The statistics on commercial property aren't always easy to break down. In the United States, commercial property encompasses any property that's used for a business.
That means that retail spaces and storefronts are a major type of commercial property. But so are the office buildings that white collar employees go to work at every day. And so are industrial properties that are used for manufacturing, storage, and other important business purposes.
Each of these sections of the market is different, and each was impacted differently by the COVID-19 pandemic. Let's take a look at some of the key facts regarding commercial real estate in the US. These statistics have been compiled using a variety of research reports from different fiscal years and quarters.
US Commercial Real Estate Market Size
The market size of the US commercial real estate industry was estimated to be about 1 trillion dollars in 2021. Though the market suffered during 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been growing slowly throughout 2021.
Commercial real estate is the top largest real estate industry in the country based on market size. Again, this includes all properties used for business purposes, such as offices and retail space and manufacturing plants. Other industries in the real estate sector are residential real estate and the leasing industry.
Overall, commercial real estate is the fourth-largest industry in the United States based on market size. Many small businesses and corporations alike rely on commercial real estate to provide a retail space, office space, or storage space. The manufacturing industry needs manufacturing plants to function.
US Commercial Real Estate Market Growth Rate
Over the course of 2021, the growth rate of the commercial real estate market is expected to be about 3.8 percent. It's possible that outside factors like the COVID-19 pandemic will affect the demand for office space, but that's just one small chunk of the total market.
Statistically, the real estate market has declined about 0.5 percent per year every year since 2016. But this might actually be because the market crashed significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Pre-pandemic trends were more favorable toward growth.
The increase in the growth rate from 2020 to 2021 can be attributed mostly to increased consumer spending. As consumers make purchases, the demands for commercial space for new businesses and growing corporations increase.
In 2020, the economic crash caused consumer spending to plummet. That's being corrected during the 2021 fiscal year.
However, the growth is impeded by a decrease in the yield on 10-year treasury notes. Basically, this indicates that people are more interested in low-risk and stable purchases.
They're worried about buying commercial property because of the combined risks of real estate and potential ongoing impacts from COVID-19 restrictions.
As the COVID-19 pandemic surges, the demand for commercial real estate goes down. But as the pandemic fades, it's possible that demand will increase. Prices are low now due to the economic crash, so if you are interested in a risky investment, commercial real estate is one of the most potentially lucrative.
The best opportunity for growth comes from commercial real estate that's used by corporations. As corporations expand and hire new people, they need new space for their ventures. Corporate profits are expected to grow over the next few years, so corporations are the most likely users of new commercial space.
Commercial Real Estate Vacancy Rates by City
In quarter 2 of 2021, there was an increase in office vacancies to 17.2 percent. The first quarter had had vacancies of just 13 percent. Office closures can be attributed to increased COVID-19 spread throughout most regions of the country.
There are three "classes" of office buildings. Class A buildings are the most lucrative, having many amenities and high rents. Class B and C buildings have fewer amenities and lower rents. No matter what type of office is in question, the buildings will likely be about 15 percent vacant until pre-COVID employment levels are reached.
The lowest vacancy rates in the country are in Washington D.C., New York City, Little Rock, and Birmingham. Washington D.C.'s vacancy rate is 9.7 percent, far under the 15 percent average of the country. Birmingham's is 12.4 percent.
These vacancies are much higher than they would be without the strain of the pandemic.
In addition to office vacancies, there are industrial vacancies as well. These aren't as pronounced as the office ones, but they are significant. In 2021, there may be a decrease in vacancy of more than 9 percent.
The lowest vacancy rate for industrial space is in Orange County, California, which has just a 3.8 percent rate. Los Angeles has 4 percent, Miami has 5.9 percent, and Seattle has 6.4 percent, making those the other most occupied industrial areas.
Retail vacancies have similar rates to industrial ones. As the economy speeds up in 2021, retail vacancies are expected to drop by up to 10 percent. The least vacant place in the US is San Francisco, with just a 3.9 percent rate. Then there's Fairfield County, Connecticut with 4.1 percent; Long Island with 5 percent; and Orange County, California with 5.5 percent.
The only commercial real estate sector that's expected to see an increase in vacancies is the multi-unit apartment housing. But the increase in vacancy is only expected to be about 0.1 percent, bringing the total vacancy for that sector to about 4 percent.
When apartment vacancies are at under 5 percent, the market favors the landlord. It's easy to raise rents since the demand for housing is higher. The lowest apartment vacancy rates are in New Haven, Connecticut, with just 1.9 percent of properties being vacant.
Total Value of US Commercial Real Estate
In 2018, it was estimated that all of the commercial real estate in the US was worth about 16 trillion dollars. That includes both properties for sale and not for sale.
Now, not all of those properties are available for sale at all times. And the value of properties can increase or decrease with time. Similarly, market forces affect the selling prices of different properties.
Because of the number of variables, it's impossible to create an exact dollar amount for the worth of commercial real estate in the US. But that 2018 report found that the value was between 14 and 17 trillion, with a likely average of 16 trillion.
This study was done by analyzing 200 different commercial real estate markets in the US. Markets vary depending on the state, the time of year, whether the area is urban or rural, and whether the commerce is growing or shrinking. Some property in one area might be more expensive than similarly-sized property in a different state.
Researchers estimated how much total square footage and how many commercial units there were in each of the markets. Then they added them together to get an estimate for the commercial value in the entire US. Breaking the numbers down like this helps to get more accurate guesses.
