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Incredibly Long Streak Of Increasing Valuations Isn't Stopping

There are whispers floating around that commercial real estate is nearing its peak. The industry has been experiencing a record run of rising valuations for roughly eight years and some investors are growing nervous — even Fed governors continue to voice concerns about markets overheating, particularly multifamily investment.

New York skyline
New York skyline

Commercial prices have been appreciating since the Great Recession; a Real Capital Analytics all-property index shows prices have risen 104% since 2010, CPExecutive reports. But Reis economist Victor Calanog said the industry still has room to grow, especially if the economy continues to expand. Rent growth in office and multifamily may be decelerating in major markets, with apartment landlords in New York and San Francisco offering concessions to fill units — but that will not result in any burst bubbles.

“Less rent growth — does that mean we’ve peaked and are entering a place where rents will fall? I don’t think so. It’s not on a national level,” Calanog said. “The problem with forecasting peaks or a top of the bubble is eventually you’ll be right … but if you’re right two years [early] then you didn’t make as much money.”

People tend to forget this industry is a reflection of the state of the economy, Calanog said. As the economy strengthens and grows, so will commercial real estate. Economic expansion typically translates to higher gross domestic product growth and more job creation, which boost demand in every property sector.  

In numerous reports released at the beginning of the year, countless CRE researchers and economists projected robust economic growth and a strong outlook for the industry under President Donald Trump. Experts, including Cushman & Wakefield’s US Macro Outlook report, predicted the economy will be buoyed by Trump’s plans for corporate tax cuts, deregulation, increased fiscal stimulus, more jobs and higher wages. Cushman & Wakefield revised its economic and commercial real estate outlooks upward after Trump’s election.

Though these predictions hit before the president signed executive orders that could negatively impact immigration and future trade deals, the numbers have been strong since he took office. U.S. employers added 235,000 jobs in February, even better than January’s strong payroll gains of 227,000. Unemployment is down to 4.7%, representing a continued tightening of the labor force as most Americans in search of work have found jobs.

We are still in one of the longest periods of economic expansion the country has ever experienced. The industry took quite a hit during the financial crisis, and prices are working their way back up to normal levels — something that is making people nervous, Yardi Matrix director of research and publications Jack Kern said.

“I would say that the economy has been through a very tough wave of slow growth as a consequence of some things that happened in 2007- 2010, and we’re just now heading back to what would be an average long-term trend,” Kern said. “Nothing is headed toward a crash, but nothing is headed toward a huge increase overtime either. It is just general slow changes.”

To say that the industry is nearing its peak would imply that plummeting prices are on the horizon, but both Calanog and Kern do not see that happening any time soon.

“We may have hit a peak [in pricing], but if the economy is [still] growing why do you think that bubble will burst?” Calanog said.