Grubb & Ellis Predicts Commercial Real Estate Will Decline More Slowly in 2010, Recovery to Begin in Early 2011

Chief Economist Bob Bach: 'Freefall is over, confidence to make decisions returns'

Jan 04, 2010, 09:00 ET from Grubb & Ellis Company

SANTA ANA, Calif., Jan. 4 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- Grubb & Ellis Company (NYSE: GBE), a leading real estate services and investment firm, today released its 2010 Real Estate Forecast, which indicates that 2010 commercial real estate fundamentals will decline more slowly than in 2009, with most property types reaching bottom near the end of the year and beginning a slow recovery starting in 2011.

"The national economy has begun a slow and cautious recovery, but the labor market, which often lags the broader economy, will turn around only gradually with sustained improvement unlikely before the second half of 2010. Because commercial real estate lags the labor market, it still has a ways to go before reaching its own low point," said Bob Bach, senior vice president, chief economist of Grubb & Ellis. "The good news is that the freefall we saw in 2009 is over and the future is more certain, giving owners and users of real estate the confidence to begin making decisions again."

Commercial Real Estate Investment Transaction Volume to Grow in 2010

The investment market, which saw transaction volume maintain artificially low levels in 2009 as banks, CMBS servicers and other lenders delayed working through distressed assets, will start to see some of these assets finally come to market in 2010, prompting an increase in sales volume of 20 to 30 percent over 2009 levels. Prices, already down 40 percent from their peak in October 2007, may decline another 10 to 20 percent in order to meet buyers' expectations.

"Many have called commercial real estate 'the next shoe to drop,' but that's really an exaggeration," said Bach. "It implies that commercial real estate could wreak damage on the financial system equivalent to the subprime residential mortgage losses, which is highly unlikely because the value of outstanding commercial mortgages is a fraction of the value of outstanding residential mortgages. Nevertheless, losses will mount over the next several years. If banks aren't lending because they're coping with losses in their real estate portfolios, this could impede the economic recovery."

Overall, the fact that banks likely will begin writing off their losses on distressed assets in 2010 means that the capital accumulating on the sidelines will start being deployed, and highly leveraged buildings, many without the capital necessary to attract tenants, will transfer to new ownership, removing what was a major impediment to recovery in the investment market.

Office Vacancy Rates Will Reach Modern-Day Record

Nationally, the office market begins 2010 approaching record-high vacancy rates and the most sublease space available since the "dot-bomb" era. According to Grubb & Ellis, a rebound in the office sector is heavily dependent upon employment, and the slow job growth inherent in a sluggish recovery will delay improvement in the office market.

"Early 2010 may see a few isolated months of hiring, but sustained growth in employment is unlikely before the second half of the year," said Bach. "The fact that the recession has come and gone, however, should provide the certainty necessary for tenants to start making decisions. We may see leasing volume increase in 2010 as a result."

The national office market's vacancy rate is expected to reach 18.5 to 19 percent by the end of 2010, the highest on record since Grubb & Ellis began tracking the national market in 1986. Other leasing fundamentals are also expected to continue to deteriorate, albeit at a slower pace before reaching a growth point in 2011. The company expects the market to register an additional 25 million square feet of negative net absorption and rental rates to decline 2 percent in 2010, compared to 62 million square feet of negative net absorption and a 5-percent reduction in rental rates in 2009.

Each year, Grubb & Ellis ranks the Top 10 local markets in terms of long-term investment potential in the office, industrial, retail and multi housing sectors (a complete listing follows the release). In the office sector, Austin, Texas, took the top spot on Grubb & Ellis' Investment Opportunity Monitor, a proprietary market ranking in which Grubb & Ellis annually measures 59 office, 54 industrial, 53 retail and 56 apartment markets against 13 to 17 criteria important to the performance of real estate investments. Austin, Raleigh-Durham, N.C. (No. 5), and Denver (No. 10) are all anchored by top-notch universities and state governments, and the cities offer advanced business bases and the ability to attract young, educated workers.

