Amid mounting economic challenges and demand for flexible work environments, the U.S. office real estate market might only be at the start of a major downswing. According to a recent Bloomberg survey, many expect commercial property values to decline for at least another nine months.
More specifically, the survey — which polled 919 respondents — revealed that approximately two-thirds believe the U.S. office market will only see a resurgence after a severe collapse.
This outlook suggests a challenging future for many struggling commercial real estate markets across the country, with a majority of these respondents anticipating that the lowest point for U.S. commercial real estate prices will not be reached until the latter half of 2024, or even later.
The anticipation of a further downward slope spells trouble for the $1.5 trillion of commercial real estate debt, which is due by the end of 2025, according to Morgan Stanley. Bloomberg reports that refinancing this debt, especially for the nearly 25% associated with commercial office buildings, will prove to be a challenging endeavor because of how far property values have already fallen.
Several factors are contributing to this bleak view. The Federal Reserve’s aggressive tightening campaign has increased the cost of property financing, according to Bloomberg. Additionally, the reluctance of lenders to sell at a loss, coupled with a lack of buyers convinced of an imminent market recovery, worsens the situation. Regional banks, which were estimated by Goldman Sachs to hold about 30% of office building debt as of 2022, are also under stress, further reducing their lending capacity.
Factors contributing to a possible downturn extend beyond financial metrics. The rising demand for remote and hybrid work has seen many office workers in the U.S. resist returning to traditional office spaces. This resistance is reportedly stronger in the U.S. compared to Europe or Asia. Factors such as inadequate public transit options and extended commutes added to this reluctance. Notably, the Bloomberg survey found that over 40% of respondents would be more inclined to return to offices if better public transit options were available.
While the U.S. commercial real estate market faces a challenging future with a list of post-pandemic financial pressures, it’s also important to view this in the broader context of evolving work patterns and employee preferences. The reluctance to return to traditional office spaces, combined with the financial pressures, suggests that the workforce may continue to shift towards more flexible and remote arrangements.
As the landscape of work changes, so will the demand and value of commercial real estate.