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Commercial Real Estate

Obama orders government-owned real property sell off



The rush to sell government-owned properties

Maybe you missed it in the news (there wasn’t a lot of fanfare or press about this), but last week President Obama issued a memo ordering federal agencies to cut $8 billion worth of building costs by the end of the 2012 fiscal year.

Disposing of unneeded federal property, ending unnecessary leases and consolidating duplicate assets will save taxpayers $3 billion. The remaining $5 billion will come from cost savings through BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure).

The Federal Government is the largest property owner and energy user in the country, with an inventory that includes 1.2 million buildings, structures, and land parcels. This includes 14,000 building and structures currently designated as excess and 55,000 identified as under- and not-utilized. Currently, Federal agencies operate and maintain more real property assets than necessary, unnecessarily raising costs to the taxpayer.–Peter R Orsag, Director of OMB

What kind of time frame are we looking at? Obama told federal property managers to identify excess or underused locations by August 30. The properties identified could possibly be “transferred to other agencies in need of space; donated to colleges, parks and hospitals; or sold to private owners.”

What implications could this memo have in the commercial real estate market? Oh, I can think of a few biggies! And there might even be a few opportunities real estate agents and brokers can take advantage of.

Tenants, check those leases

If you are a tenant in a government-owned building, pull out that lease. When you signed it, you probably never dreamed Uncle Sam would sell the place. Now you have to be prepared as to what might happen, if your building is on the auction block.

What does the landlord have the right to do (or not do) in case of a sale? What are his rights when it comes to canceling or renegotiating your lease? You just might be asked to leave on short notice! Think it cannot happen? Have you ever read a government lease? They usually hold most of the cards. Frequently it is sign or don’t get the space, when we’re dealing with government-owned properties, so now you have to prepare for the worst case.

Landlords, prepare to lose government tenants

Besides selling off excess inventories, in the same memo Obama ordered the agencies to find ways to cut building and energy costs. He wants them to consolodate uses in some facilities, cutting the government’s costs in the process and making them “greener” too, making the environmental footprint smaller. The memo specifically targets duplicate assets such as data centers, that could be trimmed.

“The federal government experienced a substantial increase in the number of data centers, leading to increased energy consumption, real property expenditures, and operations and maintenance costs.”–President Obama

That means if you have a current government tenant in your own building, they may be looking to renegotiate or cancel their own lease. They may be either downsizing or bringing in new entities to share the space.

Telecommuting “cool” with Uncle Sam

The memo requires more efficient use of remaining real property assets, through saving energy and water, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The government’s ultimate solution may be to have more people working from home and telecommuting, or “hoteling” (workers sharing work spaces) to conserve space, energy and rent costs. Consolodating data centers and eliminating duplication, combined with telecommuting would make sense.

It looks like telecommuting will be the cool thing to do, as agencies are urged to make more use of working from home. If so, it won’t matter as much where government employees live.

More houses to choose from / cheaper options

They can live farther from their agency’s main office and choose a wider range of housing than they might otherwise be able to afford. If someone could buy a $600,000 townhome on the outskirts of Washington, DC, and a $400,000 similar home with a 1.5 hour commute, but a $200,000 property with a 3 hour commute, which do you think they might choose — if they are a telecommuter who maybe goes to the office once or twice a month for meetings?

I have cousins outside the D.C. area who just drool over my 2-acre “estate” while they’re in smaller homes on a footprint, that cost two to three times what I paid for my piece of rural Pennsylvania. My little country home looks pretty good in that comparison, and I’m only 2.5 hours north of D.C.

As real estate agents and brokers, we could market to a wider circle of buyers, if the telecommuting craze takes hold, as where you live physically becomes less and less important.

Investors, get your checkbooks ready

And finally, the most obvious category of “those who should be paying attention to this memo” are the real estate investors. Federal courthouses, IRS offices, warehouses, and more will soon be ready for you to buy.

The locations of the properties, along with the amount of work needed to rehab or reinvent the buildings for their next use, will dictate the value of the properties, same as in any commercial transaction.

Getting rid of energy hogs

The majority of the properties likely to be identified will be energy hogs, and that will affect their resale value. Tax incentives may be offered as well, to encourage rehabbing and upgrading to energy efficient status. Otherwise, if the properties are purchased and not upgraded, Obama’s program will only shift the energy hog from the public to the private sector, and not cut energy use as intended.

It should be an interesting summer in Washington, D.C. for sure!