Four of the top 10 markets for long-term office investment - Los Angeles (No. 3), Orange County (No. 7), San Diego (No. 8) and San Francisco (No. 9) - are in California, which despite tax structure issues and sweeping budget cuts at the state level, also hosts many corporate headquarters and is able to attract young, educated workers.

Bolstered by demand from the federal government, Washington, D.C., takes the No. 2 spot, while Houston's reputation for excellence in the energy industry places it at No. 6. Portland, Ore., with its urban growth boundary, comes in at No. 4.

Recovery in Sight for Industrial Market

Despite increases in vacancy and negative net absorption, economic indicators that generate demand for industrial space saw upticks in late 2009. These include global trade, freight shipments, manufacturing activity and even retail sales. This, along with the weakness of the dollar, hints that a recovery in the industrial market could be on the horizon.

Leading market indicators for the industrial sector turned earlier than those for the retail and office markets, Grubb & Ellis reports. The company also notes that the industrial sector is less dependent on job growth than the office, retail and multi housing sectors, which means it could recover earlier, with vacancy rates beginning a gradual recovery in late 2010 and rental rates following in the second half of 2011.

Vacancy in the industrial sector is expected to reach 11.4 percent by the end of 2010, 70 basis points higher than year-end 2009. Landlords will have to weather 75 million square feet of negative net absorption, though that figure represents less than half of the 158 million square feet of negative net absorption in 2009. Warehouse rents will decline 5 percent, an improvement over the 6 percent decline in 2009.

As the manufacturing sector and global trade bounce back, look for port-related industrial markets to lead the recovery - those anchored by either sea ports or inland ports. Although many companies continue to divert shipments from West Coast ports to East and Gulf Coast ports, Los Angeles still ranks No. 1 on Grubb & Ellis' Investment Opportunity Monitor. The Los Angeles market has little land available for new development, limiting supply, while the ports serve a large local population of 21 million in Southern California as well as the fast-growing Southwest. Other West Coast markets offering opportunities for investors are Oakland/East Bay, Calif. (No. 4), Seattle (No. 5), and Portland, Ore. (No. 9). Those markets benefiting from increased traffic to East and Gulf Coast ports include Houston (No. 2), Dallas (No. 6), Miami (No. 8) and Philadelphia (No. 10). Atlanta (No. 3) and Chicago (No. 7), both leading regional logistics hubs, also made the list.

Retail Sector Faces "New Normal"

With a significant recovery in job growth unlikely to get underway until later in 2010, Grubb & Ellis expects the national retail vacancy rate to continue to climb, contributing to additional negative net absorption. Recovery in retail will be weak in 2010, but it will begin to generate demand for retail real estate starting in 2011.

"It's unlikely the shock of the Great Recession will produce a generation of frugal consumers like the Great Depression did, but on the other hand, retail sales will not bounce back to their debt-fueled levels of 2006 and 2007 anytime soon. Retailers and owners of retail real estate will need to adapt to a 'new normal' in consumer attitudes that may last for some time, including more conservatism and attention to value as households rebuild their savings," Bach noted.

Prospects for employment and population growth, which serve as drivers for the top office markets, also denote the top retail investment markets. Markets from California, Texas and the East Coast dominate, according to Grubb & Ellis' Investment Opportunity Monitor, with Los Angeles ranked No. 1, followed by Houston (No. 2), Dallas (No. 3) and Raleigh-Durham, N.C. (No. 4). Atlanta (No. 5), Washington, D.C. (No. 6), Austin (No. 7), San Diego (No. 8), Portland, Ore. (No. 9), and San Francisco (No. 10) round out the list.

Multi Housing to Benefit from Boomers' Babies

Similar to the other sectors of commercial real estate, job growth is key for a robust recovery in the multi housing arena. The apartment market suffered in 2009 as college graduates had trouble finding jobs and the growing wave of residential foreclosures increased the supply of shadow units - unsold condominiums and houses being offered for rent. Longer term, apartments will benefit from the decline of homeownership rates to pre-bubble levels or less, as well as increased volume of 20- to 29-year-old apartment seekers as the boomers' kids move out on their own.

