Category Archives: National Economy

Commercial Real Estate and US Economic Trends Going into 2020

Commercial Real Estate and US Economic Trends Going into 2020

As with most investor markets and economic issues, commercial real estate is an ever-changing reality. What might look like a safe bet today could lead to huge losses tomorrow. Government regulations, environmental factors, and a looming recession are just a few of the ways that the commercial real estate landscape can change at any moment. Yet seasoned real estate veterans understand that these changes are just a surface disruption of CRE wisdom which generally holds true over time. 

 

With all of this in mind, here is a brief report on the current realities of commercial real estate in the US as well as some insights into the near future.

 

2019 Commercial Real Estate by the Numbers

2019 Commercial Real Estate by the Numbers

The commercial real estate market is currently valued in the ballpark of $1.1 trillion. To put that in perspective, if a trillion dollars represented $10,000, a billion dollars would be $10. Needless to say, there are massive amounts of revenue being generated in the CRE market in 2019. Here are a few other statistics to give a clearer picture of the current state of CRE:

 

  • The commercial real estate industry experienced an estimated growth of 2.2 percent in 2019. This is down from an average of ~4 percent annual growth in the CRE industry over the past five years.
  • Commercial real estate growth has outpaced overall real estate growth, rental rate growth, and leasing growth in 2019. 
  • Seasonalized annual construction values from Q2 2019 are down by about five (5) percent compared to similar estimates from 2018. Newly constructed commercial structures saw the largest value losses over this time period. 
  • Commercial property valuations are on a steady rise beginning with the recovery period in 2009-2010. During this time period, prices have risen the most in the Western United States with the Midwest lagging behind.
  • Rental rates have flattened to a relatively low 1.4 percent year over year growth from 2018 to 2019. This trend is expected to continue with many market indicators pointing towards a stagnant apartment market overall.

 

The State of the US Economy Looking to 2020 and Beyond

A recession is all but unavoidable in the next few years

Before we stare into the proverbial crystal ball, we should first state the obvious: nothing is guaranteed. That being said, here are some likely events in the US economy over the next several years.

 

A recession is all but unavoidable in the next few years

As of the writing of this article, the latest news is that doom and gloom predictions about the next US recession may have been exaggerated. Despite this sudden onset of optimism, the plain truth is that recessions are a part of modern free markets. The most optimistic, realistic view of the situation is that our next recession may not take place in 2020 but in the years to come. Whether the next economic downturn occurs in 2020, 2021, or beyond, it will almost certainly have a material impact on commercial real estate just as it did during the Great Recession of 2008.

 

Climate change will continue to be a major player for the economy and for CRE

Recent scientific studies have predicted that extreme weather events in the United States will rise by approximately 50% by the end of the 21st century. This continues the already observable trend of extreme weather patterns like more frequent and stronger tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, and other natural disasters. This will impact both the overall economy and commercial real estate industries for obvious reasons. Building codes are likely to be updated, insurance costs will rise, and other incidental expenses will almost certainly take a hit. Economists warn that climate change will likely cost the US economy 100’s of billions of dollars by the year 2090.

 

Young adults will continue to struggle financially

Young adults will continue to struggle financially

Last but not least, the population of adults who should be representing the largest buyers in the US economy will continue to be hit by crippling debt, healthcare costs, and stagnant wages. Barring an unlikely dramatic shift in the political and/or economic landscape, the US Debt Crisis will be a huge factor in the economy for the foreseeable future. This has already played a role in lagging rental rates, home ownership, and spending habits. It is difficult to predict how this situation will play out, but younger generations have proven that they are willing to cut costs, something that is not a great sign for economic health.

 

Going Forward

The commercial real estate sector has been reliably strong for nearly 10 years now. After a two year dip in 2008-09, investors have enjoyed solid returns and steady growth. While it is reasonable to expect another downturn at some point in the next few years, it is also reasonable to believe that the US economy will bounce back and investments will continue to pay dividends. It will continue to be important for investors to keep up with the latest CRE trends such as co-working, energy construction projects, infrastructure construction, and much more. The commercial real estate world’s evolution is ongoing, and the only certainty moving forward is change.

