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Latest ULI report forecasts robust real estate rebound

It’s going to take some time, though, for the office sector to recover

May 20, 2021 |
Factory-warehouse space will be in greater demand

The industrial sector, which includes warehouses, is expected to be one of the key growth drivers for commercial real estate. Image: Pixabay

The GDP, which in 2020 contracted for the first time in 11 years, is expected to grow by 6.5% in 2021, and keep growing (albeit at a slower pace) in the proceeding two years. In 2021, the U.S. should recover about 60% of the 9.42 million jobs it lost last year, and pick up another 5.1 million jobs over the following two years. Consequently, the unemployment rate is expected to recede to 4% by the end of 2023, close to where it was pre-pandemic.

This economy and jobs picture, coupled with positive predictions about inflation, interest rates, and capitalization rates, sets the stage for the Urban Land Institute’s Real Estate Economic Forecast, released on May 19, which sees a sector poised to rebound, led by returns from single-family, hotel, and industrial assets. The biggest red flag is the office sector, whose national vacancy rates are expected to rise by a higher-than-usual three-year average, but to also recover starting in 2023.

The forecasts for 27 economic and real estate indicators, published in this report, ULI’s 19th, are derived from a survey this spring of 42 economists and analysts from 39 real estate organizations.

Long term predictions about real estate sector growth

Commercial real estate should benefit from a strong economy through 2023. Graphic: ULI


Among the report’s notable findings are these:

• Commercial real estate transaction volume should recover quickly. It is expected to hit $500 billion this year and $550 billion next year. (The latest peak was $598 billion in 2019.) Commercial mortgage-backed securities issuance is projected at $70 billion this year, and to rise to $90 billion in 2023, exceeding the 20-year $82 billion average.

Commercial real estate transactions should be healthy

Transaction volume from real estate is expected to approach pre-pandemic levels again by 2023. Chart: ULI


• Price growth, as measured by the RCA Commercial Property Price Index, should remain below the 2020 level during all three proceeding years. The good news is that ULI is forecasting 5% increases in each of the next two years.

• Rent growth will be similarly volatile. Industrial rents will lead the pack with an average of 3.6% growth between 2021-2023. Multifamily rents will also rise, but office and retail rents are expected to stay in the negative column for a while.

Industrial availability rates through 2023

As demand for industrial space increases, so will its rental rates. Charts: ULI

Industrial rental rates through 2023

• The report looks at potential vacancy rates for five property types. Availability of warehouses and apartments is expected to remain below their 20-year averages over the next three years. Offices, on the other hand, will see vacancy rates rise to a three-year average of 16.2%, substantively above the sector’s 14.3% 20-year average. Retail vacancy rates, somewhat surprisingly, are projected to average 9.8%, below the sector’s 9.9% 20-year average.

Office vacancy rates through 2023

The office sector will have high vacancy rates for at least the next two years. Chart: ULI


• Last year, housing starts exceeded their 20-year average for the first time since the 2008-10 financial crisis. They are expected to hit 1.1 million units this year, and 1.2 million in 2022 and 2023.

• Real estate returns, as measured by the National Council of Real Estate Investment Fiduciaries, are forecast at 4.5%, 5.9%, and 6.5%, respectively, for 2021-2023. Industrial should lead all property types, but even office and retail are projected to generate positive returns.

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