Higher Refinancing Costs Trigger Rise in Office Property Surrenders

Plus: retailers are shifting from overstocked inventories and heavy discounts to a more focused strategy.

Higher Refinancing Costs Trigger Rise in Office Property Surrenders

Plus: retailers are shifting from overstocked inventories and heavy discounts to a more focused strategy.

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Good morning. In the office real estate market, landlords are more willingly surrendering properties to lenders to minimize losses and redirect investments. Meanwhile, retailers are shifting from overstocked inventories and heavy discounts to a more focused strategy.

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*Data as of 11/24/2023 market close.


Office Landlords Are Increasingly Surrendering Properties to Lenders Amid Market Struggles

Illustration in a wider format, depicting the trend in the office real estate market where landlords are increasingly surrendering properties to lenders

A growing trend is emerging in the office real estate market: landlords are increasingly choosing to surrender properties to lenders voluntarily, opting to cut losses and redirect investments elsewhere.

What happened: The latest CoStar data reveals a surge in voluntary property surrenders, especially in the office sector. Office buildings constituted 43% of all deeds in lieu of foreclosure in Q2, compared to the 20% average for 2022. This increase is set against the backdrop of rising interest rates and stricter lending criteria, making it tougher for owners to refinance maturing loans.

Shifting landscape: During the early stages of the pandemic in the first half of 2020, office property deed-in-lieu constituted 21% of all foreclosures. This number dipped to 6% in the first half of 2022 but rebounded to 30% by the second half and increased to 33% in the first half of 2023. This shift indicates a strategic decision by property owners to cut losses on underperforming properties and redirect their investments to more profitable ventures.

Case in point: Illustrating this trend, Blackstone Group and Boston Properties surrendered the Metropolitan Square in Washington, D.C., to their mezzanine lender in October. The 12-story office building, featuring 656,546 square feet of office space and 14,023 square feet of retail space, was transferred for $305 million, equal to the unpaid loan amount. Blackstone, which had an 80% share in the venture, has shifted focus from traditional office properties to more promising sectors like apartments and warehouses.

Declining demand: Since the pandemic's start in March 2020, there has been a notable decline in office occupancy and new lease acquisitions, as shown by CoStar data. This trend has led many borrowers to reassess the value of office properties, increasing voluntary property surrenders to lenders. The shift is particularly evident in the commercial mortgage-backed securities market, where about 49% of space in 21 buildings totaling 2.6 million square feet is now vacant, indicating a strategic move away from further investments in this sector.


Big picture: The commercial real estate market, especially in the office sector, is experiencing a significant shift. High refinancing costs and evolving post-pandemic work patterns are leading property owners to reevaluate the viability of office spaces. This change is resulting in an increase in voluntary foreclosures, a departure from the past when refinancing was a common solution for financial challenges.


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  • Rate Hikes: Canada's once-thriving real estate market is facing a downturn, with developer defaults and stalled projects on the rise.

  • Doom Loop: As 2024 approaches, the U.S. hotel industry encounters a mix of challenges and opportunities across major markets.

  • Pay Down the Debt: Raleigh's Highwoods Properties aims to strengthen against economic downturns by offering $350M in unsecured notes to boost liquidity.

  • Sporting Setback: The TGL indoor golf league, supported by Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, faces a year's delay due to the deflation of its venue's dome.

  • Zoning Update: The Fairfax City Council unanimously passed new zoning laws, enabling research and development businesses to establish in the city's commercial areas.

  • Biotech Relocation: Life science companies are increasingly moving to emerging clusters like Austin, Nashville, Boulder, and Seattle.

  • Affordable Housing Expansion: By spring 2024, Sarasota plans to broaden affordable housing incentives to include commercial corridors and centers per the city's comprehensive plan amendment.


Retailers Have Cleaned Up Their Inventories for the Holidays


As the holiday season approaches, retailers have adopted a different inventory strategy for 2023, moving away from overstocked warehouses and shelves of discounted items to a more focused approach.

Inventory reduction: Many prominent retailers, ranging from retail giants like Walmart and Target to specialized sellers like Best Buy and Dick's Sporting Goods, have actively reduced their inventories. This strategic move involves streamlining the volume of goods stored in warehouses and displayed on store shelves. For example, Target executed a significant 14% reduction in its inventory for the quarter ending Oct. 28. The primary goal behind this reduction is to enhance flexibility in responding to swiftly changing consumer preferences.

Challenges in forecasting: Effective demand forecasting has become a complex task for retailers. Rapid and unpredictable shifts in consumer buying patterns have rendered traditional forecasting tools less reliable. During the pandemic, some retailers resorted to ordering more inventory from suppliers as a precautionary measure to prevent potential product shortages. However, this "just-in-case" inventory management approach often left companies with surplus goods that were challenging to manage.

Holiday Outlook: While the outlook for holiday retail sales in the US remains positive, the pace of growth is expected to be more modest compared to the previous year. The National Retail Federation predicts a sales increase ranging from 3% to 4% over 2022, with total sales estimated to fall within the range of $957.3 billion to $966.6 billion. This projection comes after a robust 5.3% growth in holiday sales in the previous year when sales reached $936.3 billion.


Why it matters: Retailers' inventory management strategies are evolving to match consumer demand more accurately, emphasizing the importance of flexibility and responsiveness in supply chains as they navigate uncertain market conditions.


Top 5 and Bottom 5 Markets Where Inflation Has Risen and Fallen the Most Since Year End 2019

Source: Moody’s Analytics CRE

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