EXCLUSIVE: New JLL Report Highlights Secondary, Sunbelt Markets

Marisha Clinton

Marisha Clinton, JLL Capital Markets

The “biggest winners” in a CRE scene that’s seeing fundamentals improve across most sectors in a growing number of cities nationwide are office and multi-family, according to JLL’s latest report, the Fall 2014 Cross Sector Outlook released today at the Urban Land Institute’s fall meeting.

The office sector is “expected to enjoy the sharpest downward trajectory in its vacancy rate” of any product type between now and 2016, while in multi-family, tight vacancies, rising rents and absorption “have led the sector to steadily outperform, with annual effective rental growth rising, despite surging new supply levels,” the report states.

“The multi-family and office sectors have been greatly affected by low home-ownership levels and business expansion, respectively,” Marisha Clinton, director of research for JLL’s Capital Markets, said in a release. “Changing urban-suburban demographic trends are also making their mark…. New professionals and retirees alike are flocking to urban centers of every size, swapping large homes and long commutes for live-work-play communities.”

In addition, the Outlook notes growing transaction volume and leasing activity in secondary markets from Austin, where tech is driving growth, to Minneapolis, and also in the Sunbelt, which “has seen some of the most significant improvement in key market indicators, including sales activity.”

“One of the biggest shifts we have seen is the amount of capital flooding into the secondary markets and even tertiary markets, and we expect investor interest in those markets to remain high in the year ahead, in all asset types,” Steve Collins, president of JLL’s Americas Capital Markets business, said in the release. “It’s the result of the enormous level of investor interest in primary market real estate, with a swell of new foreign buyers pulling out all the stops to acquire assets.”

MULTI-FAMILY

With homeownership near a 15-year low, multi-family absorption has outpaced supply growth in most markets nationally over the past 12 months. The Sunbelt, according to JLL, has seen “especially high absorption rates,” surpassing 3 percent in Raleigh-Durham, Austin, Jacksonville and San Antonio. Rental rate growth has been the strongest in tech-heavy markets like Seattle and San Francisco, where average rents have risen more than 6 percent over the last year.

Cap rate compression is expected to slow, but given a nationwide average vacancy rate of less than 6 percent, this “is not likely to greatly impact yield-seeking investors’ appetite” for multi-family housing.

The report counsels, “Watch for condo conversions to continue across a broader scope of geographies as developers seek viable exits from projects, either pre- or post-development.” Conversions are strong in New York and San Francisco, two markets where Chinese investment has been a significant factor, Clinton told Commercial Property Executive. 

OFFICE

Sales of Class A office properties in primary cities “are rivaling multi-family cap rates, where some recent sales have traded at rates below 4 percent,” according to the report, driving many investors into the secondary markets. JLL cites Minneapolis and Raleigh-Durham as markets where a startling 8 to 10 percent of total CBD office stock traded hands in the third quarter alone.

“Meanwhile,” the report adds, “secondary suburban sales outpaced primary suburban sales for the first time in six years, with the Sunbelt markets attracting the most investor attention.” However, over the next two years, new development is expected to gradually shift the office sector from under-supplied to over-supplied.

HOTELS

As both business and leisure travel have bounced back, hotel occupancy has “grown substantially over the last 12 months,” according to the Outlook, which predicts that by 2016, national hotel occupancy rates will be just under 65 percent, their highest level in 30 years. Average daily rates have been rising, as has new development.

Still, hotel construction has been somewhat constrained, Clinton told CPE, by foreign capital that favors existing properties and by traditional barriers to entry, such as land availability.

Sixty percent of new construction is in the premium-branded select-service area (brands such as Hyatt Place, Hilton Garden Inn and Courtyard by Marriott), where construction costs are substantially lower than for full-service properties.

The report predicts that “lifestyle” brand hotel concepts will increasingly emerge at lower price points. As an example, Clinton cited Kimpton Hotels, which operates more than 60 boutique hotels nationally, some under the Hotel Monaco and Hotel Palomar brands, but more than two-thirds unbranded.

On the capital markets side, 2014 has been the third most active year on record, with $25 billion in hotel transactions expected by year-end.

INDUSTRIAL

Following three years of very little new supply coming to market, industrial vacancy rates in the third quarter fell below the pre-recession low of early 2008. Although substantial new product is under construction, “the new space is unlikely to significantly impact rent growth because speculative development is still very measured,” according to JLL.

Buyers are focused on Southeast and Mid-Atlantic markets like Nashville, Atlanta and Richmond, where above-average vacancies make higher yields still attainable.

RETAIL

Retail remains the laggard, the report concludes, “with performance in the sector still highly bifurcated across geographic markets and asset classes.” While Class A properties in primary markets are attracting strong investor interest, many Class C strip malls are being repurposed rather than rehabbed. Further, e-commerce and m-commerce continue to push brick-and-mortar stores into either value centers or luxury retail, while middle-market shops often struggle.

Nonetheless, investor interest in retail is improving, as shown by a 12.8 percent increase in transaction volume from the third quarter of last year.