A recently-released report from Urban Land Institute and PwC suggests a contradiction in terms. As the North American real estate industry returns to a kind of pre-pandemic normalcy, some pandemic-era sea changes are solidifying and likely to endure.
Those are among findings of ULI and PwC’s annual report spotlighting the latest emerging real estate industry trends, titled Emerging Trends in Real Estate 2023. The report draws on input from more than 2,000 industry experts, as well as a number of proprietary data points. Among the highlights: Insights into evolving investor climate change concerns, and property sector trends resulting from the Covid crisis.
The report’s authors acknowledge the current reduction in sales, particularly in the area of housing, comes on the heels of the U.S. commercial property market basking in years of near-record returns, rent growth and price appreciation. Soaring demand for well-situated logistics facilities is helping keep industrial sector vacancy rates at or near record lows. Other real estate sectors, among them hotels and property investments, are returning to the levels seen prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The median price of U.S. existing homes leaped more than 30 percent in the wake of the pandemic, rendering an already dismal housing affordability picture even worse. The result: Levels of housing unaffordability unseen in nearly a third of a century.
Factors to blame for the affordable housing shortfall – including restrictive building codes and zones, increasingly complex affordable housing development transactions and building industry labor woes – have remained unchanged or grown worse. With demand for rental units outpacing supply, rents have nowhere to go but up.
The widespread migration to more affordable Sun Belt markets has helped countless Americans weather the housing cost crisis. But with increased demand for Sun Belt housing has come the logical byproduct, increased home prices and rent in the south.
The study authors are not predicting a wholesale exodus from office buildings. The current office environment is a potpourri of downsizing, terminated leases and transition to sublets. But many office building tenants have retained their offices because they signed long-term leases pre-pandemic or just may need them in the future. Distinctive offices are able to attract talent to employers. For that reason, companies must rethink their spaces in order to decide if they serve their needs and can help lure top talent.
ESG, climate considerations
The desire of residents and developers to invest in certain regions is being impacted by ever-more-difficult-to-ignore climate change. Enhanced environmental, social and governance (ESG) disclosures are being sought by investors and other stakeholders, who are demanding voluntary action to address these concerns.
Meantime, greater disclosure, transparency and consistency are the goals of proposed regulations from the SEC. The result is an ever-louder cry on the part of investors for greenhouse gas emission (GhG) limits and more environmentally-friendly, energy-efficient buildings. These goas are a component of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022.
Justice for underserved
Events of the past three years have also propelled commercial real estate initiatives intended to benefit underserved communities. Objectives include addressing accessible transportation, broadband Internet access and environmental justice concerns, as well as relinking Black and Hispanic neighborhoods that 1950s-through-‘70s urban renewal programs uprooted. As the initiatives are tackled, byproducts could include increasing access to jobs, growing economic opportunities and rebuilding formerly flourishing communities that post-war Federal highway and urban renewal programs left broken.
Investment in once-overlooked residents and neighborhoods is being included in such legislation as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Reconnecting Communities Pilot and the Inflation Reduction Act, which collectively could put billions of Federal dollars to work on these programs.