ULI Forecast For CRE: Strength And Growth Through 2017

Posted by Heidi Schwartz

The real estate industry is expected to remain on a sustainable course of solid growth for 2015 through 2017, according to a recently released three-year forecast from the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Center for Capital Markets and Real Estate. The outlook—the latest installment of the semi-annual ULI Real Estate Consensus Forecast—is based on a survey of 43 of the industry’s top economists and analysts representing 32 of the country’s leading real estate investment, advisory, and research firms and organizations.


An analysis of the survey findings by ULI leader William Maher, director of North American strategy for LaSalle Investment Management in Baltimore, highlights areas of the industry and overall economy that are generating the most optimism for 2015 through 2017:

  • Net job growth is expected to be 2.9 million per year, compared to a long-term average of 1.2 million.  Demand for real estate, particularly office and apartments, will remain strong. Low unemployment rates should lead to healthy wage growth, although shortages of skilled workers may surface.
  • Issuance of commercial mortgage-backed securities is expected to rise to $150 billion in 2017 (rising from$115 billion in 2015 and $133 billion in 2016). With banks and insurance companies also active, real estate lending will remain competitive and favorable for borrowers. “This is good news for the many borrowers with loans coming due over the next three years,” Maher notes.
  • Commercial real estate prices as measured by the Moody’s/RCA Index are projected to rise by an average of 7.6 percent per year, compared to a long term average increase of 5.3 percent, implying three very strong years of net appreciation for U.S. real estate.
  • Warehouse rents and hotel revenue per available room (RevPAR) are expected to be leaders among the major property types, growing by an average of 3.6 percent and 5.3 percent over the three year period—well ahead of their historical growth rates.
  • The total return rate for core unleveraged properties as measured by the National Council of Real Estate Investment Fiduciaries is projected to average 9.9 percent during 2015-2017, which is significantly higher than the expected average yield for U.S. Treasuries.

Mayer points to some areas of concern, including the likelihood of higher short-term rates squeezing investment returns and causing an increase in capitalization rates. For instance, respondents expect the NCREIF capitalization rate to rise steadily from 5.3 percent in 2015 to 5.9 percent by 2017, which is “consistent with higher interest rates and borrowing costs,” he notes.

Still, the findings suggest more reasons for hope than worry, he says. “In summary, almost all U.S. real estate participants would be very pleased if the future unfolded as predicted by the ULI consensus forecast,” Mayer says. “The forecast represents almost the perfect combination of strong economic and property market fundamentals, combined with an orderly wind-down of monetary stimulus.” Although the potential exists for progress to be hampered by obstacles such as economic downturns, foreign crises, interest rate spikes, or oversupplies, “real estate pros predict three more years of smooth sailing for U.S. real estate,” he says.

In general, the performance of most commercial property sectors, as measured by vacancy rates, rental rates, total returns, and product availability is expected to exceed or hold close to the 20-year (1995-2014) averages for each category. Key predictions by commercial property type:

  • Office: The forecast predicts a continuing decline in office vacancy rates, dropping from 13.9 percent in 2014 to 13.0 percent in 2015, 12.5 percent in 2016, and 12.0 percent by the end of 2017. Survey respondents expect rental rates to rise by 4.0 percent in 2015, 4.1 percent in 2016 and 3.5 percent in 2017. NCREIF total annual returns for the office sector are projected to be 11.8 percent in 2015, 10.0 percent in 2016 and 9.0 percent in 2017.
  • Retail: Retail availability rates are forecast to drop from 11.4 percent in 2014 to 10.9 percent in 2015, 10.5 percent in 2016 and 10.2 percent in 2017. Survey respondents expect rental rates to rise by 2.0 percent in 2015, 3.0 percent in 2016 and 2.9 percent in 2017. NCREIF total annual returns for the retail sector are projected to be 10.9 percent in 2015, 10.0 percent in 2016 and 8.4 percent in 2017.
  • Industrial/warehouse: Industrial/warehouse availability rates are forecast to drop from 10.3 percent in 2014 to 9.8 percent in 2015, and to 9.6 percent for 2016 and 2017. Survey respondents expect rental rates to rise by 4.0 percent in 2015, 3.8 percent in 2016 and 3.1 percent in 2017. NCREIF total annual returns for the industrial sector are projected to be 12.0 percent in 2015, 10.5 percent in 2016 and 9.5 percent in 2017.

This market survey is the seventh in a series of polls conducted by ULI to gauge sentiment among economists and analysts about the direction of the real estate industry. The next forecast is scheduled for release during October 2015.