As we anticipated earlier this year, the first the signs of the coming implosion of the US real-estate bubble are emerging in the high end of the nation's most overcrowded and expensive housing markets (Manhattan and San Francisco are two salient examples).
And in the latest confirmation of this trend, the Wall Street Journal published a report this week highlighting how the business environment for commercial landlords in New York City's most densely populated borough is growing increasingly dire, as landlords who had left storefronts vacant in the hope of courting the next Bank of America or CVS have inadvertently turned trendy downtown Manhattan neighborhoods like SoHo into a "shopping wasteland".
Thanks in large part to their intransigence, commercial landlords who catered to retail tenants are being hit twice as hard as they otherwise would've been, as tenants, no longer able to afford rents higher than $600 per square foot, are now demanding concessions and rent reductions, a phenomenon that has seen average rents in certain neighborhoods plummet on a year-over-year basis.
According to CBRE Group, a real estate services firm that pays close attention to commercial rents in Manhattan, some of the hardest-hit neighborhoods are also some of the borough's most trendy, including the Meatpacking District, and SoHo.
Here's an excerpt from the WSJ story, entitled "Retail Rents Plunge in Major Manhattan Shopping Districts".
The average asking rent on Washington Street between 14th and Gansevoort streets in the Meatpacking District dropped to $490 a square foot from last year’s $623, a 21.3% decrease and the largest percentage drop in asking rents among the shopping corridors CBRE tracks.
Average asking rents tumbled 18.1% on both SoHo’s Broadway Avenue and the Upper East Side’s Third Avenue, where asking rents were $556 and $280 a square foot, respectively.
Availability remained flat compared with last year, with 209 ground-floor spaces marketed for direct leasing. The report noted, however, that landlords looking to directly lease space also will have to compete with sublease space, which has increased according to anecdotal reports. Some space available for sublease comes as retailers leave behind old quarters for better locations, Ms. LaRusso said.
Conditions are favorable for tenants, said Andrew Goldberg, vice chairman at CBRE. Landlords are more open to shorter-term leases and provisions allowing tenants to get out of leases if a retail concept doesn’t work.
"I think we will start to see some more of the savvier tenants of companies realize we’re starting to get to a point where they can drive some good deals for themselves," Mr. Goldberg said.
The problem when rents enter free-fall territory is that it's a self-reinforcing phenomenon (not unlike the blowup that triggered the demise of the XIV, but over a much longer period of time). As rents fall, retailers start wondering if they can procure a better deal, possibly in a better neighborhood. All of a sudden, landlords must now essentially compete with themselves as the number of subleases climbs.
Of course, Manhattan is Manhattan. There will always be hoards of boutique merchants, big-name brands and - well, Walgreens - clamoring for commercial rental space.
But after nearly a decade of soaring real-estate valuations, it appears one of America's hottest housing markets is heading for a "gully."
On the other end of the property market, a drop in valuations and transaction volumes has inspired some observers to proclaim that "this is the breaking point."
In short, we wish the Kushner Cos the best of luck as they prepare to buy out the remaining stake in 666 Fifth Ave. Because overpaying for commercial real-estate in Manhattan in 2018, nine years into one of the longest economic expansions on record sounds like a fantastic plan.