PRISM 2019: CBRE’s SPENCER LEVY CONNECTS THE DOTS ON MEGA TRENDS

If you want to know how broader mega trends are impacting commercial real estate investment, you can’t do better than CBRE’s Spencer Levy. We were the lucky ones to have him deliver the opening keynote at EDR’s PRISM conference at the Hutton Hotel in Nashville last week. What Levy does so well is help us see past the headlines to understand which trends are worth following—and which ones we can ignore. Here are some key highlights from his dynamic presentation:

Introducing: The New City

You may have noticed areas where large investors are migrating away from big metros into smaller secondary and tertiary metros that are new and hip and attracting top talent. This is certainly true in Nashville where the number of new residents moving in daily is a closely-watched and talked-about metric (now standing at 86 per day). Adaptive reuse is a key focus in a “new city.” Levy gave an example of an old Nabisco factory in Pittsburgh that now houses Google’s new headquarters. In smaller metros across the U.S., where you find the talent clusters is where you’ll start seeing the bigger companies gravitate. The truly exciting element of this trend is that today’s Class C industrial could be tomorrow’s Class A office space.

“The new city money is flowing into secondary markets that have these things: talent creators, talent attractors and live-work-play developments.”

Office-using job growth is key.

“If you can project where the office-using jobs are going to be, you can project everything!”

In the top 20 markets, you not only see the usual suspects like San Francisco at the top, you also see Tampa Salt Lake City and Nashville. These are the metros where you can expect to see the greatest growth in commercial real estate across all asset classes.

All real estate is local.

While global and national trends are important, it’s what’s happening at the local level that will impact our markets the most. Tens of billions of dollars in capital are aimed at the 8,000+ opportunity zones across the U.S., many in distressed areas.  If cities want to attract business capital, the prize will go to the ones that provide the most enticing location incentives to companies as well as those metros that are attracting top talent.

Demographics may be the biggest mega trend happening in the world today.

“Millennials matter simply because there are so many of them.”

That’s why you need to focus on the millennial trend when you’re trying to predict commercial real estate. They are a large segment of the population and they’re getting older. This means that what made them happy five years ago may not work tomorrow. What amenities do they want in the workplace? How important are flex work policies? This is what’s driving firms to amenitize workplaces. The city is also the amenity so in attracting talent, “location, location, location” has never mattered more.

“The death of bricks and /mortar retail is the single most overblown story in my real estate career (other than Y2K back in 2000).”

The number 1 disruptor isn’t e commerce. It’s demographic. People are moving back into cities. The pendulum is now swinging back in retail’s favor as retailers lure customers back into stores, especially for returns. As the retail market adapts to demographic shifts and new buyer behaviors, this sector is presenting some great investment opportunities.

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In looking at mega trends, the time horizon matters most. Focus the most on what’s happening now. For instance, we may need fewer parking lots down the road as self-driving vehicle use increases, but right now, buildings need bigger pick up and drop off areas for our Uber and Lyft drivers.

And there’s a lot of talk about the high volume of data generated in our business. This leads to concerns that data and algorithms will displace workers in real estate, “but don’t believe it. Behavioral economics has far more influence. The human influence is much more important in getting a deal done.”

“The world is changing. Go out and try new things. We think 2019 is going to be a good year.”

ABOUT SPENCER LEVY

I first saw Spencer speak at the national convention of Commercial Real Estate Women…or CREW…in Houston —and had never before seen a market analyst connect the dots the way he does to bridge the gap among disparate trends—economic, political, demographic, technological—that reshape the ways that we invest in, and use, real estate.

At CBRE, Spencer is the chief spokesman on real estate matters and is EASILY one of the most sought-after speakers in the commercial real estate industry. He is regularly quoted in major business publications and is frequently a guest on business television, including Bloomberg, CNBC, PBS and Fox Business.

Levy travels extensively here in the US and abroad, and regularly speaks at major events of the leading commercial real estate organizations, including CORENET, ULI, ICSC, and of course, CREW. Levy is such an influencer for CREW, AND a champion for the advancement of women in commercial real estate, that he’s one of the few male professionals who actually became a CREW Network member himself.

While a New Yorker for most of his life, Spencer currently hails from my old college town of Baltimore where he sits on the board of the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women. If you’re looking to expand your LinkedIn connections, follow him if only to see what city in the world he’s going to show up in next! He’s like the Where’s Waldo of commercial real estate.

Thanks to Spencer for kicking off our PRISM event in Nashville!