Of the Top 10 apartment markets ranked by Grubb & Ellis' Investment Opportunity Monitor, six are on the West Coast - five in California alone - with the remaining four markets located on the East Coast. With the exception of Atlanta (No. 7), which has shown an incredibly high level of growth over the past decade, all of the markets offer barriers to entry and high home prices. Los Angeles ranks first, followed by Washington, D.C., Orange County, Calif., San Diego, Oakland/East Bay, Calif., Long Island, N.Y., Atlanta, Portland, Ore., Westchester County, N.Y., and San Francisco.

About Grubb & Ellis

Named to The Global Outsourcing 100(TM) in 2009 by the International Association of Outsourcing Professionals(TM), Grubb & Ellis Company (NYSE: GBE) is one of the largest and most respected commercial real estate services and investment companies in the world. Our 6,000 professionals in more than 130 company-owned and affiliate offices draw from a unique platform of real estate services, practice groups and investment products to deliver comprehensive, integrated solutions to real estate owners, tenants and investors. The firm's transaction, management, consulting and investment services are supported by highly regarded proprietary market research and extensive local expertise. Through its investment subsidiaries, the company is a leading sponsor of real estate investment programs that provide individuals and institutions the opportunity to invest in a broad range of real estate investment vehicles, including public non-traded real estate investment trusts (REITs), tenant-in-common (TIC) investments suitable for tax-deferred 1031 exchanges, mutual funds and other real estate investment funds. For more information, visit


    Top 10 Markets 2010-2014

    United States                       Overall Score*                   Rank
    Austin, Texas                                 77.8                      1
    Washington, D.C.                              77.4                      2
    Los Angeles                                   73.6                      3
    Portland, Ore.                                70.9                      4
    Raleigh-Durham, N.C.                          69.6                      5
    Houston                                       69.4                      6
    Orange County, Calif.                         69.0                      7
    San Diego                                     67.4                      8
    San Francisco                                 65.1                      9
    Denver                                        62.8                     10

    *Markets were ranked from 0 to 100 against 13 property, economic and
     demographic variables.

    Top 10 Markets 2010-2014

    United States                       Overall Score*                   Rank
    Los Angeles                                   77.7                      1
    Houston                                       77.4                      2
    Atlanta                                       70.3                      3
    Oakland/East Bay, Calif.                      64.9                      4
    Seattle                                       64.3                      5
    Dallas                                        63.5                      6
    Chicago                                       59.9                      7
    Miami                                         56.6                      8
    Portland, Ore.                                56.4                      9
    Philadelphia                                  53.1                     10

    *Markets were ranked from 0 to 100 against 14 property, economic and
     demographic variables.

    Top 10 Markets 2010-2014

    United States                       Overall Score*                   Rank
    Los Angeles                                   75.8                      1
    Houston                                       69.9                      2
    Dallas                                        68.2                      3
    Raleigh-Durham, N.C.                          67.4                      4
    Atlanta                                       66.3                      5
    Washington, D.C.                              62.5                      6
    Austin, Texas                                 60.6                      7
    San Diego                                     56.1                      8
    Portland, Ore.                                55.8                      9
    San Francisco                                 52.6                     10

    *Markets were ranked from 0 to 100 against 17 property, economic and
     demographic variables.

    Top 10 Markets 2010-2014

    United States                       Overall Score*                   Rank
    Los Angeles                                   64.8                      1
    Washington, D.C.                              60.5                      2
    Orange County, Calif.                         60.1                      3
    San Diego                                     58.3                      4
    Oakland/East Bay, Calif.                      58.1                      5
    Long Island, N.Y.                             56.5                      6
    Atlanta                                       55.7                      7
    Portland, Ore.                                55.0                      8
    Westchester County, N.Y.                      54.8                      9
    San Francisco                                 53.5                     10

    *Markets were ranked from 0 to 100 against 15 property, economic and
     demographic variables.

SOURCE Grubb & Ellis Company