Photo courtesy Elegant Machines via Flickr

Erica Ramus is the Broker/Owner of Ramus Realty Group in Pottsville, PA. She also teaches real estate licensing courses at Penn State Schuylkill and is extremely active in her community, especially the Rotary Club of Pottsville and the Schuylkill Chamber of Commerce. Her background is writing, marketing and publishing, and she is the founder of Schuylkill Living Magazine, the area's regional publication. She lives near Pottsville with her husband and two teenage sons, and an occasional exchange student passing thru who needs a place to stay.

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  1. Jim Gatos

    June 17, 2010 at 4:11 pm

    Here’s hoping they hire Russell Shaw’s team to sell what inventory they have in Arizona…

    Knowing the government, they’ll probably FSBO it and wind up giving the store away. LOL

  2. Dan Berkovitz

    June 17, 2010 at 10:15 pm

    I’m sure there’s going to be some great investment opportunities on warehouses!

  3. Miami Condo Shop

    June 18, 2010 at 8:16 am

    I wonder why Pres. Obama suddenly shifted to cost cutting mode. Good intentions though. Better liquidate those idle assets and turn them into something more worthwhile. The memo will surely affect the commercial real estate market but not to the extent that it will shake the industry. Not a big deal really.

    • Erica Ramus

      June 19, 2010 at 3:15 pm

      See Dunes’ reply below, for one answer to that.

  4. Erica Ramus

    June 18, 2010 at 8:19 am

    The government property usually sells via auction, I believe.

  5. Joe Loomer

    June 18, 2010 at 8:11 pm

    Speaking from personal experience, there’s some extremely valuable real estate in the Monterey area that could wipe out a significant portion of the deficit…..

    Navy Chief, Navy Pride

  6. Joe Loomer

    June 18, 2010 at 8:13 pm

    Oh, and if they closed Fort Huachuca in Arizona – which is sucking the water table dry – and moved it to Fort Gordon, Georgia (which has water, land, and “ahem” some Realtors I know), they could sell that land off too!

    Navy Chief, Navy Pride

  7. Joe

    June 19, 2010 at 12:03 am

    Perhaps selling off the presidency is in order as well. I dunno. I guess I’m disenfranchised with our government these days. I guess Obama wants to file suit against Arizona’s immigration law, while doing nothing about immigration reform. Sounds like grand standing to me.

  8. Dunes

    June 19, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    A Homeowner begins to be upside down in their Mortgage and the Credit Cards are being canceled…They sell the Vacation property, the extra car and stop being so generous about paying the kids Cell phone bills, gas money and start thinking downsize before they lose it all..

    Perhaps WHY they are selling may be more important than what or where…

    The Property owner (Gov.) who is asked to help Stimulate the Market..(Tax Credits, Jobs,Education, pump money into local markets, infrastructure ect) is selling……Why? They suddenly decided out of the clear blue sky to be Fiscally Responsible?
    or do we sell the Car to pay the interest on the Health care Credit card or the Social Security Credit card or the Jobs Credit card or the Military Credit card or Education Credit card or or

    I guess this fella just wonders if sometimes the “Motivation” is the real story or concern when wondering about the Future…

    • Erica Ramus

      June 19, 2010 at 3:14 pm

      Insightful, Dunes.

      So after the excess inventory is trimmed and every line item on the budget trimmed to the bone … what do we do next?

      What happens when there is nothing else left to sell.

  9. Dunes

    June 20, 2010 at 3:20 pm

    “what do we do next?”

    What everyone usually does is my guess….adapt.
    What do we do next is the “$64,000 Question” isn’t it?

    How do I compete, Business models, Advertising, what kind of Market will I have to work with, who’s Buying, why, and on and on? Even as a Non-Pro just reading here, other places I know those are expressed concerns and everyone IMO is basically sailing in uncharted waters…There are no experts 😉

    Figuring out what you feel is the Motivation for Major Policy decisions in this Economy may help with the “What do we do?” Question..
    That’s all I’m suggesting..each person can reach their own conclusions but those conclusions will IMO affect the answer to “What do we do?”

  10. Dunes

    June 20, 2010 at 3:29 pm

    Sorry, meant to have as last line..

    So..determining the motivation is made important because of the Questions being asked is basically my opinion.

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Commercial Real Estate

Pace of commercial real estate improvement is slowing

(Commercial Real Estate) The commercial real estate sector has improved substantially since the economy crashed, but is now showing signs of slowing, but data does not indicate lost ground.



commercial real estate

commercial real estate

Commercial real estate outlook is positive

According to the National Association of Realtors’ (NAR) quarterly forecast, commercial real estate is continuing to improve, but the pace is slowing.

Dr. Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said that fundamentals are still on an uptrend. “Growth in commercial real estate sectors continues at a moderate pace from a very slow pace of absorption, despite job additions to the economy. Companies appear hesitant to add new space,” he said.