Commercial Real Estate Lending Standards

Commercial Real Estate Lending Standards

According to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency of the United States: “Commercial real estate (CRE) loans include loans secured by liens on condominiums, leaseholds, cooperatives, forest tracts, land sales contracts, construction project loans, and—in the states that consider them real property—oil and mineral rights. National banks may make, arrange, purchase, or sell loans or extensions of credit secured by liens on interests in real estate.” All of this essentially to say that commercial real estate loans are frequently borrowed against other commercial real estate assets.

 

When it comes to commercial real estate lending standards, there are federal and state-wide regulations of which any active CRE investor should be aware. Today we will review some of the high level lending standards for real estate investments in the U.S.

 

Establishing a CRE Loan Portfolio

Establishing a CRE Loan Portfolio

One of the most important aspects of securing a real estate loan for a commercial property or any other real estate purchase is building a loan portfolio. The onus to create these reports is on the insured depository institution, AKA any bank which is insured with the regulations of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. The federal government has strict guidelines which regulate what must be included in these reports, including but not limited to:

 

  • Identifying and declaring the terms and conditions of the loan.
  • Scouting locations in terms of properties and geographical areas for which the loan may be applied.
  • Establishing a policy of loan portfolio diversification including parameters for investments by real estate type (commercial vs. real estate, etc.) geographic location, and more.
  • Identify any lending staff including personal qualifications.
  • Complete a risk assessment to determine any undue concentrations of risk.
  • Identify zoning requirements.
  • Identify the underwriting standards which will be used for the loans.
  • Establish loan-to-value limits (more on this below).
  • Identify the loan administration protocols which will be followed throughout the life of the loan including disbursement, documentation, collection, collateral inspection, and loan review.

 

There are more loan portfolio requirements than we will list here, but this is a reasonable sample to give prospective investors an idea of what the federal government expects when clearing future commercial real estate loans.

 

FDIC Real Estate Lending Standards

FDIC Real Estate Lending Standards

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, more often referred to as the FDIC, is an independent federal agency responsible for insuring against bank failures. The vast majority of major financial institutions in the United States are FDIC insured or FDIC supervised. This is important for commercial real estate lending standards, as FDIC regulations come into play for any such organization. With this in mind, here are some high level regulatory standards set forth by the FDIC:

 

  • “Each FDIC-supervised institution shall adopt and maintain written policies that establish appropriate limits and standards for extensions of credit that are secured by liens on or interests in real estate, or that are made for the purpose of financing permanent improvements to real estate.”
  • Real estate loans must be considered within the bounds of standard banking practices.
  • All written loan policies must undergo an annual review and approval process by an FDIC-supervised board of directors.
  • Commercial real estate lending procedures must include detailed underwriting protocols, loan-to-value limits, and portfolio diversification demands.
  • All loans must be monitored by an FDIC supervised institution to ensure that the current real estate landscape continues to support the terms of the loan.
  • All lending policies for real estate should adhere to the “Interagency Guidelines for Real Estate Lending Policies established by the Federal bank and thrift supervisory agencies.”

 

Supervisory Loan-to-Value Limits

Supervisory Loan-to-Value Limits

While there are certainly more details to cover when it comes to CRE lending standards, the last key concept we will hit upon today is loan-to-value limits. Loan-to-value limits or loan-to-value ratios are essentially the calculation reached by dividing the loan amount by the total market value of the investment including any additional collateral being used to secure the loan. It is vital to understand this metric not only to secure loans and adhere to lending standards, but also to gauge how viable a loan and/or real estate investment will be.

 

Different real estate categories carry different loan-to-value limit requirements. 

 

  • Raw land investments: 65 percent
  • Land development investments: 75 percent
  • New construction: situationally dependent
  • Commercial, multifamily, and other non-residential property investments: 80 percent
  • One to four family residential investments: 85 percent
  • Improved property investments : 85

 

Transactions Excluded from Loan-to-Value Limit Evaluations

It is important to note that many commercial real estate loans are exempt from loan-to-value evaluations. Examples of these types of loans include those which have been insured or guaranteed by the federal government, those which are backed by the full faith and credit of a state government, or those which are to be “sold promptly after origination, without recourse, to a financially responsible third party.” It is vital to understand precisely how transaction exemptions work before assuming that your loan will not undergo the scrutiny of a loan-to-value limit evaluation.

