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Top 10 Issues Affecting the Real Estate Industry

October 30, 2012

The Counselors of Real Estate®, an invitation-only professional association of top leaders in more than 50 specialties within the real estate industry (and which is an affiliate of the National Association of REALTORS®) developed the following list of critical issues that will affect the real estate industry over the next 10 – 30 years. Members of CRE®s External Affairs Committee regularly issue alerts about important topics. Many of the issues have strong interrelationships and are common across industries.

Through a series of objective white papers to be developed over the next few years, the organization seeks to engage leaders within the industry and the world economy in meaningful dialogue to address these urgent issues.

Response to these trends will separate the winners from the losers in the real-estate market, said Scott Muldavin, CRE, a member of the group and president of The Muldavin Company, a consulting firm serving the real-estate industry.

1. Aging Population 

The aging of the population will broadly and dramatically affect the real estate markets from housing, retail sales, health care, and the myriad of factors that define success for different geographic areas. Aging will most directly affect the demand for real estate, but will have scores of less direct impacts such as potential capital impacts as the pensioners by the scores of millions move from being net contributors to net users of capital.

2. Funding of Public Employee Retirement Systems 

Underfunding of state and local retirement systems in the trillions of dollars provides extreme challenges to the provision of basic local and state services critical to real estate properties and markets. Can we tap existing government assets for cash in a way that makes economic sense and does not shortchange future generations? Real winners and losers to emerge.

3. Student Debt Burdens 

Student college debt averages more than $20,000 per student and its total exceeds consumer debt for the first time. How will such burdens change the patterns of spending, household formation, and growth of this generation of graduates?

4. Infrastructure Funding and US Competitiveness

Creative public-private partnerships with state & local governments are being viewed as potential supplements or replacements for Federal funding of the next generation of needed infrastructure improvements, and could cover the trillions of dollars of deferred maintenance of existing assets.

5. Changing Office, Retail and Industrial Demand 

Radical reductions in office space use by larger occupants due to technology change and acceptance of alternative work systems—and similar changes in retail as Internet buying changes the role and purpose of physical retail —will define winners and losers going forward. The Panama Canal expansion and East Coast port expansion are changing the dynamics of warehousing.

6. Real Estate Capital Markets Liquidity

Capital limitations on banks as a result of Dodd Frank legislation and existing over allocations to real estate, concerns about the scale of the return of the CMBS market, hundreds of billions of dollars of real estate loans that must be refinanced in the next 3-7 years, as well as growing capital demands by other sectors of the economy will create continuing uncertainty over access to capital. Smaller properties; properties in secondary or tertiary markets; and properties with weak borrowers, substantial vacancy, high rollover of tenants in early years, or other risk factors are already experiencing a severe capital shortage.

7. Global Change and Uncertainty

The political gridlock and budget crisis in the US, the European financial crisis, the pending (now underway) slowdown of China’s economy, uncertainty and slow growth in the Middle East, and continuing expansion of global interconnections makes uncertainty about the future a certainty. What does it mean for real estate investment in the US and abroad?

8. Integration of Sustainability

Sustainability has moved beyond a gimmick and become part of corporate governance, management and reporting systems, supply chains, and the basic functioning of many companies—increasing the value of sustainable property investment. How must real estate businesses adapt to keep up?

9. Low Cap Rates

Cap rates for core properties are back to troubling 2007 levels. What happens if interest rates increase and cap rates decompress? Has the industry set itself up for another disastrous value decline?

10. Civil Discord and Political Gridlock

Many of the key issues and challenges require broad consensus to solve. Will there be greater cooperation, or will political gridlock continue? Answers to this question will be critical to determining the future of the real estate industry and societies of the world.