Getting Deals Done in Uncertain Times

CBRE's Val Achtemeier and Hoffman & Associates' Jon McAvoy talk shop at the CPE-MHN Summit.
Val Achtemeier, Executive Vice President, CBRE Capital Markets

Business is starting to return to normal with some unexpected twists after months of disruption, according to experts at CBRE and Hoffman & Associates.

“We’re actually seeing what I would consider a fairly busy fourth quarter,” said Val Achtemeier, executive vice president at CBRE Capital Markets. “I think you’ll see a lot of transaction volume. But it’s hard to get appraisals done in time right now.”


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Speaking during a breakout session at the CPE-MHN Summit, Achtemeier added that due to a post-summer boost in business, appraisals can take three or four weeks to complete, compared to one or two weeks in the past. The Los Angeles-based executive, who leads a team in the brokerage’s debt & structured finance group, added that some due diligence is being conducted virtually, but physical visits are the norm.

“I would say that 75 percent of our clients still want to tour the real estate.”

Jon McAvoy, senior vice president of asset management & finance at Hoffman & Associates, noted on the same panel that the developer’s professionals are still traveling, preferably by car. “We absolutely want to see the dirt. We love to walk the environment.”

McAvoy observed that a welcome change of pace has been an easing and in some cases reversal of the construction cost escalation that dogged the real estate industry from 2016 through 2019. For ground-up work as well as repositioning and tenant replacement, the Washington, D.C.-based firm has found that mechanical, trades and glass costs have incrementally improved in the third and fourth quarters.

Deals pick up

Jon McAvoy, Senior Vice President of Asset Management & Finance, Hoffman & Associates

The panel, moderated by Jay Epstien, a partner at DLA Piper, also delved into the state of the commercial real estate market. Achtemeier said that there is still a fair amount of liquidity, with industrial and logistics remaining strong and data centers and cold storage also drawing interest. CBRE’s multifamily business also remains robust throughout the U.S., although with some rent collection issues in certain markets.

Office investment sales activity is down 53 percent on the West Coast, she added, and retail and hotel activity is challenged. She added: “We’ve seen things improve dramatically in certain sectors in the last 30 days.”

Lenders were distracted by the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which tied up many real estate professionals in April through July, McAvoy said, making it harder to get transactions done. Since then, there has been a redeployment of those professionals back to their real estate silos.

He added that lenders are being more selective and cautious, particularly with deals in urban markets, whereas they are slightly more aggressive in non-urban core markets where they feel there is more runway, especially in the Southeast. “We really have seen a thinning of the herd in terms of who’s bidding on our deals.”

The Wharf, a $2.5 billion mega-project co-developed by Hoffman & Associates in D.C., continues to outperform the CBD and other surrounding areas, McAvoy noted. He attributed the property’s success in part to its ample outdoor space.

“We have a bit of an urban oasis or retreat here on the waterfront,” he said.