‘Safety’ increasingly silent partner in int'l real-estate

Analysis: All markets are cyclical. However, “safety” will be a silent partner in real-estate deals for some time.

By ABE SCHEAR
July 30, 2011 23:44
3 minute read.
Apartment buildings in Beersheba

beersheba real estate 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Six years and 12 Israel trips ago, I incorrectly thought that all Israeli companies and individuals longed to invest in the United States, naively believing that American investment was always an important part of any cogent real-estate strategy. This analysis failed on many accounts, notably poor currency- exchange rates, an overheated American realestate economy and other international markets that were then more attractive to the Israeli investor (e.g., Eastern Europe, China, Africa ).

That the market is now different is clear, and one should question whether the more positive investment flow to US real-estate investments is episodic or more permanent. I lean toward the latter analysis – one that likely will drift toward stability and safety.

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In 2005, when the currency exchange was approximately NIS 4.25 to the dollar, buying property in the US, be it in New York or Atlanta or Los Angeles, was correctly deemed to be overpriced.

Now, with the currency exchange near NIS 3.4 to one dollar, and with real property trading at much lower prices, the thinking is that there is money to be made both on the asset and potentially on the currency exchange. Israelis, in fact, see this every day as Israeli real-estate prices are now quoted in shekels and not in dollars.

Equally important, the market six years ago was primarily focused on yield, with little worry about safety, transferability or title concerns. Investors, including Israelis, were intrigued with Eastern Europe, especially Bulgaria, Ukraine and Georgia.

They were also fascinated with India, the Far East and Africa. While some remain interested, there seems to be a flight to better quality – and ultimately, a willingness to accept lower yields.

This analysis is best reflected in the non-Israeli Middle East. With political and economic uncertainty at every corner, many investors will surely look to further diversify, investing more and more outside of the Middle East, following the long-held Israeli strategy – except that Israeli investment has generally been based on diversification. There is, after all, a significant difference in losing your own money and losing legacy money and legacy investments, The latter are often made in stable core assets in the US or otherwise, and investors can afford to accept lower yields.

These factors, among others, are helping certain segments of the American real-estate market, notably multifamily (i.e., rental apartments) and retail, particularly when dealing with credit tenants.

Many Americans, especially younger ones, do not see ownership of residential property as a panacea and fully intend to continue to rent, a strategy that is stimulating the apartment business.

Retailers, which are deemed to have good credit, are, for sure, continuing to grow, with companies such as Target and Costco expanding their overall square footage. Other retail tenants are doing the same – certainly those in the value segment, the entertainment segment and (yes) the high-end segment.

There is now significant interest in each of these areas, and, with the banks still cautious to lend, international investors have entered the market – more on the equity side than the debt side.

Until the US debt market becomes more active, equity – Israeli or otherwise – will be welcome by US property owners.

Needless to say, all markets are cyclical. However, “safety” will be a silent partner in real-estate deals for some time. The market of 2005 was much different, likely less technical, and similar to the US market of the late 1980s, believing that everything would go up, logically or otherwise. Current investment into the US (and other “stable” economies) will likely continue to expand, particularly as the appetite for risk is reduced.

abe.schear@agg.com

Abe Schear is chairman of the Israel Practice Team and the Inbound Foreign Business Team at Atlantabased law firm Arnall Golden Gregory LLP.


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