Luxury Residence Report Misses the Mark

A report was recently issued from the Institute for Policy Studies that has attracted significant media coverage and editorials from virtually all of the local print and broadcast outlets.

Elisif_20161213_5514.jpgCredit: Elisif Brandon

It’s a great story: the ultra-rich, international money launderers have descended on the Boston real estate scene, crowding out poor and middle-class residents.

However, when you go beyond the buzz and dig into the content of the report, there is much to question. The report implies that owning condos through a trust or LLC is done to hide the owner’s identity. This form of ownership is actually a very common practice for tax, estate, and transactional reasons. Furthermore, while some buyers may choose to remain anonymous, it’s rather uncommon and to imply that anyone who does this is somehow laundering money is factually incorrect.

If these higher priced apartments or condos were not built, middle income apartments would not be replacing them — the economics just do not work with the current high construction costs. Furthermore, these buildings are already paying a tax devoted to the production of affordable housing, with a requirement to provide for at least 15 percent of the units built on site as affordable or a fee to produce those units off site. In addition, the city’s office buildings must also pay a “linkage fee” for affordable housing and workforce training.

Virtually all of these new developments are built on vacant land or in commercial areas where there had not been any housing, so they have not displaced existing residents. In fact, many of these developments have been the catalyst to creating new 24/7 neighborhoods.

If these condo owners are not here full-time to justify a residential tax break, so what? Do we want to discourage retirees living in Florida from living here for six months? Do we want to tell the penthouse owner, Michael Dell, to take a hike and take his jobs with him? I don’t think so.

The real issue is that it will take federal and state resources, communities working with developers, and overcoming NIMBY-ism and fear of affordable housing at the local level to truly address this housing crisis. Rather than drawing false conclusions and creating easy scapegoats, it’s time we all come together to find economically feasible solutions.

This letter to the editor originally appeared in the Boston Business Journal on September 20, 2018, as written by NAIOP Massachusetts CEO David Begelfer.

 

How Much Are Smart Buildings Really Worth?

smartinfographicMITCourtesy of the MIT Center for Real Estate and Real Estate Innovation Lab – Get Smart, Connected & Green

Arguably, the premier commercial office space market in the U.S. – New York City – is showing signs that office tenants will pay a significant premium on rent for space in a ‘smart’ building.

Compared to office leases in the city for non-smart buildings, MIT Center for Real Estate researcher Alfredo Keitaro Bando Hano (2018) found that office properties with smart building attributes attracted rents that commanded a 37 percent premium on effective rent per net square feet. The sample included 454 non-smart building properties and 223 smart office leases using the Compstak transaction database for Manhattan for 2013 and onwards. The MIT Real Estate Innovation Lab continues to research and report on smart, connected and green buildings.

Thanks to new technologies and devices, occupiers now have the possibility to measure and analyze the activity that occurs inside their structures. Companies are not focused on location only anymore; they now they look for more productive and efficient areas, and smart buildings rise as a possible answer to this new requirement.

In search of flexibility and agility, users have pushed changes in architectural and interior design to improve employee satisfaction, health, and engagement, hence better productivity.

Smart buildings are self-sensing. For the purposes of Keitaro’s study, a smart building must have installed one or more smart amenities that go beyond sustainability and aim to improve the occupier experience. Smart amenities include occupancy sensors, automatic windows, cameras with emotion recognition algorithms, and other technologies that capture and provide information to tenants and landlords. Ultimately, a smart building is one that adapts to the needs and preferences of the building’s occupants. And, in the office environment, responding to workers’ needs and preferences stand to significantly increase employee productivity and well-being.

We can predict that in the future, new smart amenities will come to market and offer commercial real estate developers, owners, and investors opportunities to incorporate smart technology in the building’s plans and reap the financial benefits.

That being said, the New York City sample did not delve into the cost of constructing and operating a smart building compared to a non-smart facility. It is not yet clear whether the rent premiums offset the costs to construct, renovate, and operate smart buildings. Further, due to other factors (like location) not all the projects will immediately obtain these premiums just by embracing a smart strategy. Nevertheless, it is worth emphasizing that smart buildings have value.

