Private and institutional investors made up half of commercial real estate sales

March 30, 2014

Institutional and private investors were the most active buyers of commercial real estate in the Washington region last year. They accounted for about half of the $6.4 billion total sales volume, which was only slightly below the 2001-2012 annual total average of more than $6.9 billion.

With real estate investment an increasingly global business, many of those buying core assets in Washington were overseas investors. For example, the National Pension Service of Korea purchased two buildings at Washington Harbour in Georgetown for $373 million, or $665 per square foot. And the Norwegian Government Pension Fund purchased two Class A properties office in the District’s East End area as part of a six-property portfolio partial-interest sale.

However, unlike during and immediately following the last recession when commercial property values were depressed, the prospects for investors of making a quick buck off a rapid flip appear close to nil. For the most part, commercial property values in the region have already peaked. Increasingly, investors are taking more of a ‘buy-and-hold’ strategy and banking on asset appreciation over a longer term.

The region’s office market suffered relatively mild declines in value in the downturn and then saw some appreciation from 2010-2011.

The values of higher-quality, well-leased property in the region have rebounded even more strongly.

With little movement expected in rents and vacancies over the near-term forecast, net operating income for commercial property is expected to slip or remain flat until 2016. Although this is not great news for investors that recently bought properties, it likely means local companies will be able to score a great deal until the amount of available office space declines to the point where property values start to see significant growth.

Maeve Gallagher is a real estate economist with CoStar Group in the District.

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