well as additional phases of reopening and closing—there’s a genuine possibility the market will behave more like a ping pong ball, bouncing back and forth between economic stages.
But there are still ways to analyze the situation and take action:
1. Analysts have speculated about a V-shaped economic recovery (good) or a W-shaped recovery (less than ideal), with the shapes of the letters indicating the course of the economy. But it seems more likely that we’re in for a “K-shaped” recovery, where various sectors rise or fall based on fundamental changes to demand brought on by the pandemic. Thus, evaluate all CRE decisions based on your resources and the unique demand for a potential investment type.
2. Consider property improvements that make sense, if you can afford them. Some actions may not only help maintain the property’s value during a recession but also prepare for new tenant needs in a post-COVID world. Again, evaluate this through the framework of a K-shaped recovery; capital improvements in a smaller office space that make it safer for tenants are likely more valuable than doing anything to a large retail property.
3. Evaluate when and how to keep money on the sidelines, and when you should use it. This piece of advice is tricky, since trying to “time the bottom” of the CRE market is difficult to impossible. This maxim is especially true since specific sectors are trending upward, and we really don’t know what post-election economic sentiment and consumer confidence will look like. Also, record-low interest rates may provide a solid floor for property values. But this level may be broken if the broader economy, including the stock market, drops significantly due to longer-term factors.
Thus, investors must again use the framework of whether an individual investment makes sense in a post-COVID world. Investing in a high-rise structure in an urban center is likely a bad idea, as social distancing requirements and a trend toward remote work make the viability of these properties questionable. Similarly, regional malls are probably big losers. In contrast, a modern office with a smaller footprint and great amenities may still make sense, and any well-located facility that can be used as an e-commerce distribution center is likely to do very well.
Evaluate each opportunity based on how it may play in the new economy—and deploy your capital wisely.
Perhaps no other bit of advice matters more than a reminder to be patient if you can afford to do so. The uncertainty of the pandemic demands a mid- to long-term view, along with the ability to adapt.
Harbor enough liquidity to weather new challenges to investments that you maintain and scrutinize all potential opportunities in light of the pandemic’s significant social and economic changes. The advice that’s vital in any economy applies here, as well: base every decision on a diligent examination of potential ROI.
For assistance in determining how to proceed with an investment or to find the right property for your needs, call Morris Southeast Group at 954.474.1776. You can also reach Ken Morris directly at 954.240.4400 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There’s very little doubt the 2020 global economy isn’t pretty. Ravaged by COVID-19 and government actions to curtail the public health crisis, there is record unemployment, record stimulus-relief packages, and record-low interest rates.
Many view these “easy money” rates as sound economic policy to head-off—or at least better manage—the recession. That said, economists and lenders are looking at the long-term implications for a post-pandemic economy. And in practice, the rates set by lenders are often significantly higher than the target rate set by the federal reserve.
In addition to direction from the Federal Reserve, banks also look to the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). Based on five currencies (the US dollar, the euro, the British pound, the Japanese yen, and the Swiss franc), LIBOR determines the average interest rate at which major global banks borrow and was, at one time, considered the world’s most influential interest number. In the United States, it was the most popular index for adjustable-rate mortgages.
Then came the scandal. More than a decade ago, regulators discovered that traders were manipulating rates set by some of the largest banks in Great Britain. For 10 years, there’s been a phase-out process as countries worldwide seek alternative risk-free reference rates.
COVID-19, though, may be delaying this transition, which was expected to be completed in 2021. In a world of pandemic-related uncertainty, many officials in different markets are sticking with the devil they know rather than look toward something new.
HousingWire states that a Moody’s Investors Service report shows that “Regulators such as the Federal Reserve have increased the nation’s reliance on LIBOR by using it as an index for emergency lending.”
Not looking to repeat the harsh lessons of 2008, banks wandered away from collateralized debt obligations (CDOs)—since such loans made to homebuyers before the subprime housing collapse led to the Great Recession. Instead, lenders shifted toward collateralized loan obligations (CLOs). This has created a new vulnerability:
After the housing crisis, subprime CDOs naturally fell out of favor. Demand shifted to a similar—and similarly risky—instrument, one that even has a similar name: the CLO, or collateralized loan obligation. A CLO walks and talks like a CDO, but in place of loans made to home buyers are loans made to businesses—specifically, troubled companies. CLOs bundle together so-called leveraged loans, the subprime mortgages of the corporate world. These are loans made to companies that have maxed out their borrowing and can no longer sell bonds directly to investors or qualify for a traditional bank loan. There are more than $1 trillion worth of leveraged loans currently outstanding. The majority are held in CLOs.
Loans in a CLO are bundled together, and if they default, the risky bottom layer loses more. Once the lower levels are wiped out, the damage trickles upward to the safest loans. Right now, the CLO market is bigger than the CDO market at its peak.
To offset these losses—pending and actual—banks have kept more capital on hand to protect against a downturn. But no one could have predicted the across-the-board economic wreckage caused by COVID-19.
