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Political Unknowns Cause CRE Investors To Pause

Though U.S. commercial real estate valuations rebounded in February from a slow start to the year, pricing growth in all five property sectors slowed again in March as investors proceeded with caution amid domestic and geopolitical uncertainties.

Unlike 2016's strong activity where rising commercial prices reflected a robust market and investor confidence in the industry's outlook, the minimal growth experienced this year is evidence that investors may be less enthusiastic.

Offices, office market, office building

From Feb. 22 to March 22, commercial valuations rose by a mere 0.1% month-to-month — though that is still up 8.4% year-to-year, according to the latest Ten-X CRE Nowcast, which uses proprietary technology, Google trends data and investor surveys to determine what is happening with U.S. CRE pricing in real time.

Ten-X chief economist Peter Muoio said myriad geopolitical uncertainties are causing investors to pause — from the policies being pushed in the White House to the trigger of Brexit coupled with several European countries' elections.

"There's been a bit of a lull. Things have slowed and I'm not at all surprised," Muoio said. "Uncertainty over the last few months [has] started to increase so people are in a bit of a wait-and-see, question mark frame of mind — and prices are reflecting that drift."

Political Unknowns Cause CRE Investors To Pause
Ten-X Chief Economist Peter Muoio

Hotel pricing was the biggest loser this month, dropping 1% from February and down 4.7% year-to-year. The sector has seen a drop in valuations since 2015, with weakness being exacerbated by a supply/demand imbalance, Muoio said. Declining RevPAR and slowing room rate growth is not helping matters, and investors are projecting the sector has neared the tail end of its cycle.

The multifamily sector remained the bright spot of the industry, with apartment valuations rising 1.2% in March, up 15.4% annually thanks to healthy fundamentals and strong investor sentiment despite the large wave of apartment supply expected to hit later this year.

Despite investor confidence in multifamily, Muoio said when it comes to the industry as a whole investors will continue to inject capital strategically, awaiting any shifts in the market that may occur in response to future policy.

"The [big] question is how long does this lull persist," Muoio said. "With all of these land mines out there it's a tough time to make that projection with any kind of confidence."