Since March, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused dramatic changes in the way individuals do business and buy goods. These changes have not only affected the retail sector—every aspect of the United States economy has been impacted in some way. Here we take a look at some of these changes and how they will influence the future of the commercial real estate market.
Physical Versus Economic Vacancies
Retailers deemed nonessential during the COVID-19 pandemic are facing a dramatically different economic outlook than their essential retail counterparts. Experiential businesses, buffet-style restaurants and retailers facing financial hardships before the pandemic began currently face an uncertain future. Although many businesses have begun opening their doors as nationwide restrictions have been partially lifted, some retailers might be forced to close their doors for good.
Higher vacancy rates are expected as a number of retailers reassess their position in the marketplace. Although more and more storefronts have shuttered, a number of leases still remain in effect. This, in turn, has expanded the gap between physical and economic vacancy. According to some reports, the average physical vacancy rate will jump to between 5.6 and 6.8 percent by the final quarter of 2020. The economic vacancy rates are expected to be even higher as retailers grapple with new regulations, depleting cash reserves and lack of financial assistance.
Construction Projects Slow and Rent Prices Fall
As a result of the pandemic, developers and retailers are slowing down the rate of construction and expansion projects. Completed projects during the first three months of 2020 dropped to just 8.3 million square feet. Inventory additions are expected to decrease to levels not seen since 2000 by the end of the year. Although some projects have been cancelled altogether, many others have simply been put on hold and are expected to resume in 2021. There is a silver lining, however: Single-tenant net lease (STNL) properties will account for the largest portion of this year’s construction projects at nearly 17 million square feet.
Less new available space and rising vacancy rates will have a negative effect on asking rent prices for commercial real estate assets. During the first quarter of 2020, asking rent climbed to an average of $20.50 per square foot. Some experts believe asking rent prices will fall as much as 9.4 percent by December 2020.
STNL Assets Are Still Going Strong
Long-term security is just one of the reasons investors are targeting STNL assets now more than ever. Discount retailers like Dollar General and Dollar Tree have attracted a wide range of investment offers, along with other essential retailers like CVS Pharmacy. Quick-service restaurants (QSR) with drive-thru service windows are also being targeted as these retailers have generated near pre-pandemic sales. For now, buyers are less interested in fitness centers, department stores, sit-down restaurants and strip centers with a number of nonessential tenants.
Navigating These Uncertain Times
Ground + Space is a leading commercial real estate firm that specializes in single-tenant and retail NNN investments. We have several listings available featuring retailers that are in a prime position to succeed in a post-pandemic economy. We are committed to providing up-to-date information and best-in-class services to clients during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. The market changes daily, so please contact one of our brokers for specialized guidance during this time.
Stay Healthy and Safe
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers daily updates and other information about COVID-19 symptoms and testing in the United States. Johns Hopkins University (JHU) has created a resource to help inform the public and advance comprehensive understanding of the novel coronavirus and its effects backed by experts in global public health, infectious disease and emergency preparedness. Additionally, the World Health Organization (WHO) continues to track the number and location of confirmed cases of the virus across the globe.