Economists' Outlook

Housing stats and analysis from NAR's research experts.

As the traditional summer vacation season wrapped up, it became easier to focus on the economic performance over the first half of the year. However, the task became an exercise in reading fortune cookies given the many changes in the economy, the markets, and the legislative environment.

The main measure of economic activity—gross domestic product—has been redefined and revised by the Bureau of Economic Analysis during the second quarter. It has been redefined to include business investments in intellectual property, such as research & development, software, and entertainment and original artistic work. GDP has also been revised, as it normally is at regular intervals.

The results point to an economy that nominally is much stronger than it was a quarter ago, by almost $2.0 trillion. At the same time, the revised annual rate of growth for first quarter GDP dropped from 2.7 to 1.2 percent.  However, the estimate for the second quarter growth rate is 1.7 percent, indicating an accelerating economy.  Of course, given the pace of acceleration, we should not expect any whiplash, as there is no hurry in the macro advance.

Sales of major properties (over $2M) advanced 24 percent on a yearly basis during the first half of this year, totaling $145.3 billion, based on Real Capital Analytics (RCA) data.  Most property types registered double-digit growth rates, signaling strong investor interest in commercial assets.   Based on National Association of REALTORS® data, sales of properties at the lower end of the price range (mostly below $2 million) increased 12 percent on a yearly basis.

Portfolio sales made up a significant part of transactions in the first half of the year, with Archstone’s sale of apartment properties accounting for over $14 billion of the total.  Hotels were another major component of the top portfolio transactions.  On the individual property side, the General Motors building in New York ranked at the top, selling for $1.3 billion, at $1,766 per square foot.  Office properties made up the top three, with Sony Plaza and 425 Lexington Avenue, both in New York, coming in second and third place.

In line with growing demand for properties, prices rose 8 percent on a yearly basis, according to RCA’s Commercial Property Price Index.  Prices rose the most for apartments (15%) and retail buildings (13%). The average apartment unit price reached $108.347.  Retail spaces commanded $166 per square foot.  Office buildings traded for an average of $212 per square foot, up 7 percent year-over-year.  Industrial properties posted average prices of $63 per square foot, a 5 percent decline from a year ago. Cap rates inched up 17 basis points, to an average 7 percent nationally across all property types. For lower priced properties (below $2M), prices increased 2 percent year-over-year, based on survey data from the National Association of REALTORS®.

Investor interest in secondary and tertiary markets continued in the first half of the year.  Markets like Jacksonville, Long Island, Philadelphia, Las Vegas posted triple-digit growth rates in sales volume. By the year’s midpoint, 31 markets exceeded the $1 billion mark.  In terms of dollar volume, Manhattan, Los Angeles and DC’s Northern Virginia suburbs rank at the top of the list.  However, Dallas and Houston move in the top five, surpassing Atlanta, Chicago and Boston.

Distressed properties accounted for $118 billion across all property types, with office making up $36.5 billion of the total.  The workout rates have been steadily climbing, reaching 66 percent in the first half of the year.  Apartments and hotels recorded the highest workout rates, at 68 percent and 67percent, respectively.

New commercial distress is on a downward trend, as asset values continue to rise.  CMBS continues to hold the largest proportion of outstanding distress—45 percent.  U.S. banks are the second largest holder of distressed properties, accounting for 25 percent.

Several markets stand out for their rates of distress workouts.  Las Vegas retains the top spot in terms of total current outstanding distress—$11.4 billion.  Its workout rate is 43 percent, a fairly low figure.  Manhattan posted the second highest current outstanding distress volume, totaling $8.4 billion. However, its workout rate reached 77 percent in the first half of the year.  Other markets with high distress workout rates were DC (82), San Francisco (87%), Pittsburgh (79%) and San Jose (76%).

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