With work-from-home trends continuing, commercial real estate in the United States will see a slow recovery and office values are unlikely to regain their peaks even by 2040, according to an economist with Capital Economics.

The reduction in office demand due to remote work will cause a hit to net operating incomes on a par with, or worse than, that experienced by malls over the last six years, Kiran Raichura wrote in a report. And in line with the experience of malls, the structural nature of this hit to demand means the 35% plunge in office values were forecasting by end-2025 is unlikely to be recovered even by 2040.

Raichura said the recovery could take longer than the 15 years that economists penciled in, perhaps into the mid-2040s.  

The commercial real estate sector is facing stress due to higher mortgage interest rates and banks tightening credit. Coupled with the lackluster demand, landlords could face defaults. Capital Economics provides analysis and research for the real estate industry. 

There are three sectors in commercial real estate: office, retail and warehousing. While office and retail are suffering, theres tremendous demand for warehousing, said Megan Fox, a commercial and residential real estate agent at Compass Real Estate in New Jersey. Converting existing commercial space takes time and money for the property owners, and towns have restrictions as to what it will allow, Fox said. 

Meanwhile, investors with office buildings are finding it competitive to fill the space.

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Tenants are asking for more and demanding more, such as fresh paint or dcor, Fox said. Commercial landlords are also lowering their prices, with tenants having the upper hand. Companies are also seeking reconfiguration of office space, she said. Gone are the cubicles of yesteryear. Todays companies want open spaces with pods for quiet conversations and a smaller footprint, Fox said.

There is so much more work from home. People thought it was going to change after the pandemic, but there has been pushback, Fox said.        

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