Shopping Centers Face an Uncertain Future

Traditional shopping centers are facing uncertain futures as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to negatively impact store occupancy and vacancy rates. The first three months of 2020 marked the first time in over a decade that retail property writ large had a negative net absorption. What does that mean? Simply put, negative net absorption results when more tenant space is empty than filling up. The resultant change in the number of occupied square feet in shopping centers has resulted in a negative downturn for the first two quarters of 2020.

What’s causing this change?

The COVID-19 pandemic required all but the most essential retailers—like pharmacies and grocery stores—to close their doors for nearly three months. This dramatic shift has seemingly sped up the process of transformation already underway in the retail and commercial real estate industries. In response to the myriad challenges brought on by the novel coronavirus, retailers have made major changes.

Some retailers have chosen to dramatically reduce the size of their real estate footprints by closing stores, while others have begun bankruptcy filings. All of these changes have left landlords struggling to lease vacant spaces in shopping centers and traditional enclosed malls that would normally be filled with department stores and other well-known retail brands.

What does this change mean for commercial real estate?

The net absorption rate is a good way to judge the strength of supply and demand in the various sectors of the commercial real estate market. When the net absorption rate is positive, demand for space is high, rental rates are competitive and property values tend to increase. However, when the net absorption rate reverses course, vacancy rates increase and rental rates slowly begin to decline.

The effect of vacancies on rental rates and leasing will inevitably vary from market to market as the year comes to a close. Any market that depends on both international and domestic tourists will be slow to return to pre-coronavirus levels of retail activity. Large, urban markets are likely to fare better, as well as smaller emerging markets like Raleigh, North Carolina and Austin, Texas.

Is there any good news?

Single-tenant net lease (STNL) assets are still in demand for investors, especially those in 1031 exchanges hoping to take advantage of the looming IRS deadline on July 15. Investors seeking a sense of safety in a still uncertain economy are pursuing listings that feature a single-tenant property leased to a tenant that offers an essential service. Fast food and quick-service restaurants (QSR) with credit rated tenants are also in demand.

Ground + Space has several assets on the market right now that would be an ideal investment for any investor. Our CVS Pharmacy listing features a NN corporate-guaranteed lease that was recently extended by 20 years. The Tire Choice property that is currently available is situated within a dense retail corridor in The Villages, Florida and boasts a NNN lease.

How can Ground + Space help?

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 IRS 1031 tax deadline is fast approaching, so please contact one of our brokers for specialized guidance during this time.

How can I stay informed?

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.

Net Lease Market Outlook

After a solid 2019 performance, the net lease industry appears to be headed for continued success in 2020. A combination of low interest rates, changes in the United States tax code and the desire for greater return on investments have caused high demand within the net lease market segment.

Lower Interest Rates, Greater Yields

At the start of 2020, many investors feared interest rates might increase, which would lead to a correction. Instead, interest rates have remained fairly low. Since the cost of capital is lower, buyers are free to invest money into larger deals. With this in mind, many commercial real estate owners are taking this opportunity to sell their smaller assets at superior price points. This, in turn, has created a steady supply of properties for potential buyers.

Slight Slowdown in Retail Development

A decrease in retailer development in certain markets has led to an inevitable slowdown in new retail development since 2016. However, the properties that are being built are extremely desirable for buyers. As always, newly built assets are sold at a premium due in part to their long lease terms and low maintenance costs. In addition to these new construction projects, resale properties have become popular in many markets.

Types of Properties in High Demand

The single tenant net lease (STNL) market has long been viewed as a stable investment vehicle. Guaranteed rents and known financials are just two of the many factors that make net lease assets ideal investments. The most in-demand properties in the STNL sector have a few things in common: these assets are brand-new construction in enviable locales with credit-backed tenants. Additionally, potential buyers prefer properties with Internet-proof tenants.

These preferences have led to the rise in popularity of quick-service restaurants (QSRs) among investors. Most trophy assets in the QSR market feature strong credit tenants whose profits are not hampered by Amazon and other Internet retailers. These lower-priced properties tend to have scheduled rental increases every five years and longer lease terms. Ground + Space currently has a McDonald’s for sale in California, Maryland that is a prime example of an enviable QSR asset. Other popular tenants in the QSR space include Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts.

Multi-tenant properties are also in high demand, especially those created via break-up strategies. To put it simply, a break-up strategy involves dividing a property into multiple parcels which can then be independently sold to different investors. This strategy is successful in part because it caters to the needs of a larger field of buyers. More buyers are in need of properties within the $2 million to $5 million range than larger properties with price tags of more than $30 million. The team at Ground + Space have worked with several property owners to facilitate break-up strategy sales of trophy assets in major markets.

About Ground + Space

Interested in maximizing your investment opportunities? Ground + Space is a leading commercial real estate brokerage firm that specializes in single-tenant and retail NNN investments. Contact us today to receive a full evaluation of your commercial real estate assets. We can help you determine whether now is a good time for you to sell your property.