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Knakal: ‘The 5th or 6th Inning of a Correction’

Photo of Bob Knakal “Sellers who are getting their price are actually transacting,” Knakal said, while “those that cannot get their price are not.”

NEW YORK CITY—Two directional arrows in a chart at the beginning of Robert Knakal’s presentation Wednesday, signifying dollar volume and number of properties sold, were pointed downward. A third, signifying values, pointed upward. The 34-year veteran of investment sales said this basic scenario has prevailed for the past two years in New York City commercial property sales.

“That is quintessentially what you see in a market in correction,” Knakal told a packed house at the Asian Real Estate Association of America’s Manhattan chapter event, “2017 East Meets West.” Looking at the marketplace overall in terms of the familiar baseball-game analogy, Knakal said “we’re in about the fifth or sixth inning of a correction that started about 25 months ago.”

Chairman of New York investment sales for Cushman & Wakefield, Knakal took the AREAA audience through the numbers and their implications. A clear trend is that year to date, the outer boroughs have fared better than Manhattan.

Knakal noted that over the past seven quarters, the volume of investment properties sold in Manhattan has slipped below the quarterly average in all but one quarter. By contrast, the number of properties sold in the boroughs fell below average in only three of the past seven quarters.

Looking at market in terms of dollar volume, Knakal said the falloff was even more significant, “mainly because the very large transactions are not occurring with the frequencies that they did over the past couple of years.” Citywide, the market is on pace for about $32.7 billion in sales this year, 44% below last year and 59% below the 2015 peak of $80 billion.

In Manhattan, the dollar volume is 70% below the peak, versus 26% off the peak for the outer boroughs. “The Manhattan market is really taking it on the chin,” Knakal said. A comparative bright spot is the Bronx, where investors have been looking in search of better yields.

Meanwhile, Knakal said, price per square foot is headed toward a new high water mark citywide. However, “that’s because sellers who are getting their price are actually transacting,” he said. “Those that cannot get their price are not.”

Following his presentation, Knakal sat down for a q&a with Julie Kang, AREAA Manhattan chapter president and senior managing director with MHP Real Estate Services. He provided some insights into factors contributing to the slowdown in property sales.

Among them, as noted previously, has been sellers’ unwillingness to transact when they can’t achieve their pricing expectations. Frequently, they’re refinancing their properties instead, said Knakal, noting that the debt markets have been “very active.”

There’s also been a leveling off of the underlying fundamentals, with downward pressure being exerted on apartment and retail rents. In office, concession packages have been on the rise. Accordingly, buyers have had fewer options, although Knakal observed that in general there isn’t a lot of property for sale in New York City. In Manhattan, for example, an average of about 2.6% of the commercial inventory is on the market at any given time.

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