Memories of the Way We Were … Hopeful Stats a Year Since Lehman

There are lots of memories—many of them apparently traumatic—in that glass-encased and forever under-heated back room at Michael’s, the midtown power lunch-counter where Cushman & Wakefield executives host quarterly market briefings for the press.

“It’s hard to believe, but it was about a year ago when we came here, and we didn’t know what was going on,” reflected Ken McCarthy, Cushman’s managing director for research, on Tuesday morning.

Mr. McCarthy was right. It kind of is hard to believe that this time last year, Lehman Brothers had just fallen, and a profound disorientation pervaded commercial real estate.

Now, a mere 12 months later, the market has regained some modicum of stability, particularly in the office leasing sector. Office rents continue to decline, but not as quickly. Vacancy rates continue to rise—and are expected to peak at 14 percent sometime next year—but sublease volume has fallen. And retail rents seem to have stabilized. Even so, as Mr. McCarthy went on to say, “It’s not over yet. Despite what Ben Bernanke told us.”

That’s particularly true in the investment sales market.

According to Cushman’s chief operating officer for New York, Joe Harbert, only six building sales worth more than $100 million have closed this year, together accounting for 63 percent of total Manhattan sales volume.

That is a paltry, paltry sum. Should investment sales continue on their present path through year’s end, the investment sales volume in Manhattan will have fallen off 87 percent from 2004.

And yet.

The leasing market has life. In the third quarter of 2009, ending Oct. 1, 4.9 million square feet of Manhattan office space were leased. That is more than the 3.3 million leased in the second quarter, and more than the 4.1 million leased during the third quarter of 2008. And that is something. Memories of the Way We Were … Hopeful Stats a Year Since Lehman