With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently announcing that Americans who have been vaccinated no longer need to wear masks or observe social distancing in most cases, hopes are high that workers will soon return to the office.
And that’s exactly what investors are betting on, causing prices to rise in the commercial real estate market as they snap up long-vacant office buildings in anticipation of demand.
“The CDC’s new guidance will send a strong message to all businesses and their employees that a full return to the office and other indoor settings will be achieved safely and effectively,” said James Whelan, president of the Real Estate Board of New York, in a statement to the Wall Street Journal.
The Journal reported that pension funds and private equity firms have been busy, spending record sums on office buildings and hotels too as they expect more people to start traveling again in the near future. As a result, commercial real estate prices have risen by 7% on average since July.
Investors may also be turning to commercial properties as a result of inflation, some experts say. Inflation has become a growing concern, and some may offset that risk through commercial properties with leases that include rent increases to keep pace.
“People view it as inflation-protected,” Eric Rosenthal, managing partner at Machine Investment Group, a real estate investment firm, told The Wall Street Journal.
Investors are targeting some of the cities that were hit hardest by the economic crisis the COVID-19 pandemic caused. In San Francisco, the amount of office space available for lease is now at a record high, CBRE data shows.
With the CDC updating its guidance, some companies have opted to speed up their return timelines too. Financial firms such as JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and Blackstone have all announced earlier returns to the office, and in some cases they even expect people to get back to work as soon as next month. The Dallas-based travel technology firm Sabre Corp. has said that the update guidance will accelerate its return-to-office plans too, and also allow it to open more desks on each floor.
Eric Meyer, principal of real estate investment company Meyer Equities in New York, told The Real Deal that anything that makes people feel more comfortable about returning to work is a big plus for commercial landlords. “If the CDC is saying it’s safe, and people are on the same page with that, it certainly helps,” he said.
Not all companies have shown such enthusiasm though. In a separate article the Journal noted that many CEOs, worried about a tight job market, have shown concern they might upset their workers by asking them to get back to work sooner than they had expected.