Identifying the Opportunities in Real Estate

It does not take a Wharton professor to tell you that the U.S. commercial real estate market has been impacted by national and international macroeconomic trends, such as the persistent and high level of unemployment. But if you want to know the future effects of these trends, it helps to listen to someone like Joseph Gyourko, the Martin Bucksbaum Professor of Real Estate, Finance and Business & Public Policy and chair of Wharton’s Real Estate Department.

Gyourko shared his insights during the latest Wharton Webinar Series event, an interactive lecture titled “The Economy and Real Estate: Evaluating Risk and Opportunities in Uncertain Times.”

Let’s be frank:  Gyourko sees plenty of risks out there still. He foresees around zero percent growth in house prices over the next 12 months. (When asked their prediction for housing prices during a poll, the webinar audience was equally wary; about half voted for zero percent to 2 percent increases.)

A significant reason is the shadow supply of housing: 7.5 million homes whose owners are delinquent on their mortgage or are in foreclosure or are already owned by a bank.

“It is virtually impossible to get significant increases in house prices,” he said.

The director of Wharton’s Zell/ Lurie Real Estate Center also warns about the office-space market. If employment growth doesn’t exceed 2 million in the next year, don’t expect increases in prices for office buildings. Gyourko is not optimistic about such a big job market recovery.

Though the commercial real estate market isn’t burdened with overbuilding like the housing market, it is bifurcated. Large, coastal markets are still attractive to investors, as are hotspots such as Raleigh, NC; Chicago; Denver; and Austin, TX. Areas in the “Energy Belt,” such as western Pennsylvania, are also turning around. There, existing housing cannot meet demand.

Joseph Gyourko

Gyourko is also bullish on apartment rentals.

“The bloom is off home-ownership,” he said.

Young adults are now renting, a trend he expects will continue even after the recovery.

Here are two other trends to watch out for in the commercial real estate space: A debt overhang of $1.5 trillion is coming due in three to four years. A lot of money is sitting in debt and equity real estate funds, waiting for overleveraged owners to hit the point where they have to refinance or default.

The other is interest rates. If they rise, prices could fall in inelastic real estate markets—like some of the coastal cities that are currently attractive to investors.

“I worry about interest rate rises a lot,” Gyourko said.

Gyourko’s webinar took place on Dec. 6.

Wharton’s next webinar, “Strategic Persuasion: Winning Others Over to Your Ideas One Person at a Time,” will be led by G. Richard Shell, Thomas Gerrity Professor at Wharton. It will take place on Tuesday, Jan. 31, from noon to 1 p.m. EST.

You can access the recording of Gyourko’s webinar and view the upcoming event lineup at the Wharton Webinar Series page.

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