Vacancy Rates Continue Decline in Second Quarter 2013

Economic activity posted a steady pace of growth over the past few months, as consumers and businesses seemed committed to moving forward. Gross domestic product rose 2.4 percent in the first quarter of the year. Riding the moderate temperature of a mild winter, consumers opened up their wallets at the fastest pace since the fourth quarter 2010.

Behind an improving economy lies a subtle uplift in consumers’ wealth. Consumers have been paying off debt over the past few years, while cutting back on discretionary spending. At the same time, household wealth tied to financial assets has been rising steadily post-recession, with the Dow recently crossing the 15,000 threshold. Household wealth tied to housing has seen a noticeable improvement in 2012 and the first quarter of 2013. Sale of existing homes rose 9.8 percent in the first quarter of this year, following the 9.0 percent rise in 2012. Due to very tight inventories, multiple bids have returned to the market, and price escalation clauses are pushing home prices up. Based on NAR data, the median sales price of existing homes jumped 11.2 percent in the first quarter of the year.

With vacancy rates falling and rents rising, market fundamentals have improved. National vacancy rates over the coming year are expected to continue declining in most property sectors. The average multifamily vacancy rate is forecast to rise 0.2 percentage point, although the sector still shows the tightest availability and largest rent increases.

Net absorption of office space is projected to total 31.7 million square feet by year end. Office vacancies are expected to decline to 15.6 percent by the end of 2013. The markets with the lowest forecasted office vacancy rates are Washington, D.C., New York and Little Rock, with availability rates of 9.4 percent, 9.9 percent and 12.0 percent, respectively. Rents for office properties are expected to increase 2.6 percent over the year.

Industrial markets are benefiting from rising international trade, which drives demand for warehouse space. Net absorption of industrial space is projected to total 107.1 million square feet by the end of 2013, driving vacancy rates to 9.3 percent. The metro areas with the lowest industrial vacancy rates are Orange County, at 3.9 percent, followed by Los Angeles with 4.1 percent, and Miami, at 5.8 percent. Rents for industrial buildings are expected to grow 2.4 percent this year.

With consumers continuing a cautiously optimistic approach to spending, retail spaces have been on the rebound. Net absorption of retail buildings is expected to total 12.5 million square feet this year. With the supply of new buildings still constrained, vacancies are expected to drop to 10.4 by year-end. Markets with the lowest retail vacancy rates are led by San Francisco, at 3.6 percent. Rounding the top three are Fairfield County, CT, at 4.1 percent, and Long Island, NY, along with Orange County, CA, both at 5.3 percent. Rent for retail properties are projected to increase 1.4 percent over the year.

The apartment market has seen the strongest demand and lowest vacancies, driven by a recovery of household formation towards long-term averages. Net absorption is expected to total 276,320 units this year. Against a supply of only 136,342 new units, vacancy rates are estimated to decline to 3.8 percent by the end of 2013. Metro areas with the lowest vacancy rates are New Haven, CT, at 2.0 percent and New York City, at 2.2 percent. Sharing the number three spot, Minneapolis and San Diego, each record 2.3 percent. Apartment rents are projected to increase 4.6 percent in 2013.

For the full Commercial Real Estate Outlook report, visit

George Ratiu, Director, Quantitative and Commercial Research

George Ratiu, Research Economist, writes regular economic columns and conducts research in the areas of commercial real estate, international investments, mortgage performance and foreclosures. He produces NAR’s Commercial Real Estate Outlook and manages quantitative surveys, including the Commercial Real Estate Quarterly Market Survey.

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