 

Going Forward

In most cases, it is not absolutely necessary for commercial real estate investors to understand the in’s and out’s of CRE lending standards. Yet knowledge of how the federal regulations work and what questions will be asked can allow investors and other CRE professionals to better prepare for loan applications. It is also important to understand that even federal regulations are not set in stone. There is no concrete reason to believe that these regulations will be significantly altered in the near future, but the possibility of change is always present.

Sears Continues to Dump Brick & Mortar Locations

Sears Continues to Dump Brick & Mortar Locations

Sears has undergone a well publicized downturn in recent years, culminating in Sears Holdings Corporation filing for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy. As a result the once retail stalwart has closed huge percentages of their brick and mortar stores including both Sears and Kmart locations. The impact on retail commercial real estate has already been felt and will continue to make waves in the months and years to come. From the perspective of CRE investors, the news of Sears closing another set of stores isn’t all bad news. Sears is not in trouble simply because they operated as a big box/department store in the modern market, there were large organizational problems which led to the downturn.

 

Let’s look at the latest round of Sears and Kmart location closures, how these closures are impacting commercial real estate in Western Pennsylvania, and explore why Sears and Kmart retail failures are not necessarily indicative of the state of brick & mortar viability moving forward.

 

Sears to Close Over 1/3rd of Their Remaining US Locations

Sears to Close Over 13rd of Their Remaining US Locations

The news in Q4 2019 is the announcement that Sears is planning to close 96 Kmart and Sears locations by February 2020. This announcement comes not long after the Sears Holding Company filed for bankruptcy in 2018. To put the latest round of closures in perspective, there were over 2,000 Sears and Kmart locations in 2014. After the 96 Sears and Kmart stores close in early 2020, only 182 locations will remain in the US. Quick math tells us that over 90 percent of retail locations for the company have closed within a 5-6 year period.

 

There are a few key takeaways from this total story and latest announcement, all of which we will go over in greater detail below:

 

  1. Brick and mortar locations for “superstores” has been losing value for years. Commercial real estate investors are using new and creative solutions to fill/repurpose these locations. Sears and Kmart closures are an extreme example of an overall trend.
  2. Sears filed for bankruptcy due to terrible business decisions, not their meat and potatoes business model. Poor executive hires, mismanaged assets, and lack of spending have all led to Sears’ downfall. Other similar stores such as J.C. Penney, Kohl’s, and Best Buy are surviving and thriving.
  3. Commercial real estate has been impacted by these closures, but not necessarily in a bad way. Occupancies in prime real estate have been turned into lucrative opportunities from shrewd property owners and investors.

 

Sears and Kmart Closures in Western Pennsylvania

Sears and Kmart Closures in Western Pennsylvania

Bringing the attention to our region: how have Sears and Kmart closures impacted local real estate? The retail giant closed 13 stores in late 2018/early 2019. The latest wave of closures is also leading to 2 Kmarts and one Sears expected to close by end of year 2019. In Pennsylvania, Kmart locations in Leechburg, New Castle, Armstrong County, & Lawrence County are all expected to close by winter’s end. The Washington Crown Center in Washington, PA will be closing as well.

 

It goes without saying that Sears is in big trouble nationally and locally. For commercial real estate investors, this might have an impact for those with vested interest, but likely will not have a huge impact overall. Retail locations continue to offer a solid return on investment, albeit with  a slight downturn in profitability in recent years. The key regionally and nationally might fall on investors to move away from huge, warehouse style locations and develop CRE into move profitable layouts.

 

What Went Wrong with Sears?

What Went Wrong with Sears

This all begs the question, what the hell happened to Sears? The retail giant began in the late 1800’s and enjoyed more or less on a steady climb for the first 100 plus years of its operational existence. While many point to a joint venture with IBM and CBS called Prodigy as being the beginning of the end, the fact of the matter remains that it took many egregious missteps over many decades to fall so far so fast. Here are just a few:

 

Sears lost its message and its value proposition. If you are anything like me, you might not remember the last time you thought “Sears is actually where I need to go for x product”. Once a one-stop shop for tools, lawnmowers, and TVs, Sears truly lost its way when they over diversified. Muddying the waters and confusing customers in the process.

