Economists' Outlook

Housing stats and analysis from NAR's research experts.

Modest Uptick in Commercial Property Sales and Prices in 2019 Q2

Commercial real estate deals and prices of properties that are typically less than $2.5 million are still rising though at a modest pace, according to NAR’s 2019 Q2 Commercial Real Estate Market Trends & Outlook Report.[1] In 2019 Q2, REALTORS® reported a modest  2% annual sales volume growth and 1% annual price appreciation. Commercial property prices have been appreciating at a slower pace since 2018 as sales volume growth has also decelerated since 2016.

Graph: Commercial Real Estate 2019 Q2 Annual Price Change
Graph: Commercial Real Estate 2019 Q2 Quarterly Sales Volume Year-over-Year Change

Multi-family and Industrial: strongest asset classes

Most of the sales transaction activity is in the industrial and multifamily assets, using as an indicator the diffusion index of sales growth across property types. A value greater than 50 indicates that more respondents reported an increase in sales in 2019 Q2 compared to one year ago than a decrease; the higher the index, the more widespread is the growth across geographic areas. Deals for office and retail strip centers were only slightly up from one year, while retail mall deals in 2019 Q2 were below year-ago levels in many areas, indicated by index values of below 50.

Graph: Commercial Real Estate 2019 Q2 Diffusion Index of the Year-over-Year Change in Sales Volume

Cap Rates Slightly Up

Even as respondents reported a modest uptick in price, they also reported a modest uptick in cap rates, which indicate that the deals that went through involved higher net operating incomes on average. In 2019 Q2, the average going-in cap rates among survey respondents rose slightly to 6.9 percent, with higher cap rates for all asset classes. Cap rates for properties at $2.5 million and below were in line with the 6.8 percent cap rate in the $2.5+M market reported by Real Capital Analytics. The apartment asset class had the lowest cap rate at 6.2 percent, followed by industrial warehouse at 6.8 percent.

Graph: Commercial Real Estate 2019 Q2 Capitalization Rates
Graph: Commercial Real Estate 2019 Q2 Cap Rates

Construction Activity Tapers

One reason for the decline in sales activity is the decline in construction/development activity. Respondents reported on average that construction increased on average by about 4% in 2019 Q2 from one year ago. The pace of construction activity peaked in 2016 and has tapered since then. Respondents reported rising construction cost as one reason for the slowdown in commercial construction. Another factor that is constraining construction activity is the difficulty of finding construction workers. During April, May, and June 2019, there were fewer payroll workers in the construction of commercial buildings (“non-residential construction” in Bureau of Labor Statistics terminology) compared to one year ago.

Graph: Commercial Real Estate 2019 Q2 Year-over-Year Change in Construction Activity/Average Change in Construction  Employment

Positive Outlook for Multi-family and Industrial Assets

Multi-family and industrial will continue to be strong commercial asset classes. The multi-family market is expected to remain bright in metros with low vacancy rates and affordable rents. E-commerce will continue to sustain demand for industrial properties, particularly flex properties. Retail brick and mortar will continue to do well in growing metros and in retail niches that require face-to-face customer service. The office market will be sustained by the growth in technology-driven jobs. The Opportunity Zone tax break on capital gains is expected to bolster commercial and residential real estate sales in 2019-2020.

[1] About the Survey
NAR’s Quarterly Commercial Real Estate Market Survey gathers information about the commercial transactions of REALTORS® and members of affiliate organizations (CCIM, SIOR, RLI, IREM, and the Counselors of Real Estate) and the opportunities and challenges facing commercial practitioners.
The 2019 Q2 survey was sent to approximately 64,953 commercial REALTORS® and members of affiliate organizations during July 1–9, 2019, of which 681 responded to the survey.

Among sales agents who had a sale during 2019 Q2, the average sales transaction was $1.9 million, the average total transactions value was $5.3 million, and the average number of transactions 2.8 during the reference quarter.

Forty-percent of respondents primarily conducted their business in the central business area or principal city of a metro, 38 percent in the suburban part of a metro area, and 18 percent outside a metro area. Two percent of respondents reported they were not engaged in sales or appraisal.