Retail Vacancy Rate Hits 17-Year Low
Landlords’ increasing leverage is sign of retail real estate’s recent strength
Landlords Shift Away From Rent Discounts as Retail Recovers
Retail landlords are putting a stop to all those rent discounts and concessions they offered struggling tenants during the pandemic, signaling a positive rebound for the retail sector.
By the numbers: While many landlords reduced rent prices to help retailers, they’re now less likely to agree to such concessions. Property owners are finding it easier to fill prime retail space with the recovery of the retail sector. Store openings are outpacing closures for the second straight year in 2023, and vacancies at U.S. shopping centers have reached their lowest level since 2007.
Strengthening leverage: Landlords now have more leverage as vacancies at U.S. shopping centers fell to 5.3% in Q4, as average asking rents rose nearly 17% above 2019 levels to $23.70 PSF. This growing leverage reflects the optimism of retail landlords who believe limited available space, coupled with resilient consumer spending and improving economic views, will result in more retail demand.
Retail vs. Office: Retail is in a strong position compared to the struggling office sector. Office landlords are still offering concessions and free rent to attract tenants, while retail landlords are moving away from rent structures tied to percentage-of-sales. Retailers that renewed leases or opened new shops during the pandemic were often able to secure favorable lease terms, but landlords now prefer fixed-base rent structures to avoid relying on fluctuating monthly sales.
Older property challenges: While many retail landlords are shifting away from concessions, older and tired properties still have to offer discounts and accept lower rents to attract tenants. Additionally, landlords are investing in renovations and build-outs for new tenants, leading to higher construction costs. However, the prevalence of conversion to fixed-rent structures with overage rent suggests strength, even extending to enclosed malls.
➥ THE TAKEAWAY
Tables have turned: Retail's recovery is evident as landlords shift away from rent discounts. With store openings surpassing closures for the second consecutive year and vacancies at their lowest level in over a decade, retail property owners are confident in the future demand for limited available space. Despite older buildings requiring concessions, the overall outlook for retail remains positive.
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Markets Where 4Q Apartment Demand Outpaced Pre-COVID Norms
The U.S. apartment market showed strong momentum in Q4 of 2023, with certain regions significantly outperforming pre-COVID demand levels.
Leading the way: The Sun Belt region emerged as a standout performer in apartment demand, thanks to robust population growth and job market vitality. These factors contributed to heightened household formation and housing demand, with many Sun Belt markets also leading in new construction volumes.
National performance: Most major U.S. apartment markets experienced a resurgence in demand during Q4 2023. Twelve markets, in particular, exceeded long-term norms by a big margin. Phoenix, for instance, saw an impressive absorption of nearly 4,300 units, a stark contrast to its average demand in the decade prior to the pandemic. Houston and Austin in Texas also demonstrated remarkable recoveries, buoyed by job growth and new supply additions.
Zoom in: While cities like Atlanta, Minneapolis, and Detroit showed improvements, reversing trends of net move-outs seen from 2010 to 2019, Chicago still experienced net move-outs in Q4 2023, albeit at a reduced rate. Despite not matching the top performers, Detroit still marked a significant shift from net move-outs to a demand of approximately 1,100 units.
Falling short: A few markets, mainly in the West region, lagged behind pre-COVID demand averages, largely due to modest job gains and limited apartment supply. Despite its overall weak performance, San Diego managed a balanced annual outcome due to stronger absorption in the second and third quarters of 2023. Although it is experiencing growth, LA still fell short of its pre-pandemic absorption rates.
➥ THE TAKEAWAY
Why it matters: The Q4 2023 apartment demand highlights a pivotal shift in the U.S. residential market, with the Sun Belt leading a robust recovery. This trend underscores the evolving trend of urban migration, job growth, and housing needs in the post-pandemic era, with certain cities making significant comebacks and others still finding their footing.
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