NE Tenn. commercial real estate transaction down 11.7%

Office, industrial, vacant land deals weathering the storm

October's Commercial Real Estate Market posted a small transaction decline on the heels of its best two months this year. Compared to October last year, transactions were down 11.7%. But while Covid is still savaging some commercial sectors, others are seeing growth.

There were 30 transactions, according to the Northeast Tennessee Association of Realtors (NETAR) monthly Commercial Real Estate (CRE) Report. September's total was 31. During August, the total was 35.

The 10-month total from NETAR's Commercial Multiple Listing Service (CMLS) was 176 compared to 197 last year. The Flex Multiple Listing Service (MLS) total so far this year is 103, up from 100 last year.

The local commercial market continues to get a lot of attention, but total transactions are flat, Cassie Petzoldt, chair of the NETAR Commercial Committee, said. Contracts with contingencies based on the Bristol casino outcome should "begin showing up on reports for the last two months of the year, she added.

Last month, the most active CMLS transactions were sales and leases of office properties, followed by industrial sites then retail-commercial. The current year-to-date total for office deals is 63, six more during the first 10 months of 2019.

Interest in vacant land interest has been high all year. There have been 22 deals so far this year compared to 19 during the first 10 months of last year. And the 175 vacant land listings are the CMLS CRE sector leader.
The largest October increase in new listings across the region was in the shopping center – up 4 - and multi-family – up 2 - sectors.

The combined CMLS and MLS commercial listings October total was 928, up 8.4 percent from September.

Sept. was best month of the year for NE Tenn CRE market, so far

In September, the commercial real estate market recorded another best month of the year, according to the Northeast Tennessee Association of Realtors (NETAR) monthly Commercial Real Estate Report.

Transactions were 24% higher than September last year, and the commercial inventory increased 23.3 % from August to 856 listings. The nine-month transaction total lagged behind the previous year’s performance by 23 sales and leases while there are 102 fewer listings.

“Transactions were a little softer than August, but the market landscape continues improving,” said Cassie Petzoldt, chair of the NETAR Commercial Committee. “Traffic also increased. The office sector continues to be active, and there is increasing land sales activity.”

According to the combined total for NETAR’s Commercial Multiple Listing System (CMLS) and FLEXMLS, Tri-Cities commercial sales and leases totaled 31, up from 25 for the same time last year. Listings in CMLS were up 53% from August. The most active CMLS new listing sectors were vacant land, office space, and retail-commercial.

Office transactions are performing 29.5% better than the first nine months of last year. Vacant land sales are up 22.2%. The remaining sectors drop below last year’s performance, with the hardest-hit sector being multi-family down 80%, followed by retail-commercial down 43.8%, and shopping center down 31.3%.

There were 856 commercial listings last month compared to 694 in August.

NETAR’s Commercial Real Estate Trends Report capsules market conditions in Carter, Greene, Hawkins, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi, and Washington counties in NE TN and Scott, Lee, Washington, and Wise counties in SW VA.

Tri-Cities commercial real estate market better than what the data shows

August was the best month so far this year for Tri-Cities commercial real estate (CRE) transactions. Web traffic to local listings was also at a 2020 high. But, the number of deals for the first eight months of the year lagged last year’s market performance, and there was a big drop in inventory.
Office sales and leases continue to be the region’s most active sectors. Office deals were 18.6% better than August last year. The industrial sector was 4.2% better than last year.
Shopping centers and retail-commercial transactions continue to be on the negative side of the ledger. Retail-commercial was down 41% from last year, and shopping center deals were down 40%.

