Real estate investors are coming to the realization that they need to become more flexible if they want to acquire regional malls while the market remains favorable for new, according to industry insiders. This week’s announcement that Macerich Co. will sell four of its malls may be the first clear indication that buyers are now willing to look beyond primary markets in pursuit of yield.
On June 3, Macerich announced deals to sell four of its malls, including Green Tree Mall in Clarksville, Ind., to undisclosed buyers. Sales at the malls average $389 per sq. ft. Macerich did not disclose the names of the other three malls that will trade hands.
For the past several years, most investors focused on one of two possible acquisition strategies—they either went after only core assets in prime areas or concentrated exclusively on value-add opportunities, according to Mark Keschl, national director of the retail services group with Colliers International. The intense competition for a narrow field of product, coupled with owners’ unwillingness to part with trophy regional malls, led to a dearth of deals in the sector. In the first quarter of 2013, for instance, there were no significant transactions involving regional malls, according to Real Capital Analytics (RCA), a New York City-based research firm.
Now, as investors devise new ways to deploy their capital, that’s changing, according to Keschl. Part of the reason for the change has to do with improved leasing fundamentals across the retail universe, says George Good, executive vice president with the capital markets group at CBRE. Yields on class-B malls are also better than on trophy assets. In Manhattan, for example, cap rates on mall acquisitions average 5.2 percent, while malls in Portland, Ore. are trading at 9.7 percent, according to RCA.
As a result, geography no longer matters as much as it once did, says Good. If the mall delivers a solid performance and is well-positioned within its trade area it will attract interested buyers.
Ryan McCullough, real estate economist with the research firm CoStar Group, confirms that there have been more malls sales taking place in secondary and tertiary markets in recent quarters, though he points out that investors have been laser focused on occupancy levels in their acquisition criteria. In the fourth quarter of 2011, trades involving properties in the nation’s Top 10 markets totaled 57.2 percent of all investment sales in the mall sector, according to McCullough’s research, while trades in all other markets accounted for just 30.8 percent of investment sales volume. Today, deals in the Top 10 markets account for 28.7 percent of all mall sales, while 45 percent of the total deal volume comes from other markets.
“What investors are telling us today is they want to look at everything and then make a decision on an asset by asset basis,” says Keschl. “And ultimately, I think it’s good for the industry because it allows them to focus on the attributes of that particular asset.”
At the moment, the universe of buyers willing to acquire class-B malls remains relatively small. Good notes Australian funds manager QIC, which just completed a $2.05 billion joint venture with Forest City Enterprises for a 49 percent stake in eight malls, along with Starwood Capital, O’Connor Capital Partners and KKR.
But the list is bound to keep growing. “We expect we will see some additional names surface on other deals this year,” Good says.