The U.S. commercial real estate market is showing ever greater signs of stress, but there are still few deals to be had.
Transactions fell 68 per cent in the second quarter across all property types compared with 2019 as potential buyers and sellers remained far apart on the prices of buildings, according to data released Wednesday by Real Capital Analytics.
The paralysis set in despite near-record amounts of capital ready to be deployed by some of the world’s biggest real estate investors.
“The buyer and seller expectations are not aligned,” said Simon Mallinson, an executive managing director at RCA. “Sellers aren’t being forced to the market because there’s no realized distress and buyers are sitting on the sidelines thinking there’s going to be distress.”
Second-quarter sales plunged 70 per cent for apartments, 71 per cent for offices, 73 per cent for retail and 91 per cent for hotels, according to RCA. Industrial property transactions were a brighter spot. Sales dropped only 50 per cent in the second quarter, as online shopping thrived and manufacturers leased space to avoid supply chain disruptions.
For markets to function, there needs to be some agreement on what assets are worth. But the surging coronavirus outbreak is fueling uncertainty, making the outlook for commercial property just as cloudy as it was in March when lockdowns put the economy into deep freeze.
Whether investors will come off the sidelines any time soon remains to be seen. Private real estate funds had about US$273 billion for property purchases at the end of June, little changed from the record US$281 billion six months earlier, according to Preqin Ltd.
Blackstone Abandons US$20 Million Deposit on Scrapped Office Deal
With the economic fallout from the pandemic mounting, deals have fallen apart or are being reworked. The buyer of the iconic Transamerica pyramid in San Francisco is going forward with its deal — but at a 10 per cent price cut from what it negotiated at the beginning of the year, according to people familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified discussing private talks.
More than US$32 billion of hotel and retail real estate was newly distressed in the first half of 2020, as rent delinquencies soared and borrowers missed payments, according to RCA.
Approximately US$90 billion more of commercial real estate is “potentially troubled,” RCA reported, meaning it’s in a forbearance plan, suffering rent collection problems or early-stage delinquencies. That includes US$14.5 billion for offices and US$20 billion for apartments.
Still, delinquent borrowers don’t face pressure to sell yet. Lenders are focused on ways to buy time, delaying distressed property from coming to market, according to Lisa Pendergast, executive director of the CRE Finance Council, a commercial real estate trade group.
“It’s becoming clearer, especially with the resurgence in cases across the country, that a three-month forbearance is not really going to satisfy the situation,” she said. “So there are other things that can be done. A lot of that has to do with loan modifications.”
Prices have also been propped up by low interest rates. Low borrowing costs mean investors can expect higher returns on real estate than Treasury bonds, even if vacancy rates rise or tenant delinquencies increase, according to Michael Fascitelli, former chief executive officer of Vornado Realty Trust.
“The cost of money is one of the biggest costs of an asset for real estate,” Fascitelli said recently.
Home sales, average price decline in April from March
Home sales fell 12.5% in April from March, with the average selling price also declining slightly on the month, data from the Canadian Real Estate Association showed on Monday.
The actual national average selling price was C$696,000 in April, falling 2.9% from March but up 41.9% from a year earlier as it was compared with a sharp decline in April 2020 amid the first wave of COVID-19, the industry group said.
Actual sales, not seasonally adjusted, rose 256% from a year earlier, while the group’s Home Price Index was up 23.1% on the year and up 2.4% from March.
(Reporting by Julie Gordon in Ottawa; Editing by Andrew Heavens)
Canada housing starts fall 19.8% on month in April
The seasonally adjusted annualized rate of housing starts fell to 268,631 units from a revised 334,759 units in March, Canada‘s national housing agency said. Analysts had expected 280,000 unit starts in April.
(Reporting by Julie Gordon in Ottawa; Editing by Gareth Jones)
Towns grapple with big-city-like real estate boom
Small cities and cottage towns across Canada are grappling with the fallout of surging popularity amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as urbanites flock in, driving up home prices with big-city-style bidding wars and putting pressure on municipal services.
The growing demand has led to some small Canadian communities seeing house prices jump more than 75% in one year.