“Office demand is expected to see only slow and gradual improvement,” Dr. Yun added. “Demand for retail space is benefiting from improved household wealth, while industrial real estate is stable with increasing international trade, which requires warehouse space. Of course, the apartment market fundamentals are the strongest, as nearly all of the new household formation in the past 10 years has come from renters, and not homeowners.”

Forecasting the future

Overall, national vacancy rates in the coming year are forecast to drop 0.2 percentage point in the office sector (the sector with the worst vacancy rates) to 15.6 percent in the first quarter of 2015.

Vacancy rates are projected to fall 0.1 point in industrial to 8.9 percent, and 0.3 point for retail real estate to 9.9 percent.

With rising apartment construction, the average multifamily vacancy rate will edge up 0.1 percent to 4.1 percent, but this sector continues to experience the tightest availability and strongest rent growth of all the commercial sectors.

Rental rates for various sectors

Office rents are projected to increase 2.3 percent in 2014 and 3.2 percent next year. Net absorption of office space in the U.S., which includes the leasing of new space coming on the market as well as space in existing properties, is likely to total 44.6 million square feet this year and 50.0 million in 2015.

Annual industrial rents should rise 2.4 percent this year and 2.6 percent in 2015. Net absorption of industrial space nationally is seen at 106.1 million square feet in 2014 and 110.6 million next year.

Average retail rents are forecast to rise 2.0 percent in 2014 and 2.3 percent next year. Net absorption of retail space is likely to total 14.6 million square feet this year and 20.9 million in 2015.

Average apartment rents are projected to rise 4.3 percent this year and 3.5 percent in 2015. Multifamily net absorption is expected to total 204,900 units in 2014 and 112,500 next year.

Regional performance varies

The markets with the lowest office vacancy rates in the first quarter are New York City, with a vacancy rate of 9.5 percent; Washington, D.C., at 10.2 percent; Little Rock, Ark., 11.6 percent; Birmingham, Ala., 12.7 percent; and San Francisco and Nashville, Tenn., at 12.8 percent each.

The areas with the lowest industrial vacancy rates currently are Orange County, Calif., with a vacancy rate of 3.7 percent; Los Angeles, 3.8 percent; Miami, 5.8 percent; Seattle at 5.9 percent; and San Riverside/Bernardino, Calif., at 6.1 percent.

Markets with the lowest retail vacancy rates include San Francisco, at 3.1 percent; Fairfield County, Conn., 3.8 percent; Long Island, N.Y., 4.8 percent; San Jose, Calif., 5.2 percent; and Northern New Jersey and Orange County, Calif., at 5.3 percent each.

Areas with the lowest multifamily vacancy rates currently are New Haven, Conn., at 2.1 percent; Minneapolis and New York City, 2.3 percent; and Oakland-East Bay, Calif., and San Diego, at 2.5 percent each.

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Commercial Real Estate

Should you buy or lease office space? 5 questions to consider

When considering whether you should lease your office space or buy, an industry expert outlines the questions you should ask yourself.



office leadership

office leadership

Should you buy or lease an office space?

Many people set up shop and lease office space, assuming this is their best, and often only option, but there are some instances where buying office space is a better option. Many blindly make this decision based on a gut feeling, and we’re not saying that is a bad thing, we’re saying that in addition to that instinct, these five questions should be asked when considering whether you should lease or buy an office space.

Stan Snipes, senior advisor, Sperry Van Ness Investec Realty of Nashville notes that the two options depend on several variables, as he outlines below:

1. Is your business well-established?

If your business is still in the startup phase, I rarely recommend buying. During the next 5 to 10 years you’ll experience employee count fluctuations, client and customer oscillations and even business direction and strategy adjustments. That is, you’ll need to be flexible, not tied to a certain space. Additionally, any leftover capital should most likely be recycled back into your budding startup. You don’t want to stretch yourself too thin.

The only exception that applies some of the time — not every time — is if your startup is in the technology space. Oftentimes tech employees can work remotely, or the technology is automated and won’t require more employees in the future. Additionally, clients of many tech startups can successfully access the company’s offering without visiting a physical office space.

2. Will you endanger your business with a property purchase?

Yes, buying can be a great investment and add a source of revenue, but even well-established business owners need to think about the stress that buying a property can put on their bottom line. Oftentimes your time and money is best spent on what you do best, running your enterprise. If buying means you won’t be able to focus essential resources to your first priority, your business, then you might want to hold off on buying.

Further, because commercial real estate can be a great investment, business owners are sometimes so eager to get in the game that they sell off portions of their business to finance the purchase. This is a bad idea. You should not let real estate decisions determine how you run your business. You’ve worked long and hard to build a successful company — don’t give it away. Another deal with always come along.