 

Sears made multiple poor investment decisions. At the time Kmart merged with Sears in 2004, the holding company owned massive swaths of commercial real estate. In subsequent years, they have sold off much of this valuable real estate for cash. These locations are worth far, far more today than they were at the time.

 

Sears executive team doesn’t know how to run a retail business. CEO Eddie Lampert is a Wall Street guy through and through. Unfortunately for him and for Sears/Kmart, large retailers do not operate like hedge funds.

 

Going Forward

There is likely no short term solution for Sears and Kmart. Store closures may continue or they may freeze, but the damage has been done. Nearly all of the billions of dollars of assets owned by the company has been sold or liquidated in recent years with very little in the way of reinvestment into the business. From the perspective of local and national commercial real estate, Sears may be less of a cautionary tale than a pariah. If Walmart can successfully operate nearly 5,000 locations in 2019, superstores themselves are not the problem.

The Effect of Rent Control Laws on New Housing Development

The Effect of Rent Control Laws on New Housing Development

It is widely believed that an affordable housing crisis is currently affecting the United States. Even when homebuyers and renters can find available housing and rental properties, often they find that the prices are too high for them to afford. The high cost of living has led to increased homelessness, especially in big cities. The problem is not epidemic in Pennsylvania, or Pittsburgh specifically, but the political and civic leaders in Western PA have identified affordable housing as a problem to be solved in order to provide economic prosperity for all. Thus far, no one on Grant Street or Harrisburg has proposed putting controls on the housing market but the city has made affordable housing a requirement for developers receiving subsidies for their projects. What is the future of such intervention? Look at California’s new initiatives to get a signal.

 

In order to address these social issues, Gavin Newsom, the governor of California, signed into law a new statewide rent control law that will take effect January 1st, 2020.

Understanding the New Rent Control Law

Understanding the New Rent Control Law

With its new rent control law, California is now the third state to pass statewide rent control this year, the other two being New York and Oregon. California’s bill is set to last for 10 years (through 2030), and it caps annual rent increases at 5%, with the cost of inflation included. It also makes it more difficult for landlords to evict tenants. Some experts say that California’s law is one of the strongest in the country at controlling rent increases and protecting tenants.

 

The California Apartment Association (CAA) believed that the state should instead focus on building new housing for those who need it, however Newsom has decided to do both, and then some. According to Newsom, rent control, tenant protections, and new construction make up his three pronged approach for addressing affordable housing. 

 

Tom Bannon, the CEO of the CAA sent the following comment to CoStar News regarding the next steps to take in this initiative: 

 

“Now that California has adopted the nation’s most sweeping statewide tenant protections, it’s time to fix the root cause of our housing crisis, a chronic lack of supply.”

 

Newsom said at the bill’s signing:

 

“We’re living in the wealthiest state in the country and while we’ve made progress in reducing our poverty rate, it’s still the highest in the nation. This is the issue that defines all other issues in this state.”

Impact of Rent Control on Californians

Impact of Rent Control on Californians

California currently has 17 million residents who rent, and of those, more than half pay more than 30% of their monthly income on rent. There are also millions of Californians who pay more than half of their monthly income on rent. A renter is considered cost-burdened when they spend more than 30% of their monthly income on rent, so this demonstrates how significantly the affordable housing crisis has hit California. It also helps to explain why California has the highest homeless population of any state.

 

The new law does have some limitations. As mentioned previously, it will be in effect for 10 years. It also does not affect any housing or rental properties that were built in the last 15 years, single family homes, and duplexes where the owner is one of the tenants. Single family homes owned by corporations or REITs would still be impacted by the bill however.

 

These limitations were put in place to incentivize builders and developers to construct new housing. Even with these limitations, however, Assembly member David Chiu predicts the law will help at least 8 million Californians. Chiu adds that “it’s historic legislation, but folks, our work is not done…In the long run, we have to build millions of new units at all levels of affordability to solve this crisis.” Chiu doubles down on the governor’s statements that construction of new homes is an important part of the future state of California’s housing. 

