ASU Report Claims Commercial Real Estate On Upswing, Experts Still Cautious

Above: Arizona Business Magazine July/August 2011 Real Estate | 22 Jul, 2011 |

Is Commercial Real Estate On the Upswing?

While many people have been watching the housing-market crisis in the Valley, fewer have paid attention to the situation in commercial real estate. Industrial and office space, retail and multi-family units are among the types of properties also affected by the recent real estate plunge. However, a recent report from the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University finds that although the housing market is still struggling, the commercial market may be starting to rebound.

“While the Phoenix-area residential housing market declined for more than three years, the commercial real estate market drop lasted less than a year and a half,” says Karl Guntermann, the Fred E. Taylor Professor of Real Estate at ASU, who authored the fourth quarter 2010 Repeat Sales Index Report (ASU-RSI) with research associate Adam Nowak.

However, Craig Henig, managing director for CB Richard Ellis, has a different take on the data.

“This report offers a clear picture of repeat sales for residential, commercial and segments of the multi-family market — on a macro-level,” he says. “However, the indices used to complete the study are trailing indicators and not necessarily what’s happening today.

“In addition, the report does not provide a breakdown or data about exact submarkets or residential and commercial property types, which would tell us which specific areas of the market or product types are still struggling or are in fact beginning to show signs of improvement,” he continues.

According to research by Cassidy Turley BRE, there have been some “glimpses” of recovery. However, the overall commercial real estate market is still relatively flat. Cassidy Turley BRE’s research adds that until significant job gains are made,
vacancies in the Greater Phoenix market cannot be absorbed because companies will not consider expanding, opening new locations or even starting new businesses.

The commercial real estate market first went negative in 2008, and by the end of 2009, commercial prices in Metro Phoenix had bottomed out at an unprecedented annual rate of decline of almost 40 percent. The new figures from ASU show that by the end of 2010, prices had already bounced back to almost a 13-percent annual rate of increase.

“Big investors are starting to buy up some of these commercial properties for 50 to 60 cents on the dollar,” Guntermann explains in his report. “Long term, the Phoenix market still has the fundamentals for growth, so they see real investment opportunities here.”

Guntermann’s report adds that developers aren’t building commercial properties right now, so no new supply is being added. This means that as the economy picks up and demand increases in the next few years, it will take a while for developers of new properties to catch up.

The ASU study is based on repeat sales and uses the same methodology as the S&P/Case-Shiller index, which was developed for 20 national housing markets. Repeat sales compare the prices of a single property against itself at different points in time, instead of comparing different properties with different quality factors.

Those in the industry put a lot of stock in the S&P/Case-Shiller index, but they say that it is a better gauge when discussing the single-family home market as opposed to commercial properties.

“This type of index only partially shows the overarching trends of the CRE industry,” says Daniel H. Pollack of Pollack Investments. “As a result of removing ‘sales with extremely high or low prices per square foot,’ the true market moving transactions are ignored. … Without these sales, the picture painted by the index is not a true representation of what is happening currently in this market.”

Pollack adds that the report does not explore factors such as large changes in supply, customer preferences and demographic shifts.

“Overall, the ASU-RSI is a good general barometer of what is happening in the market, but it fails to capture what is going on at the street level or to give any indication of how the Phoenix market compares to the rest of the country,” Pollack says. “These are both critical factors for any serious CRE professional to consider when analyzing a market.”

Arizona Business Magazine July/August 2011

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