Demography -- the science of vital and social statistics -- is one of the most accurate tools we have for understanding trends. It tells us who and where the people are. And since commercial real estate success is a byproduct of knowing one's market, understanding demographic analysis is one of the most essential factors in making commercial real estate deals that pay off instead of making costly mistakes.
Sometimes it's a no-brainer: if demographics indicate, for example, that several major corporations are opening headquarters in a particular city in the Sunbelt, it stands to reason that that area will see a rise in population among working-age adults and families. All of those people will need housing, retail, and restaurants, and property values will rise accordingly.
Demographic trends impacting commercial real estate right now include the "office-pocalypse," in which the rise of remote work during the pandemic has left office building vacancies at double-digit levels in major cities. Predictions suggest that even as the pandemic recedes, this trend is likely to continue. Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, says her organization's data indicates that over a quarter of workers "will be working-from-home multiple days a week by the end of 2021."
When analyzing demographics, it's essential to try to understand not just what's going on, but why. In the case of office vacancies, the pandemic is the most obvious and immediate reason. If it were the only reason, the trend might be expected to reverse itself. But Lister's data suggests that its roots are deeper.
Even before COVID-19, surveys indicated that 80% of workers wanted the freedom of working at least part-time from home so badly that many would have accepted a pay cut; now that they've tried it, Lister believes, few will want to give it up. "The genie is out of the bottle, and it's not likely to go back in," she writes.
Owners of office buildings are faced with tough choices: lower rental rates? Work with the local planning and zoning officials toward a mixed-use project? But the implications of the demographic trend go farther, impacting retail and service businesses in the neighborhoods where office occupancy has fallen.
And as always in commercial real estate, one owner's problem can be a future owner's opportunity. In a neighborhood where office use is down, other demographics, from median income to occupations, median household age, and family composition -- may offer clues to what might succeed in a given location.
Are lots of people living near a property single millennial renters? Their needs and preferences will differ from those of a neighborhood dominated by families with children and sprinkled with older baby boomers. In short, if the office workers aren't going to be there, who will be? That's demographics.
When analyzing the demographics of a region or a neighborhood, don't just look at this year's numbers. The United States Census Bureau recently rolled out a new website, data.census.gov, that allows you to search any state, county, city, or zip code and uncover a treasure trove of information going back to 2000.
Along with the familiar count taken every ten years, the Census Bureau conducts the ongoing American Community Survey. This goes beyond basic demographics like age and gender. It delves into questions like occupation, education, military service, kitchen and plumbing facilities, internet use, and where an individual was living a year ago. This offers a deep dive into how households are living in a given area.
By spotting existing trends in a community, you'll be able to make a much more educated guess at what its future might look like. That helps everyone involved in a transaction: owners with a commercial property for sale or lease can target their marketing toward buyers or tenants most likely to succeed, and investors can get a feel for a property's prospects.
Census data can be instrumental in analyzing an entire region, but once you've set your sights on a prospective property, you want to get granular. That's where the MyEListing demographic tool comes in.
Every listing we post includes detailed demographic data, updated annually: age, education, income, housing unit values, and more within a one, three, and five-mile radius of a given property, taking a lot of the guesswork out of your calculations. There's a table showing state and county population trends over the last two decades, so you'll know whether people are coming or going.
Happily, commercial real estate is rebounding to or beyond pre-Covid levels in many places and even, according to TheRealDeal.com, setting records in some markets. On the National Association of Realtors Commercial Intelligence Briefing Podcast, rockstar realtor and CCIM instructor Todd Clarke speculates that we’re on track to have twice as much existing commercial real estate by 2050.
But what will it look like? Clarke takes a deep dive into the behavior of aging Baby Boomers and rising millennials: how they live, work and play will determine the commercial real estate market of the future, and understanding these human factors can make all the difference between a sweet deal and a big mess.
Know your demographics, folks. Spectacular successes come from development that serves the community well -- but first, you have to know the neighborhood you're serving.
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