3. Do you have heavy, difficult-to-move equipment?

If you have machinery or specialized equipment that make it difficult for you to move, buying may be a great option for you. Two primary reasons: 1.) Lugging dense equipment from leased space to leased space is annoying, cumbersome and costly.

Plus, you increase the chances of damaging it every time you move. 2.) When a landlord knows it’s difficult for you to relocate, he or she is holding the cards when it’s time to renew your lease. If your lease doesn’t have a stipulation to remediate this, leasing office space will cost you more money than it should. More often than not, buying a custom space for your specialized equipment is the way to go.

4. Does your location affect employees or clients?

If attracting and maintaining top-notch employees means securing office space in your city’s prime business district, finding the perfect space to buy may be difficult. Why? Prime business districts usually have lower vacancy rates, which typically means higher prices plus fewer properties to choose from. Anytime you’re limited to a narrow location, you risk not landing the best deal. This doesn’t mean don’t buy, just understand what you’re up against from the onset.

The other issue you may face in buying location-specific space is when your customers or clients depend on your position for convenience. This is a challenge when and if your city’s submarkets are in transition. The trendy spot of the last five years, may not be in vogue five years from now. A lease allows flexibility to move where your customer and clients need you to be.

5. Are you prepared to be a landlord?

There’s a lot of maintenance that goes along with owning a building. Will you have the ability to hire a maintenance crew or will you tend the bathrooms, burnt out light bulbs and overflowing trash bins yourself?

Furthermore, many landlords have easy access to financing that could benefit you in the form of a tenant improvement package. Even though you may have capital to buy your building, can you afford to build it out the way you want to? The cost of ownership is sometimes underestimated. Make sure you’ve considered all of the possible expenses that go along with buying your office space.

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Commercial Real Estate

Commercial real estate improving modestly, little change to come

As commercial real estate improves across all sectors, the gains have been modest and NAR predicts they will continue to inch forward.





Commercial real estate sector is improving

According to the National Association of Realtors’ (NAR) quarterly commercial real estate forecast, commercial real estate is improving modestly, with little change seen for the near future. Dr. Lawrence Yun, NAR’s Chief Economist said in a statement, “Jobs are the key driver for commercial real estate, and the accumulation of 7 million net new jobs from the low point a few years ago is steadily showing up as demand for leasing and purchases of properties,” he said. “But the difficulty of accessing loans remains a hindrance to a faster recovery.”

NAR reports that leasing activity rose 2.0 percent in the third quarter compared to the second, and sales levels are higher than a year ago.

Yun said there have been some shifts in commercial purchases. “Investors have been looking for better yields, and have found good potential in smaller commercial properties, notably in secondary and tertiary markets. Sales of commercial properties costing less than $2.5 million in the third quarter were 11 percent above a year ago, while prices for smaller properties were 4 percent above the third quarter of 2012.”

Commercial investment in properties costing more than $2.5 million rose 26 percent from a year ago, while prices for large properties were 9 percent above the third quarter of 2012.

National vacancy rates over the coming year are forecast to decline 0.2 percentage point in the office market, 0.6 point in industrial, and 0.5 point for retail real estate. The average multifamily vacancy rate will edge up 0.1 percent, but that sector continues to see the tightest availability and biggest rent increases.

Retail vacancy rates should be going down

Retail vacancy rates are forecast to decline from 10.4 percent in the fourth quarter of this year to 9.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014. Average retail rents should increase 1.4 percent in 2013 and 2.2 percent next year. Net absorption of retail space is projected at 11.0 million square feet in 2013 and 18.1 million next year.

Multifamily construction will meet demand

Multifamily Markets
The apartment rental market – multifamily housing – is likely to see vacancy rates edge up 0.1 percentage point from 3.9 percent in the fourth quarter to 4.0 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014, with new construction helping to meet higher demand. Average apartment rents are forecast to rise 4.0 percent this year and 4.3 percent in 2014. Multifamily net absorption is projected to total 239,400 units in 2013 and 211,300 next year.

Office rents should be going up

Vacancy rates in the office sector are expected to decline from a projected 15.6 percent in the fourth quarter to 15.4 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014. Office rents should increase 2.4 percent this year and 2.5 percent in 2014. Net absorption of office space in the U.S., which includes the leasing of new space coming on the market as well as space in existing properties, is seen at 32.2 million square feet this year and 46.1 million in 2014.

Industrial vacancies on the decline

Industrial vacancy rates are likely to fall from 9.2 percent in the fourth quarter of this year to 8.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014. Annual industrial rents are expected to rise 2.3 percent this year and 2.5 percent in 2014. Net absorption of industrial space nationally is anticipated at 97.0 million square feet in 2013 and 104.9 million next year.

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