For various reasons, 2019 proved to be a year of advancement and change. This was the year that the driverless revolution finally hit the road, China accomplished the first landing on the far side of the moon, and many other social and political issues advanced. We also lost legends like Doris Day and Karl Lagerfeld.
Beyond the tech, science, social, and political advancements, there were many other industries that were significantly shaped by 2019. Particularly for commercial real estate, there are four things that took place this year that changed the CRE industry for the better. Here’s why 2019 should be considered a great year for commercial real estate.
- Low Interest Rates
An increased capital flow in the U.S. has helped to keep interest rates low despite an optimistic economic outlook. Additionally, the Federal Reserve issued three rate cuts in 2019, twice amid trade tensions with China. Economists predict that interest rates will remain low by historical standards for at least the near term. Additionally, multifamily originations are projected to hit an all-time high in 2020.
Despite the dip in mortgage rates, cap rates have stayed relatively flat, at 5.6% during the first half of 2019. Cap rates across all major segments, except for the retail sector, which has seen some cap rate expansion, have been largely unaffected by interest rate fluctuations and remain a favorable asset class. It’s expected that the hunt for yield will continue to drive more capital into real estate acquisitions in the near future.
- Good GDP Growth
The United States kicked off 2019 with growth of 3.1% in the first quarter, the growth then slowed into second quarter. Ultimately GDP growth went on to exceed what was initially expected in the third quarter. The economy expanded by 2.1% between July and September, more than the initial reading of 1.9%, and more than the 2% growth rate in the second quarter. The last time it grew at a pace of less than 2% was in the final quarter of 2018.
Manufacturing, both in the U.S. and globally, was hit hard by the on-going trade war with China. On top of that, the positive effects from the 2017 tax reform (see below), which gave the economy a boost, also tapered off this year. Though economists are still expecting economic growth to slow further in the near-term, that slowdown appears to be more modest than initially expected
- 2017 Tax Reform*
It has been expressed that commercial real estate was the real “winner” of the tax reform of 2017. The new tax benefits these changes brought to commercial real estate investing include:
- Individual tax rate – The tax changes made in 2017 included tax rate cuts across the board with corporate rates being slashed to 21% (which received most of the publicity). The individual rate reductions were not as dramatic, but do provide relief especially with the wider tax brackets.
- Depreciation – The 2017 tax reform brought back 100% bonus depreciation through 2022, meaning the cost may be fully expensed in the year placed in service for qualifying property.
- Interest expense limitation – As part of the 2017 tax reform, there is a new limitation that restricts the ability to deduct interest expense in certain situations. Fortunately, commercial real estate should not be impacted in most scenarios. The deduction for interest expense is limited to 30% of taxable income before interest, depreciation and amortization deductions.
- Like-kind exchanges – Fortunately, the impact on like-kind exchanges on commercial real estate was minimal. Real property for real property exchanges are still allowed, meaning there is not a requirement to exchange into the same asset type. Meaning an apartment complex can be exchanged into a commercial property.
- Tax-exempt Taxpayers – For tax years starting after January 1, 2018, losses from any CRE investment activity are only allowed to offset income or gains from that activity. Though this will likely accelerate tax liabilities for tax-exempt investors that have multiple investments generating unrelated business income, they can protect themselves by using an IRA to make additional investments in commercial real estate.
*The full details of the 2017 tax reformed are quite complex and beyond the scope of this article. As always, investors are encouraged to discuss the potential impact of this limitation with their tax advisor.
- Low Unemployment
Historically low unemployment rates were an earmark of 2019. Contributing to this was a boom in CRE construction which created an increased demand for commercial construction workers. To put the current state of real estate growth into perspective, demand over the past five years has exceeded housing inventory by 1.4 million units, and vacancies are at their lowest levels since 1984. All of this demand for more real estate creates a demand for new construction, and more construction workers to complete it.
While (most) growth is a good thing, there’s a flip side to every coin. The nationwide shortage of construction workers posed significant challenges for the commercial construction industry, including struggles to meet deadlines, raised costs to complete projects, and firms having to ask their existing skilled laborers to do more work. While there is no quick solution to resolve this in the near-future, those in the field are making efforts to resolve the problem while keeping their CRE projects on deadline.
What Can We Expect In 2020?
The commercial real estate industry has benefited from the unusually long length of the current expansion cycle. But more than 10 years in, while growth in many fundamentals has slowed, the cycle marches on. Many experts believe we’ve entered a new kind of cycle marked by prolonged periods of low growth, low inflation, and low interest rates. Such an environment would prove favorable for continued stability in the commercial real estate sector for the foreseeable future.
Which of these four changes in 2019 do you believe to be most powerful? How will any of these also impact your industry? Join in the conversation by leaving a comment.