Advertisement
real estate

Fasten Your Seat Belts: Commercial Real Estate Is Taking a Flight to Quality

A "flight to quality" doesn’t mean jetting off to a tropical resort, it's a strategy that real estate investors are using right now to gain peace of mind. Seasoned CRE buyers are flocking to quality assets with less market and construction risk. Is it time to reposition your investment holdings?

The commercial real estate market has been so strong the past few years that property appreciation alone has turned otherwise marginal deals into windfalls. A low-risk/high-return market atmosphere has conditioned today’s real estate investors into believing outsized return metrics are the new normal.

But real estate, just like the stock market, has its share of ups and downs. And now, after a period of record highs, softening fundamentals are bringing real estate down for a landing.

The Changing Flight Path

A balance between risk and return has come into sharp focus for those using commercial real estate investments to build passive income and long-term wealth. Savvy real estate investors are flocking to “quality” investments — in other words, safer asset classes — that will perform through challenging conditions.

Advertisement - Article continues below

Commercial real estate investments are separated into four general asset classes:

  • Core investments have the least perceived risk. These are high-quality, high-occupancy properties with a stable tenant base in thriving city center locations. Core-Plus assets are similar to core but introduce a small “growth” component, due to the building’s quality or a next-to-city-center location.
  • Value-add investments offer less cash flow up front but tremendous return potential once the property’s physical and operational issues are corrected. For example, you might invest in a run-down apartment building with marginal tenants. Once renovated and re-tenanted, the property can be sold for a sizable profit.
  • Opportunistic real estate targets new land development or a highly distressed property that requires major renovations and/or market improvement. This is known as the riskiest investment type.
Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

In mid-2014, our investment firm purchased a value-add apartment tower in the Seattle metro area. The property suffered from decades of poor management and deferred maintenance; occupancy and rents were substantially below market as a result. Seattle’s economic renaissance had just taken off. We calculated that our all-in cost — purchase, rehab and repositioning — would land us substantially below the cost of buying a core-plus asset in an inferior location at that time. Our capital budget was $35,000+/unit, which paid off through substantial rent and net income growth. At that time, risk was balanced against projected returns that could be achieved in a rapidly escalating market.

Advertisement - Article continues below

Today, this property’s asset class has changed from value-add to core-plus. Its market value is substantially above our all-in cost, as the strategic purchase, strong management, eye for design, and a high-growth market all came together to benefit our tenants and investors.

Coming in for a Landing

Our Seattle metro asset illustrates the roaring good times that investment real estate has enjoyed since the economic downturn. Property values have approximately doubled since 2009 in certain markets, according to the Green Street Commercial Property Price Index. But the tide is turning, and some investors — hoping to extend the run of high returns — are disregarding new associated risks.

As a rule, core and core-plus real estate is the most safely positioned to produce consistent cash flows during a slowing or contracting economic cycle. Would we purchase our Seattle deal at today’s value-add prices if it were in its 2014 condition? Very likely the answer is “no,” given the risk. Labor and material costs to renovate in 2019 are 20% to 25% higher than five years ago, and market growth is flattening.

Upgrade to First Class

These recent market inflections are presenting new opportunities to purchase core-plus, “quality” assets at an attractive price. According to Neil Schimmel, CEO of Investors Management Group, “Value-add properties have been a red-hot trend for several years. Multifamily investors across the country are chasing after vintage assets in outlying suburbs, which has pushed prices closer to where core-plus assets are trading. This is great news for buyers looking to capture the safety of core-plus assets at a competitive price.”

In cities with oversupply or weak demand, core and core-plus properties typically outperform the market by delivering the best value for tenant rent dollars. These investments may generate lower returns in comparison to more speculative deals, but well-leased core assets in desirable city centers have historically held their value in down real estate cycles.

Many properties purchased early in this cycle and sold between 2016 and 2018 achieved high annual rates of return (exceeding 20%) and a doubling of the invested equity. Today, those kinds of returns are only likely to be achieved through elevated deal risks.

I encourage investors to take a more disciplined approach in evaluating location, pricing and intrinsic real estate qualities to reduce return volatility. At this point in the cycle, a flight to quality income-producing real estate could mean less turbulence in a stormy investment environment.

Advertisement

About the Author

Karlin Conklin

Principal & Executive Vice President, Investors Management Group

Karlin is Principal and Executive Vice President of Investors Management Group, a privately held real estate firm headquartered in Woodland Hills, Calif. IMG has transacted over $1.6 billion nationally in this cycle, with over $500 million in multifamily assets (3,000 units) currently under management nationwide. She holds an MBA from the University of Oregon.

Advertisement

Most Popular

7 Surprisingly Valuable Assets for a Happy Retirement
happy retirement

7 Surprisingly Valuable Assets for a Happy Retirement

If you want a long and fulfilling retirement, you need more than money. Here are the most valuable retirement assets to have (besides money), and how …
August 3, 2020
Retired? Good Luck Getting a Mortgage, Even If You’re Wealthy
mortgages

Retired? Good Luck Getting a Mortgage, Even If You’re Wealthy

One 70-year-old’s story highlights the challenges. Prepare for more paperwork and hoops to jump through than you could imagine.
August 2, 2020
Turning 60 in 2020? Expect Lower Social Security Benefits
Coronavirus and Your Money

Turning 60 in 2020? Expect Lower Social Security Benefits

When you file for Social Security, the amount you receive may be lower.
July 30, 2020

Recommended

Planning for Retirement in the New Normal of Covid-19
retirement planning

Planning for Retirement in the New Normal of Covid-19

Here are four ways we all need to adapt to keep our financial plans on track as the nation grapples with the coronavirus pandemic.
August 6, 2020
Turning 60 in 2020? Expect Lower Social Security Benefits
Coronavirus and Your Money

Turning 60 in 2020? Expect Lower Social Security Benefits

When you file for Social Security, the amount you receive may be lower.
July 30, 2020
6 Money-Smart Ways to Spend Your Stimulus Check
Tax Breaks

6 Money-Smart Ways to Spend Your Stimulus Check

If you don't have to use your stimulus check for basic necessities, consider putting the money to work for you. You'll thank yourself later.
July 30, 2020
Get Your Retirement Plan Back on Track
Making Your Money Last

Get Your Retirement Plan Back on Track

Whether the damage to your savings was self-inflicted or unavoidable, we’ll help you revive your retirement plan.
July 30, 2020