NAIOP Massachusetts is an industry partner to the MIT Center for Real Estate. Alfredo Keitaro Bando Hano wrote The Incremental Value of Smart Buildings Upon Effective Rents and Transaction Prices (2018) as a master’s thesis.

For more information about the MIT Center for Real Estate’s research, please go to: https://mitcre.mit.edu/ or to the MIT REILab:  http://realestateinnovationlab.mit.edu/

 

Developers take steps to reinvent suburban office parks

The following article was written by Jay Fitzgerald and appeared in the July 27, 2014 edition of The Boston Globe:

When the exodus to the suburbs got underway more than a half-century ago, employers followed, and the office park was born. But today, as younger workers return to the city, and employers again follow the labor, these isolated campuses of low-slung buildings, parking lots, and company cafeterias face challenges, from new competitors to aging facilities to high vacancy rates.

As a result, owners and developers across Eastern Massachusetts are seeking to reinvent the suburban office park, taking a page from urban revitalization that transformed old mill and factory buildings into mixed-use developments of housing, retail, and office spaces. In communities such as Burlington and Marlborough, developers are adding restaurants, hotels, and other amenities, as well as housing, to compete with the “live, work, play” attraction of the city.

In Marlborough, for example, Atlantic Management Inc. of Framingham purchased the former Hewlett-Packard campus three years ago to launch a more than $200 million rehab of the 110-acre site, which dates back to the 1960s. The project is well underway, with Atlantic refurbishing the two office buildings, while AvalonBay Communities of Virginia, which purchased 26 acres at the site, builds 350 luxury apartments.

Atlantic Management also plans to develop a 153-room hotel and 50,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space that may one day include a farmers market. Already, this redevelopment of the Marlborough Hills office park has attracted a major corporate tenant, Quest Diagnostics of New Jersey, which plans to locate more than 1,000 lab workers there later this year.w

“The number-one challenge for many companies is how to attract talent,” said Joseph Zink, chief executive of Atlantic Management.“Companies need to attract talent and this is one way to do it. I think we’re going to see more of this in Massachusetts.”

Suburban office parks across the nation are trying to respond to tenants insisting on more amenities, said David Begelfer, chief executive of NAIOP Massachusetts, a real estate trade group. In Massachusetts, there’s no precise figure on how many office parks are undertaking renovations large and small, Begelfer said, but “it’s dozens of them and they’re easily spending billions of dollars.”

“The market is demanding it,” he said.

Commercial real estate specialists say the trend in office park redevelopment is driven by two forces. First, property owners need to renovate aging, outdated buildings, some of which are a half-century old. Second, they must meet increasing competition from Boston, Cambridge, and other nearby urban communities.

Along Interstate 495, the vacancy rate for Class A offices is hovering at nearly 18 percent, compared with 11.5 percent in Boston and less than 6 percent in Cambridge. Commercial rents are depressed. Offices lease for only $20 per square foot in the region, less than half of what similar space fetches in Boston and Cambridge, according to Jones Lang LaSalle, a commercial real estate firm.

The site of the former headquarters of data storage giant EMC Corp. in Hopkinton is an extreme case of a struggling suburban property. The 160,000-square-foot building, just off I-495, has sat empty for 13 years, ever since EMC moved to newer offices elsewhere in town, said Steven Zieff, a partner with Hopkinton’s Crossroads Redevelopment LLC.

Crossroads has an option to buy the 38-acre property, which also includes four one-story buildings, and hopes to redevelop the site into a mixed-use complex of housing, retail stores, restaurants, and office space.

“People are looking for something different,” said Zieff. “It’s the entire ‘live, work, play’ environment that people want. They don’t want to go to just an office park with a cafeteria and parking lots.”

Along Route 128, the situation is not nearly as dire, with the office vacancy rate between Woburn and Needham running at 6.4 percent, below Boston’s. Rents near that stretch of the highway are rising as the economy continues to improve, averaging about $34 per square foot, about $20 less than office space in Boston and Cambridge.

But office park owners still feel pressure from intensifying competition with cities. In recent years, a number of suburban companies have moved to Boston or Cambridge, including ad firm Allen & Gerritsen, which moved to the Seaport District from Watertown. Biogen Idec soon will move from a Weston office campus to a new headquarters under construction in Kendall Square.

