Is Commercial Real Estate at Risk of Collapse in the US?

I do think that there will be issues with respect to commercial real estate.
 -Treasury Secretary,  Janet Yellen  
Commercial real estate is melting down fast. Home values next.
 - Elon Musk  

Janet and Elon often hold differing economic views. Yet, their shared concern about a particular issue; the commercial real estate crisis, warrants attention. Specifically, the substantial $20.7 trillion US commercial real estate market is facing significant difficulties. This article delves deep into the myriad elements contributing to US commercial real estate crisis 2023.

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Concerns from the Financial Industry

Possible Loan Defaults: Analysts are voicing worries regarding a notable volume of office loans facing the risk of default, which could lead to considerable bank losses. Yet, the extent of potential decreases in value and project setbacks remains uncertain. It is crucial to vigilantly monitor these hazards and enact measures to alleviate potential consequences.

Easing in Refinancing Activity: Indications of a slowdown in the commercial real estate market's refinancing procedures are becoming evident. Decreasing bond values associated with commercial mortgages prompt inquiries about rating agencies' perspectives on securities backed by such mortgages. This underscores the necessity for thorough evaluation and effective risk management strategies within the market.

Indications of Commercial Real Estate Crisis

Surging Vacancy Rates: Demand for large commercial real estate structures like city office towers is notably decreasing due to remote work trends, causing high vacancy rates. This is especially in major markets like Silicon Valley and Manhattan. A recent study from the National Bureau of Economic Research indicates that attendance in top US business districts remains below 50% of pre-COVID levels, with around 28% remote workdays for white-collar employees. Previously at 5%, full remote workdays have surged more than fivefold due to the pandemic. This poses challenges in attracting new tenants, leading to lower rental rates and property values.

Below is a table of the office vacancy rates for Q1 2023.


10.5 percent


10.1 percent

Washington D.C

18. 2 percent


11.21 percent


20.6 percent


18.4 percent


17. 6 percent


19.8 percent

San Francisco

31.6 percent

Los Angeles

20.01 percent

Please note the data is taken from various sources.

Decline in Property Values: The displayed figures above reveal alarming vacancy rates. With declining demand, it's worth assessing the present property values. For instance, a San Francisco building once valued at around $300 million is now listed at an 80% markdown. Similarly, reports indicate that two Midtown Manhattan office buildings were sold for nearly 50% less than their initial asking price. According to analysts from Morgan Stanley, the likelihood of a decline in commercial property values of as much as 40% is evident—a scale reminiscent of the 2008 financial turmoil. As evident in this IMF data, commercial real estate values seldom decline, making it potentially disastrous if the market doesn't rectify and establish stability promptly. 

Looming Refinancing Crisis: The commercial real estate landscape is teetering on the edge of a substantial refinancing challenge in the forthcoming years. Fitch Ratings has projected that around 35%, approximately $5.8 billion, of bundled securities linked to commercial mortgages set to mature between April and December 2023 could encounter difficulties in securing refinancing. This poses an issue as interest rates have surged by over twofold within the past two years. This could potentially trigger defaults and instabilities within the market's financial landscape.

Stringent Lending Requirements: Real estate companies are currently experiencing the effects of more stringent lending requirements on their activities. An expectation of a notable decline in transaction volume is prevalent. This gets attributed to elevated interest rates and constrained funding from financial establishments. The criteria for lending have become more rigorous, demanding increased equity for transactions to proceed. This downturn in business underscores the difficulties encountered by the commercial real estate sector.

Can the Commercial Real Estate Crisis Be Managed?

Diversification of Commercial Real Estate: Other facets of the commercial real estate domain, including industrial, retail, and hospitality segments, continue to exhibit relatively strong performance. Industrial facilities and data centers supporting e-commerce have shown notable resilience. The diverse array of assets present within the commercial real estate landscape functions as a safeguard against potential hazards, given that the struggles experienced in one sector can be balanced by the successes in others. 

Feasible Refinancing Situations: Despite the impending hurdle of refinancing, a substantial proportion of commercial real estate debt appears to possess the capacity for refinancing without major hindrances. Banks have upheld rigorous lending criteria, and the majority of debt in the market generates sufficient income to meet these standards. This underscores a certain level of stability and preparedness prevalent within the industry.