This study didn't include timber, billboards, rentals of single family homes for commercial purposes, or any commercial infrastructure excluding wireless towers. But it did include healthcare, office, retail, hospitality, industrial, self-storage, and specialty commercial properties.
Multi-family apartment complexes were counted as commercial property, since landlords generate income through tenant rent. The largest sectors were:
- Multi-family units, valued at nearly 3 trillion dollars
- Office buildings, valued at 2.5 trillion dollars
- Retail spaces, valued at 2.4 trillion dollars
- Healthcare spaces, valued at 2.3 trillion dollars
- Specialty commercial areas, valued at 2.2 trillion dollars
- Hospitality businesses, valued at 1.6 trillion dollars
- Industrial businesses, valued at 1.5 trillion dollars
Flexible spaces, self-storage spaces, and wireless towers had the lowest total value, measuring just 0.6 trillion dollars combined.
The price per square foot of space varied for each of these sectors. Healthcare facilities had the highest price at 864 dollars per square foot. This is presumably due to the high costs of healthcare treatment and the advanced equipment in the area.
The next most expensive sector was hospitality, with property costing about 617 dollars per square foot. That makes sense since hotels are in the business of providing luxury amenities to many people at once.
Office buildings had an average cost of 218 dollars per square foot. All other sectors were less than 200 dollars per square foot, with the lowest being industrial space at 73 dollars. Manufacturing plants are often large and lack the amenities that drive commercial real estate prices up.
(No data was available for the square footage cost of self-storage businesses, wireless towers, or specialty commercial properties.)
Number of Commercial Buildings in the US
As of 2018, the US Energy Information Administration stated that there were 5.9 million commercial buildings in the US. These encompassed 97 billion square feet. In comparison to 2012, when the survey was last conducted, the square footage was 11 percent higher and the number of buildings was 6 percent higher.
The largest buildings in terms of square foot tend to be lodgings like hotels, educational institutions like high schools and colleges, and healthcare facilities like hospitals. Meanwhile, the smallest buildings tend to be taken up by food service buildings.
Number of Office Buildings in the US
It's difficult to separate the number of office buildings from the number of general commercial buildings. But one report did indicate that a combination of warehouses, offices, mercantile spaces, and educational areas made up 50 percent of the commercial buildings in the country.
There's a total of 5.9 million commercial buildings in the country, so we can assume that these four sectors cover about 3 million buildings.
Though we can't determine what percentage each of the four sectors takes up, we can be certain that there are hundreds of thousands of office buildings scattered throughout the US.
Commercial Real Estate Trends in the US
The commercial market is slowly beginning to recover from the devastating economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, it hasn't yet reached pre-pandemic levels. People are more hesitant to invest in real estate, and workers are more reluctant to return to the office.
With large commercial property acquisitions worth 2.5 million dollars or more, there was a massive 28 percent decrease when comparing the first quarters of 2020 and 2021.
The only exception was for acquisitions of hotels. Some market analysts speculate that investors might be purchasing hotels to use for multifamily housing later.
With acquisitions of less than 2.5 million, though, the average decline in transactions was just 1 percent when comparing the first quarters of 2020 and 2021.
There was an increase in purchases of industrial plants and undeveloped land, but other commercial property sales declined.
In comparison to the first quarter of 2020, quarter 1 of 2021 saw commercial prices at a 6 percent decrease. However, they are more reliable than they were in late 2020.
Because of the large number of people working from home, many companies chose to move their offices to places with smaller square footage or to let their leases expire. Several companies sold office buildings they owned and are choosing to lease instead of own now.
US Commercial Real Estate Lease Rates
The leasing rates vary depending on the sector and the location. For the second quarter of 2020, there was an average price for offices of about 35 dollars per square foot each year. For retail spaces, that price dropped to 18 dollars per square foot each year. Industrial manufacturing plants cost just 8 dollars per square foot each year.
In New York, a metro office is significantly more expensive, costing about 81 dollars per square foot. Industrial space is also pricier, averaging almost 20 dollars.
Offices in Los Angeles cost about 44 dollars per square foot. In Boston, they're about 39 dollars. But if you want an office in Cambridge specifically, it will cost 80 dollars per square foot.
On the other hand, Atlanta comes in under the country's average. It's about 30 dollars per square foot for an office, though that increases to 35 dollars if you want a space in downtown.
Chicago, too, comes in under par at 33 dollars for offices. In more expensive areas of the city, the price raises to more than 40 dollars. Urban areas of Texas like Dallas and Austin tend to have a price of between 25 and 30 dollars per square foot.
US Commercial Real Estate Appreciation Rates
The price of commercial real estate in the US rose about 1.3 percent in the period between April of 2020 and April of 2021. The two biggest sectors driving the increase were industrial plants, with a rise of 9.4 percent; and multi-unit apartment complexes, with a rise of 7.6 percent.
Office buildings increased by 3 percent and retail properties by 1.3 percent. Though these sectors still seem to be affected by the pandemic, they aren't in decline anymore. April was the first time that all four of these sectors saw positive growth since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in the US.
What percentage of US real estate is commercial?
There are about 5.9 commercial real estate buildings in the US across all business sectors and purposes. Meanwhile, the number of occupied housing units is 119.7 million.
This means that housing units significantly outnumber commercial ones. If we take the total of 125.6 million buildings, then the commercial real estate percentage is about 4.7 percent. That may leave out any structures that aren't counted as part of the housing or commercial property markets.