Prime Retail Real Estate Is Hot And Retailers Will Pay More For It
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As if retailers don’t have enough challenges with ongoing supply chain issues, recruiting and retaining staff and shoppers spooked by rising prices, now they have another worry. Prime retail real estate is in high demand and rental rates are rising accordingly.

That’s good news for REITs and other retail real estate owners and property managers but bad news for retailers that have to work rising real estate prices onto their balance sheets. It’s the simple economic law of supply and demand.

Retailers are opening new stores far faster than they are closing them, creating a fierce fight for the best spaces. At the end of 2021, the National Retail Federation reported that major U.S.-headquartered retailers announced more than 8,100 new store openings, more than double the 3,950 closings planned.

Through January 2022, a month popular for retailers to announce their opening and closing plans, the gap between the number of openings and closings is even wider – 1,190 openings to 742 closings, according to Coresight Research.

Simon Property Group, the largest U.S. mall property owner, just reported its occupancy rates reached 93.3% at the end of March, up from 90.9% last year.

In the earnings call, CEO David Simon said it had signed more than 900 leases for over three million square feet in the quarter and added there was a “significant number of leases in our pipeline.” Given its positive outlook, SPG also raised its previous guidance.

Demand exceeds supply

Real estate investment firm JLL Capital Markets has just completed a study of the trending retail real estate markets and I sat down with Danny Finkle, retail co-leader in JLL’s capital markets and managing director of its Miami office, to discuss the findings.

“Retail follows consumers, rent growth follows both, and investors follow all three,” he said. “It all comes down to diminishing supply with a consistent and growing demand from the user in the retail space.”

Reducing supply is a low level of new retail development which is not likely to turn around soon due to the rising cost of construction and building materials. Adding another complication is the large amount of existing square footage in malls, open-air retail centers, and other spaces that have been repurposed for alternative uses.

Driving increased demand for space is retailers’ recognition that even with a strong e-commerce presence, they need to maintain an equally strong brick-and-mortar presence. So even established retailers that may have reduced their existing retail fleet are starting to open new stores again.

And digitally-native B2C retailers are now making tracks to physical retail which is creating even greater competition for prime retail space.

Reducing supply is the overall low level of new retail development which is not likely to turn around soon with the cost of construction and building materials going through the roof. Adding further complication is the amount of existing square footage in malls, open-air retail centers, and others repurposed for alternative uses.

Where it’s hot

Eight markets top the list in growth potential, according to JLL’s analysis:

· Nashville, showing over 60% growth in rental rates since 2011;

· South Florida, up nearly 50%;

· Austin and Tampa both at 39%;

· Denver at 37%; and

· Charlotte, Dallas-Fort Worth and Raleigh-Durham around 30%.

Among major cities, Chicago is an outlier with net absorption rates significantly higher than number two Washington, DC, followed in order by Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City trailing the pack.

“Retailers need to be where the people are and while workers will eventually return to downtown urban areas, right now we have to pay attention to where people are moving, as well as working,” he shared.

Where it’s not

A recent analysis of Census data conducted by Brookings Institute showed an “outsized” decline in the size of the nation’s 56 major metropolitan areas (defined as exceeding one million residents). People are moving to smaller metro areas in droves with even stronger growth to non-metropolitan areas.

The biggest losers were New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago in 2021 and Boston, Miami, Washington, DC, Seattle, Minneapolis-Saint Paul and Philadelphia all went from growth in the 2019-2020 period to a decline in 2020-2021.

Retailers will need to keep their ear close to the ground as to how the trend in work-from-home, either full-time or increasingly part-time, changes the traffic patterns in the nation’s downtowns. They also may be able to grab attractive urban retail spaces on the cheap in the meantime.

As for retailers looking to secure suburban retail spaces, Finkle says the market will remain very competitive.

“If you look at the amount of new retail development, it is a minuscule percentage, at a 50-year low. And the prospect for new development on a go-forward basis is also remarkably low. It’s hard to believe that anyone is going to build a new enclosed mall in the near future.

“But people still want to get out and shop and retailers need to be there for them,” he concluded.

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