At the 13-building New England Executive Park in Burlington, the vacancy rate is 10 percent, with tenants that include tech firms BAE Systems, Charles River Systems, and Black Duck Software. Still, National Development, the park’s owner, is convinced it needs improvements to stay competitive.

Later this year the firm plans to start a major overhaul that includes demolishing an office building — all 13 buildings were built between 1969 and 1986 — and constructing 300,000 square feet of new development. The new additions will include a 170-room hotel, three full-service restaurants, and new retail and office space.

“We’re seeing this great rush to the city [by tenants],” said Ted Tye, managing partner at the Newton-based National Development. “What that’s doing is forcing suburban properties to stay on their toes. And we’re responding to that.”

National Development, however, won’t add housing to its New England Executive Park mix. Tye said he’s not convinced that housing within office parks is a smart idea. Some towns might end up getting financially hurt because commercial and industrial properties are usually taxed at higher levels than residential properties, he said.

He added that it’s also hard to duplicate urban settings within suburban parks if they’re not near public transit and don’t have easy pedestrian access to offices. “This is a source of some disagreement within the industry,” he said of housing’s role in office park redevelopment.

In contrast, Nordblom Co., owner of Northwest Park in Burlington, is a firm believer in “live, work, play.” Three years ago, it launched a massive $500 million project to redevelop about half the 285-acre office park to include 600,000 square feet of retail space, 300 new apartments, a 225-room hotel, and 3.5 million square feet of new or refurbished offices.

Todd Fremont-Smith, senior vice president of Nordblom, said the redevelopment, which could take another 10 years to complete, has already attracted new office tenants, a steakhouse restaurant called The Bancroft, and a new Wegman’s supermarket, which opens in October.

“By mixing the uses, you have a more dynamic environment — and it’s more rentable,” Fremont-Smith said. “People are seeking urban-like amenities where they work. I think we’re going to see more of this at both office and industrial parks. People want it.”

View the original article here.

Highlights from Boston: The Investment World’s Newest Heavyweight

Elisif_20140417_6337This post was submitted by T.J Winick, Vice President at Solomon McCown.

Event Photos  |  Curbed article  |  Banker & Tradesman article  |  Recap Video

NAIOP’s recent event, Boston – The Investment World’s Newest Heavyweight, assured us once again that Boston is in the city to invest in when it comes to commercial real estate.

Throughout the event, panelists including Charles River Realty Investors President Brian Kavoogian, Cushman & Wakefield New England Area President Rob Griffin, AEW Managing Director Bob Plumb, DivcoWest CEO Stuart Shiff, and Blackstone Principal Jacob Werner touted Boston’s young and vibrant workforce along with its high level of innovation, top-notch schools and universities, and impressive CRE market. “[Here in Boston] it’s a very well educated labor force that draws from traditional financial services, technology and a growing biotech business,” said Werner.

The city is the 5th largest office market in the U.S. and is currently second only to San Francisco in terms of CRE vacancies. While panelists made several favorable comparisons between Boston and the “City by the Bay”, San Francisco is, unquestionably, the leader in development. It has a total of 3.5 million square-feet under construction at the moment, compared with Boston’s 2 million square-feet. San Francisco’s overall rental rates are overall back at 2007 levels while Boston remains approximately 20 percent below 2007 rates; in fact, Boston’s rental rates are still considered “cheap.” However, based on the city’s similarities (coastal, hubs of innovation) and with the belief that San Francisco is a bellwether, Boston’s CRE outlook remains bullish. “There’s real scarcity in [Boston] and scarcity is how you ultimately create value,” noted Kavoogian.

Another area of comparison: Massachusetts trails only California when it comes to NIH Funding. According to Cushman’s Griffin, Massachusetts General Hospital alone receives more NIH dollars than 90% of states. He also noted how the biotech and biopharmaceutical sectors continue to add more and more jobs and create new drugs. “If you’re a global investor and you look at Boston,” said Plumb, “you’ve got all the ingredients for job growth.” And the Boston area’s hottest markets for start-ups (Boston, Cambridge, and Waltham) have experienced an impressive 318 new deals as the market has bounced back. “Focusing on those markets that are both gateway and technology-related markets has been appealing to us,” said Shiff.