“The small towns are getting hit hard. They’re getting interest like they’ve never had before,” said Stephan Gauthier, an Ottawa real estate agent who is increasingly helping clients buy in villages well outside the city. (Graphic: Annual price gains in select Canadian cities and towns,)
The eye-watering gains in Canada are mirroring similar trends in New Zealand, Australia and Britain, where rural home prices are accelerating faster than in cities as avid buyers rush to snatch up cheaper small-town properties and as white-collar workers bet on being able to work from home even after the pandemic ends.
The boom in Canada has builders flooding into smaller communities. More homes mean more demand for drinking water and wastewater treatment, forcing some towns to fast-track expensive infrastructure projects.
For locals, the influx of city people is a double-edged sword. New residents are breathing life and diversity into places where – before the pandemic – schools were closing and many businesses struggled through the winter.
But the soaring housing prices are locking locals out of the real estate market, and competition for rentals means many people can no longer afford to live locally, leaving small-business owners scrambling for staff.
Even existing homeowners, whose home values have risen sharply, are unable to move up the property ladder as the gap to the next rung widens past their means.
“You want people to come here and help build the community. But at what cost to the people who have been here for literally generations?” said Nancy Cherwinka, who lives in Prince Edward County, a peninsula in Lake Ontario known for its wineries and beaches.
MOVE TO THE COUNTRY
Roughly 75,000 people left Toronto and Montreal – Canada‘s two biggest cities and main COVID-19 hot spots – for other parts of their respective provinces of Ontario and Quebec in the year up to July 2020, the largest such migration since at least 2001, according to the latest Statistics Canada data.
For Prince Edward County, about 200 km (125 miles) east of Toronto, that migration has helped drive house prices up 78.5% on the year, putting ownership out of reach for many local residents. The average selling price of a home there in April was C$740,112 ($610,000).
“Now the rental market has gone nuts,” said Chuck Dowdall, executive director of the Prince Edward County Affordable Housing Corporation, with potential home buyers giving up on buying, and renting instead.
The rental crunch is making it difficult for small businesses to hire and retain staff, even if they pay above minimum wage.
It is a struggle that Samantha Parsons and her husband, owners of Parsons Brewing Company, know well. They built a small bunkhouse next to their brewery to house workers temporarily and have even had staff stay with them. This year, they arranged a lease for a three-bedroom home for employees.
“You have to be creative,” said Parsons, adding they still lose out on talent because of the housing challenge.
IF YOU BUILD IT
To tackle the housing crisis, Prince Edward County is planning for more than 3,000 housing starts through 2026, including dozens of below-market rental units.
That boom is putting pressure on municipal services, notably aging water infrastructure. The region is hastening plans to spend C$68 million ($56.2 million) on its water and wastewater system, with developers on the hook for much of the bill.
New-home construction is also surging in other smaller centers across Canada, with rural starts in the first quarter of 2021 at their highest point since 2008. (Graphic: Canada rural housing starts, )
In Collingwood, Ontario, a four-season resort town about 145 km (90 miles) northwest of Toronto, the population boom has forced the community to pause all new-home construction while it sorts out how to address its critical water shortage.
In Nelson, a former mining town in British Columbia’s Kootenay mountains, a pandemic-driven explosion of infill and coach housing is forcing the small city to expand its wastewater and water infrastructure sooner than planned.
“We were heading down that road anyway … but now it’s been accelerated. So that’s going to put us a little bit on our back foot,” said Mayor John Dooley, adding that the sewage treatment plant alone will cost about C$25 million.
Dooley said Nelson hoped to split the costs with the province and federal government.
Back in Prince Edward County, about half the children at a rural daycare are new to the community since the pandemic. At the sister daycare in town, a quarter of students are newcomers. Enrollment at local schools is also up, reversing a trend that had led to closures in previous years.
More young families living in the community will ultimately be beneficial, said Cherwinka, as long as they stick around once life goes back to normal.
“Hopefully they stay, hopefully it’s not just a pandemic solution,” she said. “Hopefully it’s long term.”
($1 = 1.2092 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting by Julie Gordon in Ottawa; Additional reporting by Andy Bruce in London; Editing by Peter Cooney)
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