The Housing Chronicles Blog: Worst over for commercial real estate?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Worst over for commercial real estate?

For many months we've continued to hear about the sturm und drang in the commercial real estate market. Where's that crash we keep hearing about? It is just over the horizon, or has that sector of the real estate industry learned the lessons of the housing crash and decided to manage revaluations in a different way? According to a story in the L.A. Times, not only may the worst be over for office buildings, retail stores and industrial properties, but funding is now starting to emerge from the sidelines. From the story:

After nearly three years of declines there are signs that Southern California's beaten-down commercial real estate market has struck bottom — setting up the possibility of a rebound later this year.

In a sign of the easing, heavyweight investors armed with buckets of cash are on the prowl, looking to snap up office buildings, warehouses, shopping centers and apartments at the market's low, industry observers say. The buyers are choosy, but the most desirable buildings elicit bidding wars when they come up for sale...

Although commercial building landlords in many markets are still struggling with high vacancy rates and weak rents, the erosion in some sectors has slowed, piquing the interest of buyers. In addition, reinvigorated banks have been able to postpone or avoid liquidating billions of dollars' worth of distressed real estate loans sitting on their books, helping to solidify prices.

In a similar fashion, Southern California's housing market hit bottom more than a year ago and prices have been trudging higher ever since, partly because a feared wave of fresh foreclosures hasn't materialized.

If the commercial real estate market continues to gain strength it would represent a significant shift in economic risk because many experts had feared that mass defaults by landlords on their loans could cripple banks and drive the country deeper into recession.

"It's true that thousands of commercial loans must be worked out and some of these properties will enter the market in 2010," investment banker David Rifkind said. But "federal policy has been accommodating to banks and they are not being forced to realize losses."

With rents falling and the economy trembling, commercial real estate transactions had been rare during the downturn. Owners were holding on in hopes that prices would stop falling and buyers were holding back, waiting for the low point.

But a philosophical change has become apparent among investors, Rifkind said.

"There is so much money sitting on the sidelines that when distressed assets or even small pools of loans come to market, there is a flood" of interest, said Rifkind, managing partner of George Smith Partners.

"That became palpable to us in the first quarter," he said. "Money can't stay on the sidelines for long periods of time. It has to retool and be put to use."...

Click here for the entire story.

No comments: