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Monday, November 28, 2016

Riding the Maverick – Reframing how we Speak about Technology

By Amy Erixon, Toronto

Over the past month, I have spoken on technology trends in the Real Estate Industry at four events in four countries, which provided me with an important epiphany - how much our choice of language matters.   Words convey more than descriptors, they convey intentions, which stir up emotional reactions, even if subliminally.   We speak about technology as an "opportunity", "exponential game changer", as a "disruptor", or in some settings, we don't speak of it at all.  

The recent session in Dallas, TX at the Fall ULI Meeting was entitled:  Riding the Maverick – Surfing the Wave of Disruptive Technology (to view my remarks, click here).   The other panelists were from Google Fiber; Branch Technology (a 3D Printing based building systems contractor); and Green Street (Wall Street analysts) who addressed implications of autonomous vehicles, construction technologies and full access to the internet for our cities and society, respectively.  (The full session is available to view on the ULI website).   There is abundant good news here:  the price of commuting is expected to fall from 75 cents per mile to 15 cents per mile; significant improvements are likely in material performance (up to 50% greater insulation and 70% less cost and carbon footprint); and we may soon be in a position to provide equal access for all of society to “outside of the classroom” education and training opportunities – nearly for free.   But, regardless of how much benefit might accrue - the very title of the session, and much of what we read these days about technology is dystopian – suggesting a soul-less world that upends society as we know it  - a world filled with car robots that render work by actual people obsolete.   This image is misplaced.  

2016 Exponential Technologies for Real Estate                       Source: Cisco

By contrast, my Canadian program was entitled: Exponential Technology for Real Estate - Opening a World of Opportunity.  It is easy to be awed by the wonderful innovations around us, some of which are illustrated above.  But the more difficult truth is that technology is often equalizing, which by definition, is political, and herein lies the problem.  I am often asked why the populist revolt taking shape in many western economies isn’t gaining traction in Canada (so far).   This is not because technology is behind in Canada – on the contrary, some of these very technologies are quite advanced and in use in Canada.  In Canada the newspaper, public television and even the politicians go to great pains to explain how technology will facilitate the country's well being and global competitiveness instead of scare mongering that: foreigners are stealing jobs, competing unfairly or that there is nothing any of us can do about becoming a thriving part of the future other that return to a reimagined past.  

The US used to promote a culture that embraced equal opportunity, and it still reveres innovation (even if it is frightened by it).   Without a clear roadmap about how the economy will make the transition from the "old" to the "new" economy (which is inevitable) - together with the requirement that a share of the profits accrued from the "new" ways soften the blow, and provide retraining opportunities for those left behind (pretty basic economic policy in most of the developed world), it is understandable why the general population feels threatened.  

It is also true that many of the professions most “in harm’s way” if you choose to look at it from that perspective - are male dominated – truck and taxi drivers, construction workers and “the non-college educated”.   But the industries poised to see the most job growth in the near future:  health care, computational data analytics, green energy, social media, marketing and IT systems management are not gender or ethnicity biased, which is a blessing.  There will be far more jobs created than displaced by technology over the next 10 years - we know this, we understand this, the issue that needs to be addressed is the mismatch between the workforce skills, our educational systems and the jobs of the future.  For an insightful analysis of this topic see:

Technology adoption does not happen overnight, regardless of how compelling the value propositions might be. The reasons are myriad and sometimes complex, ranging from political clout of existing or future stakeholders, to lack of underlying infrastructure, to intractable funding schemes to lack of training opportunities.  Like it or not, most solutions will have to come from new models of collaboration between government, the non-profit and the private sectors.  Moving forward can pay big dividends if each is able and willing to contribute its creativity, ingenuity, flexibility and  expertise to fashioning solutions instead of letting these discussions devolve to women vs men, generational warfare, anti-immigrant rhetoric.    NOW is not too late for this important planning to begin.  

Friday, September 30, 2016

Avison Young Recieves GRESB Award

By Amy Erixon, Toronto

In 2015 Avison Young became a Green Star award recipient in the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark, or “GRESB” Index.   Founded in 2009, the Benchmark is the gold standard for ESG reporting by institutional property investors and their advisors.  The Index currently includes 22,000 individual properties located on 6 continents in 37 countries valued at USD $ 2.3 Trillion.  GRESB is different from energy star and other types of environmental scorecards in that it evaluates corporate governance, social responsibility as well as environmental performance at the management, entity and property levels. 

Key Performance Indicators, GRESB Universe
Institutional owners in Canada, Australia and other leading countries are beginning to make concerted efforts to improve environmental performance and mitigate climate risks.  Same store portfolio performance within the GRESB index from 2014 to 2015 improved 1.2-2.0% for energy, CO2 emissions, water consumption and landfill waste.  Year over year same store Index Performance 
Indicators are detailed in the sidebar.  

