December 2023


Rate Cuts and the 2024 Commercial Real Estate Outlook

  • The Fed has signaled, and most analysts agree, that there will be significant interest rate cuts in 2024.
  • That could lead to a better environment for commercial real estate owners and developers.
  • But while there is optimism, there is no guarantee that things will go as planned in 2024.

As the commercial real estate (CRE) sector navigates the choppy waters of rising interest rates and economic uncertainty, back in September Wells Fargo predicted the Fed would significantly cut interest rates in 2024. While most agree that rates will come down, Wells seems to be significantly more bullish than most analysts. So what does that mean? Will interest rates come down? And if so, what will that mean for commercial real estate?

Let’s unpack Wells Fargo’s prediction and analyze its potential impact on the CRE landscape.

Wells Fargo’s Aggressive Prediction on Interest Rate Reduction

As I wrote above, and as you presumable know, most folks I have talked to and read think that the Fed will lower rates some next year. Indeed, the Fed recently signaled it would do just that. Wells Fargo’s economists, though, kind of shocked the market when they announced back in September that they anticipate the Fed cutting rates by 2.25% in 2024. At the time they first announced this, most folks thought we’d see maybe a 0.5% reduction in 2024. But since then, consensus has started to align more closely with Wells.

In fact, recently the Fed itself lent some credence to Wells’ predictions. It signaled that it would lower rates 3 times in 2024 – for a total reduction of 0.75%. The market, however, has been more aggressive since the Fed’s announcement. It is pricing in a 1.5% reduction by the end of 2024. So it’s unclear what will exactly happen to rates next year, other than they will undoubtedly be lower than they are today.

What Will the Rate Reductions Mean for Commercial Real Estate?

Any rate reduction in 2024 – whether it is 0.75% or 1.5% or 2.25% –  would undoubtedly inject optimism into the CRE market. It would also likely lead to the following:

  • Borrowing Costs: Lower interest rates would translate to cheaper financing for CRE deals, potentially reigniting borrowing activity that has cooled in recent months. This could fuel investment in new developments, renovations, and acquisitions.
  • Transaction Volume: Increased financing availability could lead to a rise in transaction volume across various CRE sectors, particularly in asset classes that were hit hard by rising rates, such as office and retail.
  • Property Values: A more favorable lending environment could boost property values, particularly in markets with strong fundamentals and high demand. However, the extent of value appreciation would depend on several factors, including the specific asset class, location, and market conditions. But as cap rates have increased in recent years as interest rates have also increased, the opposite could happen. Cap rates could tighten again and, thus, property values increase.

The Outlook is Positive for 2024

While the interest rate environment presents a positive outlook for 2024, it’s crucial to approach it with cautious optimism. Its obviously not a guarantee that times will be better. Several factors could derail this scenario:

  • Inflation: The Fed’s primary focus remains controlling inflation. If inflation persists above acceptable levels, the Fed may prioritize rate hikes over cuts, even if the economy weakens.
  • Geopolitical Uncertainty: Global events like the war in Ukraine and ongoing supply chain disruptions could further complicate the economic picture and influence the Fed’s monetary policy decisions.
  • Market Sentiment: Even if the Fed cuts rates, investor confidence could remain subdued if broader economic concerns persist. This could limit borrowing and investment activity in the CRE market.

The predictions of 2024 rate cuts offer a ray of hope for the CRE market, but it’s important to navigate this prospect with cautious optimism. The path forward remains uncertain, and experienced legal counsel can help navigate the complexities of CRE transactions in this dynamic environment. By staying informed, prepared, and adaptable, investors and developers can navigate the changing market landscape and make informed decisions that pave the way for success.

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Austin has HOME Building Plan

  • Austin City Council recently passed the HOME initiative to help solve its housing crisis.
  • Under the changes to the Code, it will be easier to build additional housing on a single family lot.
  • These changes should help by increasing density and providing more needed housing.

The Austin City Council has been on fire lately. At least with respect to housing. I’ve written a lot lately in this blog about the pro-housing positions that this City Council has taken. Ever since the last election, the Council has turned far more to pro-housing positions and passed a number of measures that will have a long-term positive effect on Austin’s housing situation.

Well they did it again recently. The Council passed another very progressive pro-housing measure that could have a profound effect on the future of Austin. So lets talk about it.

Austin City Council Passes HOME Initiative


In a landmark decision, the Austin City Council recently enacted the HOME proposal, a set of changes to the city’s Land Development Code aimed at addressing the housing affordability crisis and increasing housing supply. This initiative stands for “Home Options for Middle-Income Empowerment” and represents a significant step forward in creating a more accessible and inclusive housing market in Austin.

