In recent years, the commercial real estate market in Los Angeles has faced significant challenges, with high vacancy rates and mounting debt burdens on office spaces. A recent analysis conducted by Newmark revealed that 26% of LA offices, equivalent to 57 million square feet, are currently under 70% occupied. This alarming statistic raises concerns about the economic viability of these assets and their ability to generate positive net operating income (NOI). In this article, we will delve into the implications of low occupancy rates on office buildings, the association between occupancy and debt sustainability, and potential strategies for property owners to navigate these challenging times.
The Link between Occupancy and Debt Sustainability
According to David Bitner, Executive Managing Director of Global Research at Newmark, office buildings with occupancy rates below 70% are likely to struggle to generate positive NOI. This presents a significant challenge for landlords, as low occupancy makes it less attractive for tenants and hampers the potential for future investments in the building. Consequently, a small doom loop is created, jeopardizing the viability of the property.
Bitner also highlights that many of these under-occupied buildings are likely to be considered obsolete. As a result, the value of these properties has declined, sometimes by more than 40%. This decline in value poses a serious problem for property owners who still have substantial debt obligations on their buildings. For instance, if a building was initially worth $100 million with a loan-to-value ratio of 65%, but its value has now dropped to $60 million, the property owner would still have $65 million in debt on a building valued at only $60 million.
Troubled Commercial Real Estate Loans Nationwide
The challenges faced by Los Angeles are not unique, as the Newmark report highlights that more than one-third of the $1.4 trillion of commercial real estate loans maturing nationwide in the next 2.5 years are deemed "potentially troubled." This indicates a significant risk for cities where low occupancy rates and debt service payments intersect, signaling potential distress areas.
In Los Angeles alone, 41% of office spaces, equivalent to 91 million square feet, are over 90% occupied and likely to have strong cash flow and a solid debt-service coverage ratio. However, even these high-occupancy buildings are not entirely in the clear. The substantial decline in property values poses a challenge for owners who still have significant debt obligations. Despite the positive cash flow, the disparity between the building's current value and the outstanding debt remains a pressing issue.
Strategies for High-Occupancy Buildings
While high-occupancy buildings face challenges, property owners do have options to address the situation. Bitner suggests that owners could seek joint venture (JV) equity partners and inject more equity into the building in exchange for a longer loan term or better interest rates. This strategy allows property owners to restructure their underwater but cash-flowing properties.
It's important to note that the analysis conducted by Newmark is more of a statistical association rather than a definitive dynamic that applies universally to every specific building. However, the overall vacancy rate in the Los Angeles market during the second quarter remained stagnant at 21.7%, indicating that the challenges faced by high-occupancy buildings are widespread and deserve attention.
The Perspective of Industry Experts
Erica Finck, a senior director in the capital markets group at Cushman & Wakefield, acknowledges the troubles ahead for Los Angeles office buildings. She believes that worst-case scenarios won't necessarily materialize in every case, as lenders are hesitant to own these distressed assets. Offices with ongoing leasing challenges and growing vacancies are likely to experience more significant pain, leading to foreclosures and lender-assisted sales, which are already being observed in the LA market.
However, Finck also highlights that alongside distressed sales, there is a considerable number of loan workouts occurring. Lenders are exploring options such as blending and extending the loan terms or downsizing the loan to work collaboratively with property owners. These strategies provide owners with more time to lease up their spaces, improve net operating income, and generate healthy cash flow.
The high vacancy rates in Los Angeles office buildings pose substantial challenges for property owners and lenders alike. The association between occupancy rates and debt sustainability highlights the need for proactive strategies to address the situation. While buildings with low occupancy rates face an uphill battle, high-occupancy buildings aren't entirely exempt from the challenges posed by declining property values. However, there are paths for property owners to restructure their properties, such as seeking JV equity partners or negotiating loan extensions. As the LA market continues to grapple with high vacancy rates, it is crucial for property owners and lenders to work collaboratively to navigate these challenging times and ensure the long-term viability of office spaces in the city.
Additional Information: It is essential for property owners to consult with property tax experts who can provide valuable insights and guidance on navigating the current market conditions. Property tax experts can help property owners explore potential tax relief opportunities and strategize their financial plans to mitigate the impact of high vacancy rates and declining property values. By leveraging the expertise of property tax professionals, property owners can make informed decisions and optimize their chances of successfully weathering these challenging times.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as professional advice.