The benchmark is used by members to optimize the risk return profile of its investments.    It assesses the management contribution (value add and risk mitigation effectiveness) on the part of 227 entities, 60 of whom are pension funds. The GRESB index assesses a large number of aspects – at the property level from building certifications to monitoring and EMS, at the management level examining ESG integration, risk mitigation, policies, disclosure and performance targets, and at the social level assessing communications, leadership, procurement and stakeholder engagement. 

In addition to providing a roadmap for companies looking to improve their ESG policies and reporting, GRESB provides a peer group ranking to provide context for investment decision making. More information about the benchnark and 2016 results can be found at:

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Setting Things Straight on Crowdfunding

By Gary Lyons (Raleigh, NC)

The process of crowdfunding is often misunderstood. People are using this term loosely; as a result, there is a fair amount of confusion surrounding this capital-raising technique.

Many recognize the or websites, as they have received a great deal of publicity for the many worthy causes that they have supported. While Kickstarter and sites like it raise funds for worthy causes, they don't involve a promise of a return. In other words, no equity or debt position is being offered by the "sponsor" to the capital provider for his/her "investment."

True crowdfunding involves an offering (i.e. a sale of a security) to the "crowd" (e.g. private investors), which includes both accredited and non-accredited investors. The addition of non-accredited investors is an important development, because until recently sponsors were only allowed to raise investment dollars (in the form of equity or debt) from accredited investors. U.S. federal law limited the universe of potential investors to those individuals with at least $1 million in assets, excluding the equity held in their primary residence, or $200,000 in annual (individual) income.

This new development, to include non-accredited investors, came about as a result of the JOBS Act (Jumpstart Our Business Startups) of 2012. The Securities and Exchange Commission has been extraordinarily slow to finalize the guidelines for this new program; as a result, many states, including North Carolina, have elected to enact crowdfunding laws to permit limited offerings to investors. On June 29, 2016, the North Carolina legislature passed the NC PACES Act (Providing Access to Capital for Entrepreneurs and Small Business Act), which allows non-accredited investors to invest in startup companies or businesses (including real estate partnerships) in the same way that accredited investors have been able to do so for years. Governor Pat McCrory signed the bill into law on July 22, 2016.

The new law does place a number of restrictions on the non-accredited investor. For example, the non-accredited investor is limited to a maximum of $5,000 per offering in any 12-month period, and all information on the offering circular must be filed with state and federal regulators. The offering must contain all of the relevant risk disclosures and certifications, and it must also define the business model for the investment, including financial targets and projected returns. Furthermore, companies will be limited to raising $1 million in any 12-month period from non-accredited investors – unless they are willing to have their financials audited annually and available to investors.

We at Avison Young believe that crowdfunding will play an important role in stimulating additional real estate investment in North Carolina. Individuals who have historically been shut out of opportunities to invest in real estate will embrace this new investment vehicle as they seek to diversify the impact of their limited investment dollars. For more detailed information on crowdfunding, please refer to “Crowdfunding Law Made Simple” on the North Carolina Business and Banking Law Blog or view the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission news release dated November 30, 2015.

The above article is for informational and educational purposes only and should not be construed as professional, legal or financial advice.

(Gary Lyons is a Senior Vice-President, specializing in Capital Markets, in Avison Young’s Raleigh, North Carolina office.)

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Macy’s to close 100 stores: Is the department store dying?

By Beverly Keith (Raleigh, NC)

With last week’s announcement from Macy’s that the company will close 100, or 15%, of its 675 stores in the first quarter of 2017, the commercial real estate industry and consumers are questioning whether the department store is dying.

On the heels of other 2016 announced closures by Walmart, Kmart, Sears, J.C. Penney and Bon-Ton, the Macy’s decision may be cause for real concern.

Dillard’s, J.C. Penney, Nordstrom and Kohl’s have all experienced declining revenue for six straight quarters. Furthermore, all have announced store closures and/or delays of expansion plans. Continuing missed revenue targets are also impacting REITs, such as General Growth Properties (GGP), Kimco Realty Corp (KIM) and Simon Property Group (SPG), which own many of Amerca’s malls, as they realize the impact of lagging retail sales on their slumping unit prices.

A question of relevance

Are department stores relevant in today’s retail environment? Specialty retailers consistently outperform department stores by offering a better merchandise mix, better prices, better shopping experiences and much better customer service. Moreover, specialty retailers owe their success largely to sales of mixed apparel, which represents department stores’ core product and majority of merchandise. Apparel has become a highly competitive category as more and more discounters also gain significant market share.

For stand-alone department stores in primary and secondary retail markets, the question becomes: What is the overall value of this site? The store-closure decision becomes much easier when redevelopment of the site yields a higher return on investment, or if a sell-off of the asset provides a significant cash infusion to a corporation’s bottom line.      

Anchors away?