Impact of Rent Control on Real Estate Investments

Impact of Rent Control on Real Estate Investments

According to real estate investment analyst, Alexander Goldfarb, the rent control law could loom over real estate investments. While he does begin by saying the three states’ rent control laws “likely won’t have a revenue impact until next cycle, which might as well be next century given that most investors are judged on an almost weekly basis in the current market.” He goes on to say the following:

 

“But this is something we believe investors should pay more attention [to] as regulatory threats are likely to increase…We believe the rent control debate will continue across the country as renters face rising housing costs. While we think national rent control is unlikely, it will be an increasing campaign talking point, casting a shadow on market rate landlords and making life tougher for currently regulated units.”

Going Forward

The rent control laws passed by California, New York, and Oregon are set to make housing more affordable for millions of Americans. These laws are only the first step, however. In order to further assist the homeless and cost-burdened residents of the country, construction of new housing must be, and is, next on the agenda. The message this sends to investors is one of caution. New housing should be on its way, however, rent control will impact market rates for the next ten years.

How a Recession Would Impact Commercial Real Estate

How a Recession Would Impact Commercial Real Estate

When it comes to recessions, it is not a matter of if, but a matter of when. The average American tends to view recessions as massive periods of history such as The Great Depression. In reality, recessions are quite frequent with varying degrees of impact on the individual and on different industries. Based on historical precedence, the US is due for another recession in the coming years. What is more difficult to calculate is the severity and duration of the next recession. 

 

As real estate investors, recession can be viewed as both a scary proposition and also as an opportunity. Today, we will examine past recessions to better understand how investors can prepare for the impact of a future recession on commercial real estate.

 

The Inevitability of the Next US Recession

THE INEVITABILITY OF THE NEXT US RECESSION

While nothing is inevitable beyond death and taxes, a recession is pretty damn close. Beyond the conceptual inevitability of economic ebbs and flows, recent recession indicators have shown that the US is due in coming years. Examples include:

 

Inverted yield curve: In a healthy economy, a long term, 10-year yield is expected to outperform a short term, 3-month treasury rate. In 2019, the 10-year yield dipped below the 3-month yield for the first time in 12 years. The last time this occurred, the 2008 financial crisis was looming around the corner.

 

Unemployment rates belie the reality: One of the strongest pillars of the current US economy is historically low unemployment rates. This is a great sign of stability of the nation’s economy. However, a worrying trend is that 2019 saw huge cuts to employee hours. This is often the first step towards higher unemployment rates, as employers tend to cut hours first, before ultimately having to downsize.

 

New York Federal Reserve recession probability model: The New York Federal Reserve puts out one of the most comprehensive and respected predictive models when it comes to future recessions. According to this model, the likelihood of a recession has approached 40 percent for the first time since 2009. Previous predictions have been accurate with a nearly perfect track record.

 

2008 Great Recession’s Impact on Commercial Real Estate

2008 Great Recession’s Impact on Commercial Real Estate

The residential real estate market gets most of the attention when it comes to the Great Recession of 2008-2009, and for good reason. Foreclosures and purchasing habits took a massive hit during the following years. However, the commercial real estate industry was hit nearly as hard. In fact, the average price of office space has been slower to recover than average rental rates. While office prices in 2017 had recovered to 30 percent above their 2007 highs, rental rates were performing at 60 percent above their 2007 highs.

 

Another grim aspect of the 2008 financial crisis was the impact it had on vacancy rates within commercial real estate. 2010 saw peak vacancy rates at 17.4 percent for office space, 10.1 percent for industrial space, and 10.8 percent for retail space. It is important to note that the impact on CRE markets seems to have been a bit more delayed than within the residential market, potentially accounting for some of the slower recovery noted above.

 

From the years 2007 to 2009, total investments in real estate went from $460 billion to $70 billion. This is one straightforward trend which will likely translate for commercial investment in any coming recessions. The impact may not be so severe, but total investments will almost certainly slow when a future recession hits.

 

How CRE Investors Can Prepare for a Recession

Liquidate assets now to turn investments into cash

With all of this in mind, how exactly can commercial real estate investors prepare for this inevitability? While predicting the future is obviously a fool’s errand, there are two primary strategies that CRE investors can use to stay ahead of the curve.