Robust Performance of Credit: Financial institutions have documented impressive credit performance in their commercial real estate lending activities. This showcases minimal delinquency rates and negligible losses. This implies that lenders have taken prudent measures in their loan assessment procedures and adeptly handled risk. The general credit well-being within the commercial real estate arena signifies a degree of robustness when confronted with possible adversities.

Transformations from Office to Residential Environments: A plausible remedy to counter the challenges in the office realm involves reimagining these spaces as residential dwellings. The surge in remote work due to the pandemic has resulted in numerous vacant office edifices. Analysts suggest accelerating zoning modifications necessary for the conversion of offices into residential units. This approach holds the promise of not only addressing the problem of underutilized properties but also aiding in mitigating the scarcity of affordable housing.

Thriving Landscape: The Current Strength of Indian Commercial Real Estate

If you're an NRI who has been engaged in investments within the US commercial market, the content above might understandably raise concerns. However, there's still a positive avenue available to you through investing in India's commercial real estate sector.

India's office sector continues to flourish, drawing substantial private equity (PE) investments in H1 2023. Commanding a notable 68% of PE investments, this sector showcases impressive expansion and substantial income potential. This optimistic trajectory remains intact, with the Indian office sector projected to achieve a 5.3% YoY growth in PE investments, reaching around $5.6 billion in 2023. 

In its newly released Global Commercial Property Monitor (GCPM) report for the first quarter of the financial year 2023-24, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) highlights India's strong demand for commercial real estate. Notably, while the US, France, and Germany witnessed drops of 38%, 50%, and 25% in office occupier demand, Saudi Arabia, UAE, India, Singapore, and China marked notable upswings of 75%, 60%, 52%, 50%, and 17% respectively.

Bottom Line

Amidst the obstacles and signs of a possible US commercial real estate crisis, an outright collapse in 2023 is not an unavoidable outcome. The market's ability to withstand challenges, its diverse range of assets, and its strong credit performance provide grounds for optimism that the impending crisis can be managed. 

So, if you are looking to invest in India commercial real estate, there is Assetmonk. It is a distinctive alternative investment platform. It unveils an array of enticing prospects tailored for discerning investors. Among its meticulously curated investment options lies the domain of structured debt within the commercial real estate sphere. With an entry threshold as low as $12,000, Assetmonk extends individualized and exclusive investment pathways to its esteemed clientele.

Harnessing the capabilities of Assetmonk's platform empowers investors to anticipate a remarkable Internal Rate of Return (IRR) soaring to an impressive 17 percent. 

Related Articles

  1. US on Verge of Recession in 2023, Europe Prepares for Rough Waters in 2024.
  2. 11 Global Real Estate Trends to Watch In 2023 & Further.


Q1. Is there a recession in commercial real estate in 2023?

A.  According to analysts from Morgan Stanley, the likelihood of a decline in commercial property values is 40%.

Q2. Why a crisis is looming in commercial real estate?

A. There is a looming commercial real estate crisis because of the following reasons:

  • Surging Vacancy Rates: High-profile markets like Silicon Valley and Manhattan are currently witnessing historically elevated vacancy rates in their commercial real estate holdings. This highlights the challenge of attracting new tenants as current leases near expiration, leading to lower rental rates and property values.
  • Looming Refinancing Crisis: The commercial property sector faces an imminent major refinancing hurdle in the upcoming years. Fitch Ratings predicts that roughly 35%, about $5.8 billion, of packaged securities tied to commercial mortgages maturing from April to December 2023 might struggle to secure refinancing, potentially leading to defaults and market instability.

Q3. How does a recession affect commercial real estate?

A. Amid an economic downturn, enterprises might confront financial hurdles, leading to a reduction in the demand for commercial real estate. Consequently, property worth could diminish. Landlords might encounter difficulties in securing occupants, while businesses could struggle to bear the cost of renting premises.

Q4. What is the total value of commercial real estate in the US?

A. The total value of commercial real estate in the US is $20.7 trillion.