As Mask Orders Lift, Investors Swoop in on Empty Offices, Hotels

View of someone's hand and arm opening the door to a hotel room

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The commercial real estate market is seeing prices rise as investors place bets on a return to the workforce and travel, even more quickly than they had expected. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued new guidance that says vaccinated Americans no longer need to wear masks or observe social distancing in many cases. That may bring workers back to the office sooner than anticipated and prompt more Americans to travel once again too.

“The CDC’s new guidance will send a strong message to all businesses and their employees that a full return to the office and other indoor settings will be achieved safely and effectively,” James Whelan, president of the Real Estate Board of New York, said in a recent statement.

Pension funds and private equity firms are already spending record sums on buildings, particularly for office buildings and hotels, The Wall Street Journal reports. Commercial real estate prices have increased 7% since July, which is helping to make up for more than half of its pandemic losses.

Inflation, however, has become a growing concern in the financial community. That may prompt even more investors to turn to commercial properties with leases that include rent increases to keep pace. “People view it as inflation-protected,” Eric Rosenthal, managing partner at Machine Investment Group, a real estate investment firm, told The Wall Street Journal.

Ahead of what could be a return to normal life, some investors are targeting places that were hit hardest by the economic crisis during the pandemic. For example, in San Francisco, the share of office space available for lease is at the highest on record, according to CBRE data.

Following the CDC’s updated guidance last week, some offices decided to speed up their return timelines. For example, Blackstone, JPMorgan Chase, and Goldman Sachs among others reportedly announced returns to the office, possibly even by next month. Sabre Corp., a Dallas-area travel technology firm, said the updated guidance will likely accelerate its return-to-office plans this fall and allow them to open more desks on certain floors.

“Anything that makes people feel comfortable to come into work is positive for the landlord business,” Eric Meyer, principal of real estate investment company Meyer Equities in New York, told The Real Deal. “If the CDC is saying it’s safe, and people are on the same page with that, it certainly helps.”

Still, some employers may delay or prolong a return to the workplace. Some companies had announced plans to bring workers back around Labor Day; The Wall Street Journal said that, with a tight job market, some CEOs may be concerned about upsetting their workers or preempting plans based on their prior guidance.