 

Liquidate assets now to turn investments into cash

The signs of recession are certainly there. Some investors who have seen solid returns on their current CRE investments might want to take a turn-to-cash approach. This essentially takes your skin out of the game until the economy is back on the rise. The fringe benefit of turning current investments into cash is that savvy CRE investors can once again get back into the real estate market when property values hit their lowest points. 

 

Retain real estate assets and weather the storm

Recessions are scary, but as all things, they too will pass in time. Most long-term investors understand that half the battle is staying in the game. All of the figures we have quoted earlier show horrible downturns and also eventual recoveries. In fact, one of the “bad” statistics for CRE was a mere 30% increase in value over a 10 year period. 

 

Going Forward

Recessions are as American as apple pie. They are not to be feared, but they certainly call for some preparation and smart decision making. Commercial real estate is every bit as susceptible to an economy in recession as residential real estate or any other forms of investment. Smart investors will view coming economic downturns as just a part of the greater picture. Just as the CRE market recovered from 2008, so too will it recover from the next recession.

How Opportunity Zones Impact Property Investments

How Opportunity Zones Impact Property Investments

In today’s political climate, the swinging pendulum of regulation vs. deregulation can be difficult to track. Yet sometimes government programs are put into place which can truly benefit both investors and the community. When Opportunity Zones were implemented as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, real estate investors were incentivized to invest and/or reinvest into low income areas through tax breaks including deferred capital gains, eliminated capital gains, and/or cost basis changes.

 

While the full tax benefits of Opportunity Zones will be lost starting in 2020, the program will remain in effect. Here’s how it works. 

 

What are Opportunity Zones and Opportunity Funds?

All investors know the pain of capital gains tax. At its core, cap gains taxes are taxes paid on the net gain of an investment. A common example would be buying and selling stocks. If an individual purchases $1,000,000 in stock and later sells that stock for $1,500,000, he or she would be responsible for paying taxes on a capital gain of $500,000. Traditionally, the best way to avoid paying capital gains tax was to defer payment through reinvestment.

 

The Opportunity Zone program takes this idea and builds upon it. Let’s take the above example. Instead of collecting the full $1.5 million after selling this asset, the investor could instead reinvest the funds into an Opportunity Fund. It is important to note that to be eligible for tax breaks, this individual would only be required to invest the gains, not the full amount. 

 

Opportunity Zones are Defined as an Economically Distressed

Opportunity Zones are Defined as an Economically Distressed CommunityCommunity

In order for a real estate reinvestment to qualify for Opportunity Zones tax breaks, it must be determined that the real estate falls within a designated Opportunity Zone. The IRS defines an Opportunity Zone as “an economically-distressed community where new investments, under certain conditions, may be eligible for preferential tax treatment. Localities qualify as Opportunity ZELASTO_Media Report_052518.pdf ones if they have been nominated for that designation by the state and that nomination has been certified by the Secretary of the U.S. Treasury via his delegation of authority to the Internal Revenue Service.”

 

Qualified Opportunity Fund Reinvestment

Qualified Opportunity Fund Reinvestment

The other key component of the Opportunity Zone Program is participation in a qualified Opportunity Fund. It is not enough to simply reinvest capital gains into an Opportunity Zone community. Reinvestments must be made through the program. If these steps are followed, the initial investment gains and any gains made through the subsequent reinvestment within the Opportunity Zones Program may be eligible for significant tax breaks. 

 

One of the first Opportunity Zone projects in the Pittsburgh region, the construction of a 60,000 square foot indoor growing facility in Braddock for Robotany, will soon become one of the first projects to complete the investment cycle. Developer RDC Design + Build is nearing an agreement to sell the project to a permanent investor that will have the opportunity to reap the long-term tax benefits.