In addition to those three markets, there is also hope for Boston’s Central Business District (CBD) despite all the Seaport District’s development. The CBD is currently experiencing 15 percent in rent growth. The panel felt that once the CBD integrates more residential and retail projects into its urban dynamic, it will become “gold”.

Although the panel’s take was overwhelming positive, they did caution listeners to keep a couple of things in mind: Boston has 25,000 new apartments (many which are luxury) inside Route 128 currently under construction. It’s crucial the region creates jobs that meet those rents and attracts a suitable workforce. Also, in terms of capital markets, the industry needs to start thinking about rising interest rates–which are likely to increase as the economy continues to slowly improve.

New Construction for Greater Boston?

At the recent NAIOP/SIOR Annual Market Forecast, there was talk about the possibilities of speculative commercial development in Boston.  There was a consensus that we will continue to see new construction in the suburbs, Cambridge and Boston due to falling CONSTRUCTION_BLOGvacancies, raising rents, building obsolescence, and limited blocks of space available for large users.

The key stumbling block is whether tenants will pay a premium price over the rents available with existing vacant spaces (especially in areas where rents have not grown as quickly, like Boston’s Financial district.) The new buildings will have the greatest challenges in holding down rents due to the rapid rise in construction costs (with Boston having one the highest union labor wages.)

It is said that “time is money”, so a possible solution is to accelerate the speed of construction. Take a look at the following YouTube video of a 30-story tall hotel built in 360 hours (complete with room furnishings!)

Patience for a 1,000 Foot Tower

In a recent BBJ article by Thomas Grillo, there seems to be some interest from the BRA to renew its search for a developer of the city-owned Winthrop Street Garage site on Devonshire Street between Winthrop Square and Federal Street. The previous proposal was to build a 1,000-foot tower with 1.3 million square feet of office space on the approximately one acre parcel.

It’s always exciting for a city to talk about the prospects of having the tallest tower in the city built. However, historically, this city sometimes lacks the patience to allow the marketplace to support the new venture.  It is difficult enough to build an office building a quarter of the size of this dream project without substantial pre-leasing at rents that justify the expense of constructing a tower. A delay in development does not equate with a lack of expertise or, even, capital. It just means that there are economic cycles that affect these decisions. To ignore market demand would be at the owner’s financial peril.

If we want to attract serious interest from developers in this site, the BRA and the new Mayor will have to understand that giving a permit to build a project of this magnitude will require the patience of Job!

Grim Optimism for Real Estate and the Economy

Goodwin Procter’s Real Estate Capital Markets Conference was recently held in New York City in partnership with Columbia Business School.  GP-REConferenceAn exceptional group of speakers discussed the real estate markets, investments, and the economy.

The keynote presentation was delivered by Austan Goolsbee, former chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, and now a Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. Goolsbee spoke with “grim optimism” about the US economy.  The US has the most productive work force in the world and low energy and new-energy sources will benefit our growth.  Relative to the rest of the world, our fiscal imbalance is manageable. All in all, he believes that the next six to twelve months will be a bumpy ride, but prospects in the long-run look good.

The following are a few interesting observations made during the panel discussions:

  • Demographics are playing a key role internationally, especially in the US. Effects of this will be seen in an increased demand for apartments, senior housing, and retail.
  • With accounting standards likely to change in the future, as relating to corporate leasing and ownership, more businesses will likely choose owning large amounts of their space.
  • Retail sales continue to be impacted by online competition, but retail is still a growing market. The future may move towards more hybrids that have both online and storefront locations.
  • Office space needs are dropping in terms of space requirements per new job. However, there is a sense that over time businesses will start to swing back towards a need for greater space.
  • Multifamily housing rents are back to pre-recession highs and it is likely that rents will experience slower growth going forward.
  • Record amounts of capital were raised both in the public and private markets last year. With less growth worldwide, real estate is very attractive to investors.  Investor interest is focused on yields and risk management. Where in the past, “cash is king”, now, “cash flow is king”.
  • Rates should not be rising in the short term, but that is a big risk for all asset classes. The markets could wake up to a starting spike in rates that, in hindsight, will have seemed inevitable.