A new survey finds that most commercial real estate investors perceive the U.S. market as at or near the bottom, according to Colliers International’s 2010 Global Investor Sentiment Survey. The majority of respondents to the survey, which was released last week, pegged the recovery at 6 o’clock on the “global property clock.”

The global property clock equates market cycles to specific times, with 12 o’clock representing the top of the market and six o’clock representing the bottom. Each six-hour period in between designates rising (after 6:00 to 12:00) or declining (after 12:00 to 6:00) cycles.

Real estate investors worldwide are painting a more optimistic picture of the market, with many convinced that the next up cycle will begin in the year ahead. That optimism is reflected by two out of three respondents who expressed a desire to expand their portfolios over the next 12 months.

Overall, findings from the survey — tabulated from 244 major institutional and private global investors with a total investment portfolio exceeding $300 billion — note that a majority of respondents believe the market is at or near bottom and the largest two groups, 41%, see the market between five and six o’clock.

“Investors clearly see the market resetting overall and about to enter the next up cycle. In the U.S., the market is about to hit the reset phase,” said Dylan Taylor, Colliers International’s incumbent CEO in the U.S. In late April, Colliers International will formally merge with FirstService Real Estate Advisors.

Respondents view Latin America (8:30) and the Pacific region (7:00) as already on the upswing. The Pacific region includes Australia and New Zealand. Like the U.S., Asia is at 6:00 o’clock, viewed as at the market’s bottom, while the Middle East, Eastern and Western Europe, and Canada were all still viewed as in the down part of the cycle. With the exception of Eastern Europe, respondents believe all of these areas of the world will be in various stages of the up phase of the market in the next 12 months.

While those seeking to expand their portfolios expressed a higher comfort level doing so in their home markets, they also saw future opportunity in several emerging markets, such as Poland, Ukraine, Vietnam, Brazil and India.

“Despite this overwhelmingly positive outlook, investors are still cautious and expressed some areas of concern,” said Taylor.

One of those major concerns is financing. Respondents were evenly split on whether financing is more or less accessible today than it was one year ago. However, their optimism shined through once again when taking a look at the year ahead. Nearly 90% of respondents believe that financing will be easier to secure within the next 12 months. Most, however, thought the cost of financing would increase.

Although investors in the U.S. and the Pacific region saw no change, investors from Asia, Canada, Latin America and Western Europe indicated an improvement in access to financing over the last year. Investors in the Middle East and Eastern Europe saw less availability to financing.

Another theme running through the survey was a shifting preference towards high-quality and income-producing properties. The move back toward income and less emphasis on capital appreciation was best captured by the sentiment from one survey respondent who said, “capital gains are just a bonus; we buy property for income.”

On the capital markets side, the survey results also revealed a considerable divergence of opinion regarding the market’s return to normal (defined as 7% to 7.5% capitalization rates for office product), although most respondents anticipate that their respective markets will return to normal within the next 18 months.

On a geographic basis, U.S. investors expect to see the domestic market return to normal by the second quarter of 2011, a slight lag behind other regions globally. Investors in Asia and the Pacific expect a return to normal by the fourth quarter of 2010, followed by those in Canada, Latin America, Eastern Europe and Western Europe by the first quarter of 2011.

Another important conclusion to be drawn from the survey is the perception of how the market has changed structurally, according to Ross Moore, executive vice president and director of market and economic research for Colliers International.

“Many investors expressed the view that real estate cycles are now shorter and more severe than historical norms, which serves as a warning to others that going forward, market participants will need to be more nimble,” adds Moore. “Access to current and insightful analysis will be more important than ever.”