There were 35 Tri-Cities CRE sales and leases during August. That’s the combined total for the Northeast Tennessee Association of Realtors (NETAR) Commercial Multiple Listing Service (CMLS) and those on the local Flex Multiple Listing Service (MLS). It does not include transactions on other listing services.
Listings in all CMLS sectors were down 34.8% from July, and Flex listings were down 28.8%.
From a numbers perspective, the local market looks soft. But agents are upbeat about what they’re seeing.
Cassie Petzoldt, TCI Group, said there has been a noticeable improvement in transactions, investor traffic, and listings traffic in the past two months. Petzoldt is the chair of the NETAR Commercial Committee. She said her firm is doing more business than expected. She added she is seeing a lot more interest in restaurant listings.
She also thinks the inventory decline is something you have to expect in the days before a presidential election with a higher than normal amount of indecision about the potential business and economic effects. She also says the market should pick up after the election simply because the uncertainty will be over. “Investors will know that they’re working with.”
Jay Goodson, RE/MAX Checkmate, agreed on the commercial interest level. He said he is seeing more leases than he expected. He added that he been looking at passive income options in the small multi-family sector.
Shannon Castillo, Mitch Cox Realtors, offered some context to Johnson City reports about downtown businesses that have left or closed.
In an interview she pointed out that some businesses relocated and the ones that closed were “spread too thin.” That’s a reality of what happens during a recession, and it hasn’t been limited to downtown Johnson City.
She was quoted saying, we are still selling buildings, we are still leasing buildings, and we’re still doing business. There are some amazing things, some new business that are going to be opening downtown soon, she added.
Kelly Graham, Graham & Associates, was also full of optimism when asked for a Bristol perspective.
He said the Pinnacle continues to add new businesses and there’s increasing interest in other Twin-Cities venues. But most focus is on the upcoming casino election in Bristol, VA.
Graham said investors are positioning themselves in advance of the November election. The casino outcome will have more economic impact on the Twin Cities – and the rest of the region – than the presidential election. Those effects embrace everything from jobs to retail to more expansion of the Twin Cities residential and multi-family sectors.

A recent survey of state business owners and managers found most think the state’s economy will rebound much faster during the next 12 months than the rest of the nation. The University of Tennessee’s Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research said two-thirds of respondents said strong business investment and government leadership would lead to a quicker state recovery.
Some factors in favor of the Tri-Cities economy are:
- The housing market is red hot.
- Consumer spending has increased.
- Interest rates are rock bottom, and the FED has signaled it won’t be raising rates for years.
- Small business optimism is improving despite economic uncertainty
Negatives economy are:
- There were 12,000 fewer jobs in July than in January. The biggest deficits were government and manufacturing, followed by leisure and hospitality.
- Some jobs are returning. There are examples of added jobs, but there are also permanent layoffs due to recession-related business closures and restructuring.
- Some of the returning jobs are for fewer hours and/or lower wages.
- Many businesses are still in distress.

There were 348 listings on the Northeast Tennessee Association of Realtors NETAR) Commercial Multiple Listing Service (CMLS) listing last month compared to 534 in July. The current number of listing and change from July are:
Industrial – 22, down 17
Office - 104, down 60
Retail-Commercial – 72, down 24
Shopping Center – 48, down 7
Vacant land – 101, down 74
There were 346 commercial real estate listing on Flex last month, down two from August last year.

Tri-Cities commercial real estate perks up in July

Tri-Cities commercial real estate (CRE) began looking a little more like the residential market in July.
Transactions increased. Listing sank to a seven-month low. And consumer activity increased. But when compared to July last year, the market was down 18 percent.

Cassie Petzoldt said the number of consumer contacts have increased as investors shop the local market for bargains and opportunities. Another positive sign is listing web traffic also increased. Petzoldt is chair of the Northeast Tennessee Association of Realtors (NETAR) Commercial Committee. “Due to nature of the commercial market – which is more closely linked to the economic and business cycle than the residential sector – its recover will be slower and more measured,” Petzoldt said.

The most active transaction sector last month was office, she added. “It led both lease and sales transactions in July and it did in June. And, although land sales didn’t live up to last year’s sales pace, that sector continues to get a lot of consumer attention – especially in the three-county Johnson City metro areas.”
Total commercial listings in NETAR’s Commercial Multiple Listing Service (CMLS) and on Flex – the local multiple listing service – dropped to 881 in July - down from 976 at the beginning of the year. Some of that decrease can be attributed to the volume of new listing not being replacing the 206 transactions so far this year because some owners have stepped back to see how the local economy recovers from the coronavirus effect.
Still, there has been a steady small new listing increase every month except May. There were 21 new listings in July.

While July was the best month of the year for local commercial transactions, total CMLS transactions were down 18 percent from July last year. Flex transactions increased from six during July 2019 to nine last month.
Activity varies for each sector of the commercial marketplace.

Compared to July last year, CLMS transactions in the office sector were up 22 percent.
Multi-family transactions were down 80 percent.

