2020 could be a pivotal year for the U.S. commercial real estate industry, with geopolitical, economic and local regulatory issues in keen focus. Despite transformational changes to our business, CBRE’s 2020 U.S. Outlook predicts a very good year for commercial real estate.
Resilient economic activity, strong property fundamentals, low interest rates and the relative attractiveness of real estate as an asset class are the primary factors supporting our outlook. Barring any unforeseen risks, we assess that a recession will be avoided, thanks in large part to the stimulatory effects of the Fed’s rate cuts in 2019.
View 10-minute 2020 U.S. Real Estate Market Outlook (above) or watch <2-minute clips by topic (below).
U.S. Outlook by Sector
U.S. GDP growth will slow to between 1.5% and 2% in 2020, down from an average of 2.5% over past five years.
U.S. GDP growth will slow notably next year as various issues create higher levels of uncertainty, including the ongoing U.S.-China trade conflict, slowing global growth and a presidential election. Barring any unforeseen risks, we assess that a recession will be avoided, thanks in large part to the stimulatory effects of the Fed’s rate cuts in 2019. Slow growth will continue in 2020, broadly supporting already strong property market fundamentals.
Investment volume in 2020 should total between $478 billion and $502 billion, making it one of the strongest years on record.
Amid slower economic growth and global uncertainty, U.S. commercial real estate will remain a haven for investment in 2020. Greater investor caution and buyer-seller disconnects on pricing could moderately reduce volume from 2019 levels. Cap rates should be broadly stable, with slight compression for multifamily assets and slight increases for the other major sectors for an average spread of about 260 bps over 10-year Treasury yields next year. Investors should not count on significant appreciation returns, but income returns will remain steady.
Demand for office space will remain strong in 2020. Flexible space inventory will continue to increase, but at a slower pace.
Despite continued positive absorption of office space in 2020, rent growth will slow and vacancy will increase. Leasing activity will remain driven by tech tenants, benefiting markets like San Jose, Austin and Salt Lake City. Flexible office providers will strategically expand their footprint but a drawback by WeWork will significantly slow expansion from previous years. CBRE’s forecast is for 51.1 million sq. ft. in completions, a 70-bps increase in vacancy and 1.6% rent growth.
Absorption gains will be limited in 2020, with available supply outpacing demand. Nevertheless, rents will rise by 5%.
Despite some softening in the industrial & logistics (I&L) market, overall fundamentals will remain strong due to continued e-commerce penetration and demand for logistics space. Rent growth will be driven by newly constructed facilities and infill properties. Although there are potential trade-related risks, resilient consumer spending will buoy the I&L market and mitigate any tariff effects on major hubs relying on port activity.
Total U.S. retail sales increased by 3.5% year-over-year in Q3 2019 to $1.57 trillion, however more modest growth is expected in 2020 to $1.55 trillion.
Total U.S. retail sales growth is expected to slow in 2020, as consumers become more cautious. Positive net absorption and rent growth in most U.S. markets will be spurred by a lack of new supply and thousands of retail store openings. Malls are benefiting from the refreshing influence of Generation Zers, who prefer to shop in stores and are driving traffic back to brick-and-mortar retail. Many retail assets will convert to mixed uses, creating communities and thriving town centers.
The multifamily vacancy rate will edge up by 20 basis points to 4.5% in 2020, remaining under its long-term average of 5.1%.
Multifamily is positioned for continued favorable performance in 2020 but will experience some cooling due to new supply outpacing demand. Completions will match peak levels of recent years. New and potential rent control legislation will remain an industry concern. The best opportunities are in suburban markets, smaller metros and metro leaders, including Austin, Atlanta, Phoenix and Boston.
Interest in specialty sectors will continue, with alternatives accounting for more than 12% of all commercial real estate investment in 2019.
Investment in alternative or specialty sectors has risen steadily in recent years and will continue to attract high levels of investor interest and capital in 2020. Total investment in 2020 will come close to the annual average of $59 billion since 2014 and represent 12% of all commercial real estate investment, up from only 6% at the peak of the last cycle. Alternatives acquisition volume in 2020 likely will match this level.
New deliveries will increase the primary data center markets’ total inventory by 17.3% in 2019, increasing the competition between certain markets in 2020.
The wholesale data center sector continues to evolve as flexibility and agility within IT and real estate strategies drive decisions. Transaction volume remains driven by the adoption of Hybrid IT/multi-cloud access strategies by users. Adding momentum headed into 2020, network connectivity should remain a critical component of overall IT and real estate decisions. Demand will continue as users right-size and adapt their portfolios to handle current and future technologies, such as high-performance computing (HPC) and 5G.