Demand for high-quality apartment buildings in downtown Edmonton helps fuel record investment quarter

Investment in Edmonton’s multi-family residential rental and industrial market helped fuel a record-breaking quarter in 2018 as the province continues to claw its way out of recession.

According to data released by CBRE Limited, Edmonton had its best quarter ever in Q2 this year, recording $1.49 billion in commercial real estate investments, representing a 51 per cent increase from the previous quarterly record of $994 million set in the fourth quarter of 2016. This brings Edmonton’s first half investment total to $2.07 billion, which is an all-time high for a half-year period and up from the previous record of $1.7 billion set in the second half of 2016.

Dave Young, executive vice-president with CBRE Limited, said Friday the growth in investment in the multi-family market is being spurred on by consumers looking for high quality apartment buildings, especially in the downtown core.

“We’re starting to see a transition from old to new,” said Young. “If you look at the inventory of apartment buildings, a lot of that was built from the mid-1950s to maybe the early-1980s, so you have a lot of older stock out there and it’s not giving what tenants are demanding.”

Tenants are looking for newer amenities that older apartment buildings don’t have, such as en suite laundry, and developers are beginning to take advantage of that demand.

Ice District has helped to fuel the demand within the downtown core, said Young, but it’s also about a shift in mindset.

“It’s urbanization, it’s densification. In terms of transportation patterns, in terms of traffic and in terms of transit, everything is focused on an urban lifestyle and we’re finally getting to see that,” said Young, citing The Hendrix apartment building, 9733 111 St., as an example.

“Ice District, for sure, has had an impact on our downtown core for the positive, but you also look at 104 Street from basically 100 Avenue all the way to 104 Avenue, there’s downtown urban living there that wasn’t there when I got into this business in 1990.”

There is still some demand for development around the Anthony Henday, Young says, but it’s not as active as downtown.

Out with the old

The demand for higher quality buildings is also being felt in industrial markets.

Tenants are really demanding more functional space and are being more strategic where they invest, said Young. Vacancy rates remain healthy, but the majority of future vacancies will be in older industrial buildings that just aren’t as adaptive.

“It’s kind of like the old apartment buildings where you see tenants getting sucked out into the new ones, the same thing is happening in the industrial buildings,” said Young. “The days of a 19-foot, distribution building just off 142 Street and the Yellowhead, they’re gone.”

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Commercial Properties Skyrocket in Numbers 2015

According to Real Capital Analytics, $533 billion of commercial real estate changed hands last year, up 23% from a year earlier. The volume also was roughly 4% more than what had been projected as of November 2014.

The total was still well shy of the record $574.9 billion of deal volume that took place during the market’s peak year of 2007.

Foreign investors accounted for $91.1 billion, or 17.1% of the transaction volume last year, up from the 10% average in each of the previous four years. The foreign charge was led by the Canadians, who completed $24.6 billion of deals. Those investors include the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec (CDPQ). Ivanhoe Cambridge, an affiliate of CDPQ, purchased Manhattan’s Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village apartment property for $5.3 billion late last year.

Investors from Singapore took the second largest piece of the foreign investment pie, completing $14.8 billion of deals in 2015. Norway followed with $8.5 billion of deals, and Chinese investors completed $6.8 billion of deals.

Under normal circumstances, foreign investors would likely increase their activity going into 2016. After all, certain restrictions have been eased as a result of changes to the Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act. (These changes were implemented with the passage of the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015.) For instance, foreign pension funds are no longer are subject to withholdings under the original act.

However, many foreign investors are likely getting pinched by the sharp drop in oil prices. According to analysis by Morgan Stanley, Norway, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar combined for $18.6 billion of U.S. deals, a substantial volume. Since each country is reliant almost exclusively on oil revenue, their ability to generate cash will decline with the drop in oil prices.

In fact, as oil prices were plunging last year, sovereign wealth funds were redeeming capital from investment vehicles (not necessarily tied to real estate) to which they had committed. Morgan Stanley found that some $100 billion of capital was redeemed from 11 asset managers by oil-dependent investors last year. That trend could continue this year if oil prices continue to decline, or stabilize at today’s lower prices.

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