Monday, September 21, 2009

Commercial Real Estate - JLL Experts Predict Few Changes in 2010

Though the Dallas-Fort Worth area hasn’t totally escaped the recession or its impact on commercial real estate, the area has gotten off lightly, compared to other areas of the country. Experts from Jones Lang LaSalle, including executive chairman Americas Roger Staubach hosted a panel this morning to discuss how the area fared in 2009 and what's ahead in the near-to-mid term.
Preceding the event, JLL experts Paul Whitman and Jack Crews talked with GlobeSt.com and agreed on the same thing. Namely, the bottom of the market is still a ways off, meaning 2010 probably won't be much of an improvement over 2009.

"The reason we have not hit bottom is because there are so many hundreds of billions of dollars of loans out there that have not been addressed," comments Whitman, president of JLL's Dallas office. "Many loans taken out on properties bought between 2005 and 2008 are approaching expiration. Until those have been addressed, we can't hit bottom."

"With some $1.2 trillion in debt maturing over the next four years, some of that will have to be sold," adds Crews, managing director of JLL's capital markets group. "We can't blend and extend, as they're calling it. We can't keep pushing loans. We have to face reality at some point in time."
On the investment side, despite upbeat press about banks shoring up balance sheets, liquidity still hasn't hit the market in the form of debt. "Without debt, there are no transactions to step forward," explains Crews, who is managing director of JLL's capital markets group. "We have kind of a Mexican standoff."

Adding to the standoff, he continues, are buyers and sellers who can't agree on value. "Sellers aren't over the shock of the market and are still asking too much, while buyers, who are greedy for rock-bottom prices, simply aren't willing to step up and pay," he remarks.

What this all means is asset trades will continue to be slow in the coming year, while leasing of industrial and office product will continue to be impacted. More speculative office space than industrial space has hit the market in the DFW area since 2000. On the positive side, the amount of spec office space available is nowhere near the amount that hit the market in the 1980s. Because of this, Crews and Whitman predict a few foreclosures in 2010, but nothing near to what happened to 30 years ago.

"During the decade of the 1980s, we built 134 million square feet of office space," Whitman explains. "About 30% overall of our office space today was built back then." But only 52 million square feet has been added to the total since 2010. "If you're looking for good news," Whitman comments, "it's that we don't have an abundance of things under construction when the music stops."

Crews says another interesting aspect of the Dallas-Fort Worth area that could impact investment here is perception from the outside community. During previous recessions, investors have regarded the area as "dregs of the downturn," Crews comments. But in this particular cycle, the area's fundamentals in terms of job growth and cycle and performance of existing assets is actually quote good. "We're still getting branded as not the best city to be in, but we're clearly looked at favorably in the eyes of job growth," he comments.

Crews' advice? Cooperation.

"Everyone has to work together," he comments. "If buyers remain greedy and want bottom-of-the-barrel pricing, they won't buy much."If sellers are using 2006 sales comps as an exit strategy, they won't go anywhere. It's a great time to make a great buy, but you can't do much if you're greedy."

Meanwhile, on the leasing side, Whitman suggests building owners, whether office or industrial, need to show their financial strength and ability to the market and not hide their lights under a bushel. "This is unlike any other time in that tenants are asking for a thorough understanding of financial underpinnings of a deal," he explains. "They'll steer away from buildings that are undercapitalized, or landlords who are not able to pay tenant improvements or leasing commissions."

On the other side of the coin, tenants need to take advantage of the opportunities – but cautiously. "They have to protect themselves in the unlikely event that their building will be foreclosed on," Whitman remarks. "They need to take steps to ensure they'll get the allowances to build out their spaces and so on."