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Surge in Remote Work May Wipe Out $800 Billion in Commercial Real Estate by 2030

As demand for office space declines, tenants are renegotiating leases to adapt to uncertain economic conditions and changing work dynamics.
UPDATED AUG 24, 2023
Cover Image Source: Pexels/Kaique Rocha
Cover Image Source: Pexels/Kaique Rocha

The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped the way we work, forcing companies and employees worldwide to adopt remote work arrangements. While this shift has offered flexibility and convenience, it carries significant implications for the commercial real estate sector. According to a recent study by McKinsey, the transition to remote work could wipe out a staggering $800 billion in value from office buildings across major global cities by 2030. Demand for office space in big cities has been dropping since the beginning of the pandemic due to lower office attendance. McKinsey's model suggests that the problem will only worsen over the next seven years. 

Image Source: Max Rahubovskiy/Pexels
Image Source: Max Rahubovskiy/Pexels

McKinsey's survey focused on nine 'Superstar' cities known for their bustling business landscapes: San Francisco, New York, Houston, London, Paris, Munich, Tokyo, Beijing, and Shanghai. The study revealed that office attendance in these cities is currently about 30% lower than pre-pandemic levels witnessed in 2019. While there may be some recovery in the coming years, McKinsey projected that attendance in 2030 would still be around 13% lower than before the pandemic.

Cover Image Source: Pexels | Ivan Samkov
Image Source: Ivan Samkov/Pexels 

The significant decline in office demand will inevitably drive down property values, per Fox Business. On average, the total value of office space in the nine cities examined by McKinsey could plummet by 26% from 2019 to 2030, equating to a massive decline of approximately $800 billion. This downward trajectory has raised concerns for property owners and investors who are now grappling with the repercussions.

As demand for office space declines, tenants are renegotiating leases to adapt to uncertain economic conditions and changing work dynamics. Shorter lease terms make it more challenging for owners to secure financing. The report highlighted the potential difficulty owners may face in obtaining loans due to this shift in leasing practices.

Pexels | Tima Miroshnichenko
Image Source: Tima Miroshnichenko/Pexels 

The situation becomes more precarious as interest rates continue to rise. The Federal Reserve has already raised rates multiple times in the past year, with indications of further hikes due to underlying inflationary pressures. This trend poses a risk to property values, potentially leading to a more significant decrease. Small and regional banks, which constitute a significant source of credit for the commercial real estate market, are particularly vulnerable. These banks hold approximately 80% of the sector's outstanding debt and recent upheavals within the financial sector may result in more restrictive lending standards.

During a credit crunch, banks tend to tighten their lending standards, making it increasingly difficult for businesses and households to secure loans. Borrowers may face higher interest rates and stringent terms as banks aim to minimize their financial risks. A quarterly survey by the Federal Reserve revealed that many banks had already tightened lending standards and witnessed a slowdown in demand during the final months of 2022. The remote work trend exacerbates the risk of default on commercial mortgages as higher borrowing costs, tighter credit conditions, and declining property values converge.

Pexels | Karolina Grabowska
Image Source: Karolina Grabowska/Pexels

McKinsey cautioned that troubled financial institutions could exacerbate the situation if they decide to rapidly reduce property prices or sell their assets. Rising interest rates decrease property values and increase the likelihood of loan defaults, potentially leading to a chain reaction of financial challenges. Close monitoring by financial institutions and governments is vital to address these risks effectively.

The repercussions of remote work on commercial real estate could prove catastrophic for mortgage debt repayment. Approximately $1.5 trillion in commercial mortgage debt is due by the end of 2025. However, the combination of higher borrowing costs, stricter credit conditions, and declining property values increase the risk of default. Fitch Ratings estimates that refinancing 35% (equivalent to $5.8 billion) of pooled securities commercial mortgages due between April and December 2023 will not be possible.