Shopping center transactions were down 34.6 percent.

Retail was down 42.2 percent.

Vacant land deals were down 40 percent.

Flex does not report the number of transactions by commercial sectors.

There were 1.1 million square feet of commercial space for sale in the Tri-Cities last month, 391,013 square feet for lease and 1,134 acres of land for sale. That acreage does not include subdivision lots.
NETAR’s Commercial Real Estate Trends Report capsules market conditions in Carter, Greene, Hawkins, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi, and Washington counties in NE Tenn. and Scott, Lee, Washington, and Wise counties in SW Va.

COVID-19 turns Tri-Cties commercial real estate market upside down

So far this year, the only Tri-Cities commercial real estate (CRE) constant is inconsistency. While some of that’s normal during an election year, COVID-19 turned the world upside down. It’s a world where there are no statistical models to explain things.

At mid-year CRE sales, there was one more than the first half of last year, according to the Appalachian Highlands Dashboard for Real Estate Analytics. At the same time, the transaction volume on those 308 sales was 59.7% below last year. The dashboard’s baseline for reporting a deal as a sale is the deed transfer. The year’s top deal so far is the $7.1 million office sale on Sunset Dr. in Johnson City. The next three contenders (two in Jonesborough and one on Boones Creek Rd) are in the $6 million-plus range.

A similar situation can be found with The Market Edge’s commercial permit trends report. There was a 12.7% increase in the number of Tri-Cities new permits, but the value attached to those jobs was 7% below what it was during the first half of last year.

Here’s a quick sidebar to the new permits tally. The Tri-Cities was the only local region that saw a new permit increase. Chattanooga was down 25%, Knoxville was 15% off last year’s pace, and Asheville was down 31%.
Fast-forward to the seven-month mark. The Northeast Tennessee Association of Realtors (NETAR) reports that July was the best month so far for commercial transactions. There were almost 900 listings on both NETAR Commercial Multiple Listing Service (CMLS) and on the regional multiple listing service. That’s down for the 976 listings at the first of the year, but the market is picking up, according to Cassie Petzoldt, NETAR’s Commercial Committee chair. It’s not roaring like the residential real estate market, but even small gains are reason for celebration this year.
Some examples are:

- Total office transactions are up 22% from last year.
-Retail was down 42.2%
-Shopping center transactions were down 34.6%.
-Vacant land deals were down 40%. That does not include subdivision lots.
COVID-19 hit the commercial real estate industry hard, and some sectors are going to recover faster than others. Here’s what some of the analysts think we’ll see.
- Most CRE rents will decline. There were signs of retail rent fatigue, but COVID-19 has and added more fuel to the fire.
- Apartments will do better than other sectors, but the rate for rent increases will slow. Instead, there will be more incentives. Class C apartments are expected to be hard hit. That’s driven by demographic. Class C renters tend to work in hospitality and restaurants and bars and airports. That’s the demographic hardest hit by job losses.
- Some of the shine is coming off downtown redevelopments. While this may be the case in larger metros, locals don’t see any evidence of that here. Momentum continues to build in Bristol and Johnson City.
- Office space – especially those in downtowns – is in bad shape. Again, that doesn’t fit what the data shows locally. NETAR’s July Commercial Trends Report said office transactions were 22% better than July last year. In fact, it was the only sector with year-over-year growth in July. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a local challenge. The region has a glut of office space. The market never really fully recovered from the effects of the manufacturing and coal industries cutbacks. And the recent hospital mergers put eve more pressure on some components of the office inventory.

- Retail space is suffering. It’s a blanket situation across all markets because the current recession has hit the consumption-based components of the economy. A current county by Harvard shows that wages and employment in mid- and low-income Tri-Cities residents were down by a little more than 30% from January levels. The federal supplement to unemployment shored a lot of consumer spending, but that expired at the end of July. The same check on the status of the percentage of businesses that have closed since January shows declines of 27% in Washington Co., 14% in Sullivan Co., and 18% in Greene Co. It also found that employment for workers in the lower-income range was over 30% in most local counties.
- Student housing and nursing homes are sectors that face severe challenges.
Investor and consumer traffic are picking up in the Tri-Cities as investors look for bargains or for the unique ideas for the “next new thing.” That’s a popular topic commercial practitioners are exploring for pitches to investors.