Opportunity Zones, Property Investments, and Capital Gains

There are four basic scenarios which can play out when an investor participates in an Opportunity Zone reinvestment:

 

 

  • If the investor sells the reinvested property in less than five (5) years: he or she will be responsible for paying capital gains tax at this time. Even without receiving the full tax benefits, this scenario does allow for tax deferment until the fund is sold or until December 31st, 2026 — whichever comes first.
  • If the Opportunity Fund investment is held between five (5) and seven (7) years: the full capital gain amount is deferred plus a 10 percent bump in cost basis. In our example, that would equal a saving of $100,000.
  • If the Opportunity Fund investment is held between seven (7) and ten (10) years: In addition to capital gains deferment, the cost basis is bumped a total of 15 percent, totalling a savings of $150,000 in our example.
  • If the Opportunity Fund investment is held for ten (10) or more years: the investor is responsible for paying nothing on the appreciation of the reinvested asset. This means that through the Opportunity Funds Program, it is possible to invest in real estate with zero liability for capital gains taxes on net gains.

 

 

2020 Changes to Qualified Opportunity Zone Funds

2020 Changes to Qualified Opportunity Zone Funds

As one last point, time is running out for investors to reap the full benefits of the Qualified Opportunity Zone Program. As of January 1st, 2020, the maximum cost basis deferment will shift from 15 percent to 10 percent. While this does not take away from the other benefits of the program, that 5% cost basis differential can equate to huge dollar volumes for investors. Despite this, real estate investors are always cautioned to never rush into a real estate investment to get under a time limit or deadline. The right investment with a slightly higher cost is likely more profitable that the wrong investment at a slightly lower cost.

Going Forward

With current regulations, Opportunity Zones and Opportunity Funds continue to be a great choice for real estate investors through 2019. However, starting in 2020, that appeal is somewhat diminished by lessened tax incentives. This may cause some real estate investors to panic and make unwise investments. We would caution that a smart investment is a smart investment and a poor investment is a poor investment. When it comes to real estate, a tax incentive should be viewed as the cherry on top, not a reason to invest.

 

Rather than rushing to make an Opportunity Zone investment before year’s end, going through your usual due diligence is almost certainly the right decision. Whether that misses the 2019 end-of-year cutoff or not, your interests will be better secured.

Hiring Bounces Back in November

Employers were signaling caution as summer wound down. The ADP private payrolls report for November showed a big drop early last week; and then on Friday, the Census Bureau released its Employment Summary for November and reported that 266,000 jobs were created. That’s about 40% more than the consensus forecast of Wall Street economists.

There were some details to unpack that moderated the gains a little. The great manufacturing number was inflated by 60,000 GM workers returning from strike (which dampened the October report). Construction jobs grew by only 1,000 from October, a surprise given the amount of activity; however, not a surprise given the severe shortage of workers. On the other hand, strong performance in the financial and business services sectors, and especially healthcare, showed there is still some life in the expansion. Some of the highlights:

  • Unemployment fell back to 3.5%. That’s the lowest for 50 years.
  • Wage gains were modest at 3.1% year-over-year but were much higher at the lowest end of the wage-earning spectrum.
  • The broadest measure of unemployment fell to 6.9%.

There are two significant positive conclusions that can be drawn from the November report (bearing in mind that it’s one month’s data of course). First is that consumers are in good standing. Virtually anyone who wants to work is working. Wages are growing at twice the rate of inflation. The consumer drives the economy and the consumer should be happy. The second conclusion is that businesses aren’t as negative as was thought. Because business investment has been declining, concerns about the economy were becoming self-fulfilling. So far there is no data showing that other business investment is ticking upward but the jobs report shows that businesses are still investing in their most expensive asset: people. Moreover, a Vestige survey showed that 60% of business owners plan to add staff in 2020, while only 4% say they are cutting.

In regional construction news, Thomas Construction was awarded a $7.5 million contract to repair the Somerset Lake Dam. Turner Construction was awarded $5 million buildout of Pitt’s BST. PJ Dick was selected for the $55 million Pennley Place East office/retail development in East Liberty. Metis Construction started work on the new $2.2 million JP Morgan Chase branch in McCandless Crossing. Continental Building Co. was issued a permit for $3.2 million buildout for ServiceLink at Pittsburgh International Business Park in Moon Township. Walnut Capital was selected to develop the lot adjacent the Children’s Science Center. Walnut was also chosen to develop the graduate student and faculty market rate housing in Pitt’s lower campus.