At the core of the HOME proposal are changes that allow for more flexibility and density on individual lots. Previously, most single-family residential lots could only have one dwelling unit. However, the new regulations now permit up to three homes on a single lot in specific zoning districts. This includes allowing for the construction of accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and tiny homes. These options offer a wider range of housing choices and can provide affordable options for individuals, young professionals, and families.

The increased density permitted by the HOME proposal should significantly increase the housing supply in Austin. By allowing for more homes to be built on existing land, the city can meet the growing demand for housing without encroaching on green space or expanding urban sprawl. This increased supply can help to stabilize housing prices and make it easier for people to find affordable housing options.

Furthermore, the HOME proposal includes several measures specifically designed to promote affordability. These include:

  • Allowing up to three units on single family lots, giving homeowners the ability to provide additional on-site housing options.
  • Making it easier to install a tiny home on a property.
  • Incentivize saving existing homes that conserve neighborhood character and help keep materials out of area landfills.
  • Promote smaller “starter homes” for homebuyers.

 These changes will be to current properties that are zoned SF-1, SF-2, and SF-3.

Overall, the Austin City Council’s enactment of the HOME proposal is a significant step towards addressing the city’s housing affordability crisis. By increasing housing supply and promoting affordability, the initiative has the potential to make Austin a more accessible and inclusive city for all residents. While there are challenges to overcome, the HOME proposal represents a positive step forward in creating a more equitable and sustainable housing market in Austin.

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for rent

The Promise and Difficulties of Property Management

  • Well run commercial property management companies can be great partners to property owners.
  • And they can provide many services to help run the day to day operations of the property.
  • But they also face significant legal requirements that can be difficult to navigate without the proper support.

Property management is a difficult business. I have watched and worked with a number of commercial property management companies through the years. And its just a tough way to make a buck. There are a lot of potential pitfalls.

But commercial property managers are really important. They play a pivotal role in overseeing the day-to-day operations of commercial real estate, ensuring compliance with laws and regulations, and maintaining a harmonious tenant experience. Their responsibilities span a wide spectrum, from managing tenant relations and handling maintenance requests to addressing insurance claims and navigating legal disputes. So how do you be successful at those tasks while also avoiding the pitfalls of the business? Lets talk about it.

 Legal Responsibilities and Duties of Commercial Property Managers in Texas

 Commercial property managers in Texas are bound by a set of legal responsibilities and duties outlined in state laws, property management agreements, and lease contracts. These obligations encompass various aspects of property management, including:

  • Tenant Relations: Property managers are usually responsible for screening tenants, executing lease agreements, collecting rent, addressing tenant complaints, and enforcing lease terms. They must ensure fair and lawful treatment of all tenants, adhering to anti-discrimination laws and providing adequate notice for evictions, as we have written about many times in this blog.
  • Maintenance and Repairs: Often property managers are tasked with maintaining the property in a safe, habitable, and compliant condition. This includes promptly addressing tenant maintenance requests, conducting regular inspections, and ensuring adherence to building codes and fire safety regulations.
  • Insurance Management: Usually property managers oversee insurance coverage for the property, ensuring adequate protection against potential risks such as fire, natural disasters, and liability claims. And good property managers will handle the insurance claims on behalf of the property owner and work with insurance providers and an outside attorney to ensure timely settlements.
  • Financial Management: Property managers routinely send monthly financial reports to the owners and are responsible for managing the property’s finances. This can include collecting rent, paying property taxes and insurance premiums, and maintaining accurate financial records.
  • Compliance with Laws and Regulations: This is where the biggest potential pitfalls lie. Property managers must ensure compliance with a multitude of laws and regulations at the federal, state, and local levels. This includes adhering to environmental regulations, building codes, zoning ordinances, and fair housing laws.

 Common Legal Issues in Commercial Property Management

As shown above, commercial property managers have a lot of responsibility. And they have to do these tasks while trying to avoid the numerous legal pitfalls that could face them. Some of the most common legal challenges include:

  • Tenant Disputes: Tenant disputes can arise from areas of the landlord-tenant relationship, such as lease violations, non-payment of rent, property damage, and noise complaints. Property managers must handle these disputes in a fair and impartial manner, following legal procedures and ensuring adherence to lease terms. But cities and states usually have very strict rules to follow when dealing with tenant disputes. Its why working with a lawyer is so important when dealing with landlord tenant disputes.
  • Insurance Claims: Commercial property managers play a crucial role in processing and handling insurance claims. They must ensure that claims are filed promptly, supported by adequate documentation, and negotiated effectively with insurance providers. And if there is not a simple, quick resolution with the insurance company, recommend the property owner hire a good lawyer to help them navigate the process.
  • Vendor Disputes: Regardless of the type of commercial property that a group manages, there will likely eventually be a dispute with one of the vendors at the property. When this happens, its important for the property manager to know what its rights are, when a lien is permissible, what litigation options there are, etc.
  • Fair Housing: This goes hand in hand with the tenant disputes above, but if the property management company manages an apartment complex or house, its essential to know the fair housing requirements. Otherwise, the property could face substantial penalties for violating federal law.