With department stores being anchor tenants in virtually every enclosed mall, what should REITs and other owners do? Many mall owners and observers are asking whether department stores can transform to meet ever-changing consumer demands. Shoppers want an integrated retail shopping experience – a connection between the typical in-store experience and the information gained from online research. Shoppers are also experiencing a time crunch like never before.  Shopping in 2016 is a lot more purposeful and, therefore, involves a lot less browsing, because shoppers just don’t have the time. In-store purchase opportunities must provide the same ease as an online shopping experience and validate the choices shoppers made in researching items. Retailers must also ensure that products available online are in stock when customers physically walk into bricks-and-mortar stores.    
Department stores have been very slow to adapt to, and meet, increasing consumer demand for updated and remodeled physical stores that reflect evolving brands; embrace omni-channel retailing; offer e-commerce; and fulfill the increasing need for instant gratification. For example, Amazon Prime’s RaaS (retail as a service), providing same day or next day delivery, includes drone dropship to satisfy shopper’s need for instant gratification or what is being called immediate retail gratification. If past performance is the best indicator of future performance, mall landlords may need to revise their strategic plans and look for ways to backfill anchor spaces.

Malls repositioning themselves

But does the demise of the department store only spell bad news for the consumer? Maybe not. Malls all across America are repositioning themselves. Whereas once there were four anchor stores in an enclosed mall, you may now start to see only one. The large blocks of space traditionally reserved for department stores are being backfilled with more shopping experiences – primarily restaurants, expanded food courts, movie theaters and concert venues – which offer an assortment of leisure activities and social interaction in addition to shopping.

These changes support the ever-changing consumer shopping paradigm shift by building a better shopping experience – a trend which is a huge plus for the future of retail.

(Beverly Keith is a Senior Vice President, specializing in retail real estate brokerage, based in Avison Young’s Raleigh, NC office.)

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Berlin after Brexit: Still at the Top of the List

By Nicolai Baumann (Berlin) and Inga Schwarz (Hamburg)

With or without Brexit, Berlin remains at the top of national and international investors‘ list of commercial real estate investment markets.

Most, or all, foreign investors have kept Germany’s capital in their focus for a number of years now. They love the Berlin success story of the recent past. They are fascinated by Berlin’s urbanity, its international character and its dynamic marketplace. They are attracted by the possibilities that the city offers to its residents, visitors and the economy. They see change, creativity and the citywide desire to discover and try new things.

And the figures speak for themselves. Berlin’s population rose by almost 6% in the past five years. Currently, some 3.52 million people live in Berlin, and official forecasts predict an additional rise of 266,000 by the year 2030. Furthermore, Berlin is Germany‘s No.1 tourist destination. In 2015, a record 30 million overnight stays were tabulated in Berlin, and that number is also on the rise. Last but not least, Berlin is Germany’s start-up capital. In 2015 more than 42,000 new enterprises were registered, equating to 121 start-up companies per 10,000 residents or more than 115 registrations per day. This level is unmatched anywhere in Germany.

Accordingly, Berlin’s international character is highly attractive to young people and enterprises seeking to move from the U.K. to an EU country following the Brexit referendum.

Although Berlin’s residential rents have risen noticeably over the past few years, the overall rent level remains comparativiely low. Moreover, the academic landscape, with some 175,000 students, is an important pillar for further economic growth, as are the low office and location costs in comparison with international markets. A high quality of life and a vibrant cultural scene, which is second to none in Germany, complete the overall package. Young urban hipsters and millenials from across the globe have been drawn to Berlin for a number of years now, making English a language spoken in almost any local supermarket.

Pull factors that draw investors to Berlin: The city and its economy are growing, the standard of living is high and the local real estate markets only know one direction – up.

Take-up in the Berlin office market reached a historical high of 9.15 million square feet (msf) in 2015; and with 4.41 msf of office space taken up in the first half of 2016, the capital’s office market is on course for a strong second half. Meanwhile, the office vacancy rate is currently at 3.9% and will decrease further. Why? Berlin is in demand and we are in a landlord’s market these days. This trend is underpinned by the rise of class A central business district (CBD) office rents. They are currently at €26,00 per sq. m per month and will continue to increase, as there is continuing demand and no rise in supply in sight. The residential, retail, industrial and hotel sectors are growing in similar ways. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that, backed by strong leasing markets, Berlin’s commercial real estate investment sector has been on a high lately. In 2015, record investment volume of €8.2 billion was achieved. Foreign investors contributed more than € 4 billion of that total, representing a 49% market share. In the first half of 2016, foreign investors increased their market share to 60%.

Simply put, international investors love Berlin. While they have the entire German market and all of its possibilities and stability in their scope, Berlin will remain the top investment target. As the U.K. and EU work out the terms of Brexit, demand for investment product will rise further – across all real estate asset classes. With class A supply limited and becoming even tighter, investors will need to raise their visors to avoid missing out on opportunities.  Developable assets located outside the CBD will come into focus, and investors‘ appetite for development projects will increase further across all of the region‘s commercial real estate sectors.

Nicolai Baumann is Avison Young’s Head of Office Leasing in Berlin
Inga Schwarz is Head of Research Germany with Avison Young 

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