It was a rough fourth quarter for commercial real estate brokers in South Florida, as property sales plunged 55% compared to a year ago, according to property data firm Vizzda.
There were $5.2 billion in commercial real estate sales of at least $1 million each in the tri-county region, down from $11.6 billion in the same quarter a year ago. The number of transactions fell 40% to 631. The average price of each deal also fell.
The two main factors that led to a dramatic drop in sales were the reluctance of buyers and sellers to agree on a price and the lack of bank financing, said Paul Tanner, founding partner of Fort Lauderdale-based Las Olas Capital, which invests in commercial real estate. Lenders have started asking for much more equity in deals, often making them unfeasible, he said.
“We started feeling it [the slowdown] in late August and by Sept. 15 it was pencil’s down,” Tanner said. “The lending institutions wanted to see how interest rates would play out, how the recession would play out and no one was willing to be bold.”
Rising interest rates impact commercial real estate prices because they make debt more expensive, which reduces profit margins for buyers. It also increases the expenses for development, which was already impacted by rising construction costs. Tanner said many developers were slow-rolling their projects rather than moving forward aggressively to close on land and obtain a construction loan.
“Capital markets are currently in a period of price discovery largely driven by debt markets, not underlying fundamentals,” said CBRE Executive Managing Director Josh Bank, who oversees Florida. “And although U.S. commercial real estate investment volume fell from 2021’s record levels, 2022 was still the second-highest year on record with South Florida ranked in the top five markets for annual investment volume.”
Ryan Nee, senior VP for Marcus & Millichap in Fort Lauderdale, said there’s a price gap between buyers and sellers that has slowed transactions. Sellers want the prices of early 2022, but they’re largely no longer available. Buyers are seeking significant discounts, as not only have interest rates increased, but a dramatic spike in insurance costs for commercial real estate in recent months has eroded their profit margins, he said.
“The brakes have been put on and it’s hard to bridge the gap,” Nee said. “The Fed tapering rate hikes has added some calm to the market, but buyers want transparency on what the cost of debt is going to be.”
Vizzda broke down the transaction volume by category. The largest decline was in multifamily, plunging 72% to $1.2 billion. Despite the dramatic increase in rent in South Florida, fewer buyers were able to snag an apartment complex.
Nee said the fundamentals for multifamily in South Florida remain strong, with rising rents, a growing population and relatively low vacancy rates. Yet, the market is still impacted by interest rates and insurance costs, as well as higher property taxes.
The second-largest decline was in the office market, with sales falling 65% to $455 million, according to Vizzda.
Tanner, of Las Olas Capital, said it’s virtually impossible to get a term sheet from a bank for an office acquisition. Many lenders feel the sector is too risky because many companies are permitting remote work and may downsize their office space.
Nee said Class A office space has been performing well in South Florida, because for every company that downsizes there’s another one moving into the market to occupy more space. Yet, buyers and lenders are still uncertain about the future of office and that has slowed transactions.
Sales of retail property dropped 31% to $1.1 billion. Nee said vacancy rates remain low for retail in South Florida and the population growth will continue to drive demand for space in that sector.
The retail market has done very well in South Florida, as sales are up for many stores and restaurants, said Barry M. Wolfe, senior managing director of retail in South Florida for Marcus & Millichap. However, rising interest rates still put a damper on the number of deals.
The industrial market was the least impacted by the slowdown, as sales declined only 11% to $1.14 billion. Nee said vacancy rates are near record low for industrial in the region, there’s tremendous demand from tenants such as e-commerce firms and there’s a limited supply of new development. Those strong fundamentals kept industrial deals going, despite the economic headwinds.
Outlook for 2023
Nee said he expects the number of deals to pick up in the second half of 2023, but prices won’t return to the peaks from early 2022. The first wave of deals will probably be properties with maturing debt, as the owners may decide it makes more sense to sell than to refinance with a higher rate, he said.
“Debt maturing will be the number one catalyst for sales in the first half of this year,” Nee said.
Tanner, of Las Olas Capital, said more deals will take place once the Federal Reserve stops raising rates. After all, banks need to lend to make money.
“Everybody is sticking their head out of the cave and checking the weather out there and looking for a thaw,” Tanner said. “By the second half of this year, we will be back to fully ramped up.”