Leaders in the field of Minnesota commercial real estate expect to see a continuation of the favorable market conditions for commercial real estate that we have been experiencing for the past two to three years.
May 2016 Results
The semi-annual Minnesota Commercial Real Estate Survey conducted in May 2016 has produced some interesting results. Overall, the survey continues to indicate a slightly less than neutral expectation looking ahead two years to spring 2018 for commercial real estate. The composite index was recorded at 46. This is the sixth consecutive survey where the composite index has been in the 46 – 48 range. Index values greater than 50 represent a more optimistic view of the market over the next two years, with values of less than 50 indicating a more pessimistic view. Although the composite index level is similar to previous surveys the pattern of the individual indexes in the current survey is very different.
As was done with all ten of the previous surveys, the same group of 50 commercial real estate industry leaders involved in development, finance, and investment were polled regarding their expectations of near-term, future commercial real estate activity. One thing we have observed in the current survey is there is less variation in the responses and that has caused a more uniform response rate reflecting the panel’s increased certainty in their views. The individual indexes are detailed below:
Less optimistic outlook that rents will continue to increase at current rates. Market conditions expected in spring 2018 are best described by the price for space (rental rates) and the supply of space (occupancy levels). The index for rental rates has declined from a highly optimistic 66 to a somewhat less optimistic 60. This is an indication of an expectation of a moderation of rent growth over the next two years. Higher rents help to offset the increased costs of new construction. A slowdown in rent growth puts pressure on expected returns that will be achieved by developers and owners.
A continued neutral outlook on expected occupancy levels. The index for occupancy levels increased slightly from 50 to 52. Despite the increase, the panelists continue in their expectation that occupancy levels will remain steady at current levels. As new buildings have been completed it takes some time for the market to absorb the new space. Over the last 2 years the occupancy index has been drifting downward towards a neutral expectation concerning the demand for space.
Land Price Expectations
Increases in land prices are expected to moderate. The panel’s outlook for land prices reveals an expectation that land prices will increase at a slower rate between now and spring 2018. The land price index has increased (become less pessimistic) for the third consecutive survey moving from 37 last fall to 40 this fall this spring. The low point for the index was recorded at 31 in the fall 2013 survey. This sentiment while still in pessimistic territory indicates an expectation that land prices will moderate their rate of increase during the next two years. Increasing land prices increase total project costs and are a hindrance to new development, making it more difficult to obtain financing and adequate returns for investors.
Building Material Price Expectations
Increases in the price of building materials are also expected moderate. The spring 2016 survey reveals that for the fourth consecutive survey our panel continues to become less pessimistic about the rate of increase in price of building materials. The building material index moved from a strongly negative 32 to a somewhat less negative 37, reflecting the panel’s opinion that building material price increases are expected to moderate. Since building materials are a major cost component of any development project any improvement in prices will be favorable for future development.
Return on Investment Expectations
Investors return expectations remain unchanged over the next two years. The index for investor’s return expectations has increased slightly for the third consecutive survey at 48. Although this index value is slightly pessimistic, it is essentially neutral. The consensus among survey respondents continues to indicate that investors expected returns will not change significantly in the next two years. Investors will continue to seek out quality investments but they are being much more diligent about how they price risk and evaluate return when considering their investment options.
More equity is expected to be required. The index for the amount of equity required by lenders decreased significantly, falling from 51 in to 42. This indicates the panel’s strong belief that credit will be available for good projects but lenders will increase their equity requirements in the coming two years. The good news is that more equity should result in better rates and terms; however, the bad news is that in many cases equity is harder to find and more expensive than debt.
To summarize the panel is expecting to see a continuation of the favorable market conditions for commercial real estate that we have been experiencing for the last 2 to 3 years, however there will be some differences as to why this will happen. The panel has moved from a positive to a neutral position on occupancy. With all of the new product coming on line it is expected that given a little time the market will be able to absorb all of the new space but while this happens occupancy rates will be depressed in the short run. Additionally, the panel expects to see continued rent growth, however, that growth will be at a slower rate as new product comes on line and is absorbed. Development efforts will be helped by an expected moderation in the rate of increase in land prices and building materials. The panel is also expecting to see lenders tighten their lending standards somewhat. That results in lower loan amounts and higher equity requirements on development projects. Higher equity requirements makes development more difficult since equity dollars are more expensive and using less debt financing tends to reduce the rate of return on a project. Overall, our panelists see continuing activity at or near present levels in most categories of commercial real estate during the next two years.