Movement Starting to Happen Again

by Coldwell Banker Evergreen Olympic Realty, Inc. on November 12, 2010

This year may mark the first time that fourth quarter market activity is higher than spring and summer quarters. We are seeing market activity pick up ever so slightly. Many properties across most product lines, including office, industrial, retail, and multi-family, are starting to get some activity again. The common factor of success today is price.

Any experienced retailer will tell you that when supply is high and demand is soft it is time for a sale. Because retailers control so much inventory they can quickly adjust to current market conditions to move inventory off their shelves.

Real estate too must yield to supply demand shifts and the attendant impact on prices. The biggest difference is how quickly the market reacts.

For the most part, one piece of inventory is controlled by one owner. With so many people controlling price adjustments the real estate market is, not surprisingly, slower to adjust. It is not unusual to see a year or two gap between a drop in demand and then the corresponding drop in prices.

Consider the California real estate market, one of the hardest hit in the country over the last five years. (See Chart 1) The median sales price in the state did not drop until two years after the number of sales plummeted. Once prices dropped buyers started to come back to the market.

Click image to enlarge

Locally, we are seeing tenants and buyers start to take note of the price adjustments made on many properties. While demand slackened a great deal over the past two years, supply has ballooned. It is hard to remember a time with more product on the market.

Sellers and Landlords looking to move product today are now starting to adjust prices that reflect today’s economic realities. For the buyer’s and tenant’s part, good business people know that the down cycle is the time to invest. This is creating more activity than we’ve seen in the past 18 months.

When leasing, landlords are smartly looking at opportunities to help cash flow and bridge to better economic times. This means that lease terms might be shorter or other creative structures are negotiated to create win-win relationships over the longer term. For example, there may be lower rent offered in the near term with flexible rent steps in future years that can return rents to higher levels when market conditions shift.

This renewed activity is still not at a pace that suggests we are through the woods, but it is progress. The market may be further challenged as the state legislature grapples with the growing budget deficit. Until the private sector is in a more palpable expansion mode, prices must continue to be sharp to get the attention of today’s buyers and tenants.

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