Commercial property managers are extremely important and valuable partners with property owners. But it’s a tough business – with a lot of legal potholes to navigate. Its why working with a knowledgeable law firm is so essential to a well run commercial property management business.

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Hackers Disrupt Commercial Real Estate Industry

  • Last week, Fidelity was hacked and, as a result, all of its closings have been shut down.
  • As of this writing, it does not appear that it has resumed its closings.
  • This should definitely be a wakeup call to all commercial real estate companies to protect themselves as much as possible.

I have written many times before about title insurance in this blog. Indeed, we are title fee attorneys. Well there was very big news in the title insurance world last week that kind of went under the radar. Fidelity National Financial was hacked. Its not totally clear what happened or how bad it is, but as of the middle of this week, it did not appear that it had started closing deals yet. This is, obviously, very scary. So lets talk about it.

The Fidelity Hack

The recent cyberattack on Fidelity National Financial (FNF), a leading provider of title insurance and mortgage services, sent shockwaves through the commercial real estate industry. This unprecedented event disrupted operations, delayed closings, and raised concerns about the vulnerability of critical infrastructure. As the industry grapples with the aftermath, it’s crucial to understand the implications of this attack and take proactive measures to safeguard against future threats.

On November 21, 2023, FNF disclosed that it had suffered a cyberattack, prompting an investigation by law enforcement and cybersecurity professionals. The company took immediate steps to contain the incident and safeguard its systems, but the disruption caused significant delays in title insurance and mortgage transactions.

On November 22, the ALPHV/Black Cat ransomware group claimed responsibility for the attack, allegedly demanding a substantial ransom payment in exchange for decrypting stolen data. FNF has not publicly disclosed whether it paid the ransom or not.

As of November 26, FNF alleged that the cyber attack was now “under control.” Its not clear what that means. It does not appear that all of its title business is back up and running. The disruption had caused widespread delays and uncertainty in the commercial real estate market.

Impact on the Commercial Real Estate Industry

The Fidelity Title hack serves as a stark reminder of the interconnectedness of the commercial real estate industry and the potential for cyberattacks to cause widespread disruption. The attack highlighted the following key risks:

  1. Delayed Transactions: Title insurance is a critical component of real estate transactions, and any disruption in its issuance can cause delays in closings. This can lead to financial losses for buyers, sellers, and lenders, as well as reputational damage for real estate professionals.
  2. Data Breaches: Cyberattacks can expose sensitive customer data, including personally identifiable information (PII) and financial details. This can lead to identity theft, fraud, and other financial losses for affected individuals.
  3. Ransomware Attacks: Ransomware attacks can encrypt critical data, rendering it inaccessible until a ransom is paid. This can bring business operations to a standstill and result in significant financial losses.

What does this Mean for the Commercial Real Estate Industry

In the wake of the Fidelity Title hack, commercial real estate professionals need to be aware of the dangers and risks from hackers and potentially follow these steps to enhance cybersecurity and mitigate some risks.

  1. Strengthen Cybersecurity Measures: First, I want to say that this is way outside my area of expertise. I am not a cybersecurity expert by any stretch. So don’t take my advice – PLEASE talk to your IT experts. But having said that, commercial real estate companies need to make sure they implement robust cybersecurity measures, including multi-factor authentication, data encryption, and regular system updates. And conduct regular security assessments and penetration tests to identify and address vulnerabilities.
  2. Educate Employees: Train employees on cybersecurity best practices, including phishing awareness, password hygiene, and social engineering techniques. Encourage them to report suspicious activity promptly.
  3. Seek Expert Guidance: This is by far the most important aspect. Don’t listen to me – a real estate lawyer. Talk to someone who knows what they are doing. And if you need a recommendation, I have a great referral.

Again, this last section is outside the area of my expertise. But its clear that this is a scary development. When a huge title company can be hacked and have its closings completely shut down, its certainly time for real estate developers and investors to take notice. And take precaution.

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