Apartments, office and retail are all following a similar trend: rising vacancy rates with declining rents. A new report from Moody’s Analytics calls the dynamic “bleak, but not dire,” noting that while most metros are following a similar pattern, most of the declining fundamentals are more moderate than originally expected.
The national apartment vacancy rate climbed to 5.2% in the fourth quarter, up nominally from 5.1% in the third quarter and 4.7% in the fourth quarter 2019. Apartment rents fell an additional 1.4% in the fourth quarter and are down 3.1% for the year. Major metros are bearing the brunt of the damage. Boston, Washington DC, San Jose, New York City and San Francisco had the most significant decline in apartment rents in the fourth quarter. New York and San Francisco are leading the pack with rents down 12.2% and 14.9%, respectively, for the year.
The national office vacancy rate climbed to 17.7% in the fourth quarter, up from 17.4% in the third quarter and 16.8% a year ago. Office rents have been slower to decline, falling .6% in the fourth quarter and only .7% for the year. Like apartments, New York City and San Francisco led in declining fundamentals with rents falling 1.9% and 1.5%, respectively. However, Orange County, California had the steepest declines in office rents, down 2.3% for the quarter alone. The report found the vacancy rate increases more concerning, noting that 54 markets had an increasing vacancy rate and 26 metros have a vacancy rate higher than 20%.
Of course, retail has been among the hardest hit commercial real estate sectors; however, fundamentals have not deteriorated more significantly than apartments of office. Retail vacancy increased to 10.5% at the end of the year, up from 10.4% in third quarter and 10.2% last year. Rents were down .4% for the quarter and 1.2% for the year. Of the 77 metros Moody’s reviews, 64 markets had a decline effective rent in the quarter.
It isn’t all bad news. Select markets had improving fundamentals this year. In apartments, some secondary markets—Chattanooga, Las Vegas, Sacramento, Ventura County, Memphis and Fairfield County—had effective rent growth of 0.7% to 1.1%. In office, five markets had an increase in effective rents, including Lexington, Raleigh-Durham, Tulsa, Milwaukee and Buffalo. Retail is perhaps the most impressive with 13 metros seeing rising rents, although the growth was moderate.
Unfortunately, Moody’s doesn’t have a better outlook for 2021. The report expects fundamentals to continue to decline this year, particularly in office and retail where tenants that have been locked into long-term leases have not yet had the opportunity to downsize or vacate the property.