On their own, CLOs will not eat up capital reserves. But when they’re combined with losses in other asset areas and dried-up revenue sources, financial institutions could be looking at a Lehman Brothers-sized meltdown.
This, of course, had caused them to look for ways to hedge this risk. This effort includes charging interest rates well above the fed target rate and carefully scrutinizing borrowers’ creditworthiness.
On the tips of tongues and in the backs of minds is the idea of post-pandemic inflation. In a sense, it could be the second gut-punch in the fight with COVID-19. In fact, the ingredients are already in the pot—trillions of federal dollars in the economy via loans and relief packages that translate into trillions of dollars of national debt, people out of work, defaulted loans, businesses either shuttered or skimming by, and disruptions in supply chains.
The ingredient that’s missing is a vaccine. That will be a great and glorious day, of course. But once it exists, people could entirely leave lockdowns and resume their consumer lives, which will result in increased demand—but this could involve shortages and stagnant wages that can’t keep up with rising prices. The result is inflation.
It will then fall to the Fed—followed by the banks and other lenders—to determine a course of action to slow it down. Generally speaking, higher interest rates tend to lower inflation—and this, in turn, can slow down available capital for investing.
When it comes to raising capital, most investors turn toward banks or private lenders. In general, banks are typically more affordable but have more requirements to be approved. Private lenders, although more flexible, are often more expensive because they get funds from investors looking for decent returns and/or banks that lend them money. As a result, the private lender’s cost is passed on to the borrower.
The uncertainties surrounding COVID-19, though, are forcing banks and private lenders to apply more stringent risk assessments to loans, and pricing accordingly. For example, while the Fed establishes a specific rate, LIBOR helps the bank determine points above that interest rate, making it more expensive to borrow money.
At the same time, loan standards have tightened to make the process even more rigorous. This includes more significant documentation, larger down payments, and higher credit scores.
Investing in anything has a bit of uncertainty in the best of times. But the current environment has loads of it. To better prepare, investors need to ask themselves some serious questions before raising capital:
Many of the issues raised here are nothing new. In many ways, they’re the same concerns and questions to have during any investment time-frame. COVID, though, demands a heightened awareness because of the degree of uncertainty.
While the cheap cost of capital via low interest rates will drive some investments, an investor must also consider both mid- and long-term scenarios based on intended hold periods and the nature and future of the property.
For assistance in determining how to proceed with an investment or to find the right property for your needs, please call Morris Southeast Group at 954.474.1776. You can also reach Ken Morris directly at 954.240.4400 or via email at email@example.com.
In addition to everything else we can blame on COVID-19, the pandemic has altered what’s important in commercial real estate. Not long ago, landscaping, security, and lighting were among the key elements to increase property values, and often ranked high on the list of tenant wishes.
But with the pandemic and re-openings, the most significant concern is the health and safety of anyone entering a property. Much of that reflects growing health concerns and awareness of how the virus spreads. But there’s also a very practical interest in limiting liability and the potential for lawsuits.
To that end, preventative measures come in numerous shapes, sizes, and price points—and many of them are contingent on property usage.
At the top of any reopening checklist is evaluating the floor plan of the property, followed by making adjustments based on the best practices outlined by leading health authorities, such as the CDC. Generally, this means keeping at least 6’ of space between people, limiting group interactions, and mitigating air-droplet spread.
Steps that some properties are taking include:
By reopening, many commercial properties and their occupants have joined others on the frontlines of the COVID-19 battle. It only makes sense, then, to look to the veterans of the war: hospitals. These facilities have valuable lessons for preventing the spread of diseases to others.
While debates continue about states reopening too quickly, businesses are opening as cases are skyrocketing, and people want to get back to work. For owners, property managers, and tenants, the challenge is ensuring that enough has been done to protect the health and safety of occupants.
The complicating factor in COVID-based property improvements is that people are using commercial spaces differently—and the demand for some buildings is waning. And many of the most useful property upgrades—such as enhanced HVAC systems—are expensive.
Money may seem cheap due to very low interest rates. But many lenders are factoring risk into rates, and some institutions only lend to applicants with exceptional credit and significant resources.
In addition, the benefits of any property improvement must be balanced against the financial risk to owners. Installing a new HVAC system for a 10-story office building, for example, is a major capital investment. This expense may be unrealistic in light of diminished demand for a space and increased demand for shorter leases, which reduces the odds of recouping the investment. Then, there is the risk of lawsuits from customers and employees who may become infected on the premises.
We will cover many of these issues in future blogs. For now, sound advice for tenants and owners is to stay current on best practices for reopening as safely as possible. And everyone must carefully evaluate their financial and health-risk scenarios—and make decisions that make sense for their people and businesses.
At Morris Southeast Group, we stay on top of commercial real estate trends and will continue to update our clients and readers. As always, we are here for all of your CRE needs, including helping you evaluate potential steps to create or lease a safer property.
To learn more about what Morris Southeast Group can do for you, call us at 954.474.1776. You can also reach Ken Morris directly at 954.240.4400 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.