June 20, 2012

The Wednesday Wrap: June 20, 2012

Each Wednesday, The Wrap presents a compilation of recent noteworthy commercial real estate stories from a variety of publications. Below are five stories that caught our eyes in recent days.

• "Class-A Office Leasing Picks Up, Mostly in Gateway Markets" — by Elaine Misonzhnik of NREI.

The wide gap between the demand for office properties in central business districts and those in suburban areas continues as businesses concerned over current economic turmoil are holding off on large-scale expansions, Misonzhnik reports. Those firms that do expand are choosing space in the downtown areas of gateway cities.

Even as the office sector shows positive net absorption for the fifth straight quarter and asking rents have increased slightly, the national vacancy rate of 17.2 percent is still nearly five percentage points higher than its most recent low in 2007.

One major worry for businesses is the economic crisis in the eurozone. “Everybody is pretty nervous right now about what’s going on in Europe and companies are reluctant to take on expansion space,” Robert Bach, senior vice president and chief economist for Grubb & Ellis, tells Misonzhnik. “Vacancies are declining; rents are flat for the most part, but increasing modestly in the best buildings in a few markets. But overall, the office market is not setting the world on fire right now. It’s a half-speed recovery.”

• "Big-Box Space Remains Hard to Fill" — by Kris Hudson of The Wall Street Journal.

Vacancies caused by the collapse of Borders have been hard to fill for many shopping centers, causing high vacancy rates, falling rents and debt defaults at many sites, Hudson reports.

According to Colliers International, one-third of closed Borders stores are still vacant. When landlords finally find replacement tenants, they’re leasing at rates about 30 percent lower on average than what Borders paid, resulting in weaker cash flows. Many landlords also are facing discontent among other tenants due to lessened traffic, Hudson notes.

As most big-box retailers continue to struggle because of the economy and current shopping trends, some developers are abandoning the big-box concept all together. “Some industry watchers believe that big-box centers are facing problems that go beyond a weak economy,” Hudson writes. “Rather, they suggest that these shopping centers are going to suffer long-term declines because Internet shopping offers more choice and greater ease.”

• "Pace of Recovery Accelerates For Lower-End CRE Properties" —by Randyl Drummer of CoStar.

Commercial real estate investors are looking outside primary markets and the best buildings for their purchases, according to this month’s CoStar Commercial Repeat Sales Indices report. The data shows that the price recovery originally felt by the largest and most expensive buildings is now broadening to the rest of the commercial real estate market.

The CoStar report also comments on a number of other trends in the industry: the share of commercial property purchases by European buyers has almost tripled in the last year; time on the market prior to sale is decreasing; and the sale of distressed property is also declining.

• "Seniors Housing Vital Signs Will Continue to Strengthen, Says M&M" — by Matt Valley of REBusinessOnline.com.

Certain segments of the seniors housing market are improving, according to a new research report by Marcus & Millichap Real Estate Investment Services. Both average occupancy and rents for independent living properties, the segment hit the hardest during the recession, are expected to rise.

“As nationwide occupancy for traditional apartments has soared over the past two years, rents have climbed to a level where traditional apartments are no longer a major substitute for independent living units,” Gary Lucas, director of the National Seniors Housing Group at Marcus & Millichap, tells Valley. “A short time ago, the independent living sector was the weakest, but now it is the second strongest and still has room to strengthen.”

Demand for senior housing is expected to grow as the economy recovers and the number of Americans over the age of 75 continues to swell.

• "Promising Signs for Commercial Real Estate" — by Carisa Chappell of REIT.

Those in the REIT industry are optimistic about their sector’s performance for the remainder of the year, according to a new survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Urban Land Institute.

REITs generally are reporting healthy returns so far this year, a trend they expect to continue for the second half of 2012. REIT leaders also noted big improvements for the industrial sector, which showed gains in manufacturing, and added that the multifamily and retail sectors both appear stronger.

Europe’s financial crisis, however, casts a shadow over those in the REIT sector and the larger commercial real estate market. “The failure and break-up of the eurozone and a Greek default would be pretty dark scenarios that are weighing on investor sentiment,” Arthur Jones, an economist with CBRE Group Inc., tells Chappell.

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