Keb Brackenbury is senior vice president and director of commercial real estate lending at Bank Rhode Island. He talks with Providence Business News about commercial real estate trends he’s seeing in Rhode Island and elsewhere around the country, and how those trends are impacting lending.
PBN: How do national trends in commercial development compare to what Bank Rhode Island is seeing in Rhode Island?
BRACKENBURY: Although I would not say commercial development in Rhode Island mirrors all current national trends, there are a number of similarities. While the state’s commercial and residential real estate markets have taken a little longer to recover than other parts of the country, we have been gaining traction that compares favorably with national trends. Overall, occupancy levels across various property types – office, industrial, retail and apartment –continue to show improvement, with modest increases in rental rates depending on the market.
Additionally, the residential sector is improving based on sustained occupancy levels hovering in the 2 to 5 percent range for apartment properties and increases in rental rates. On the residential housing side, sales levels in most all price ranges are increasingly growing stronger, driven by a strengthening first-time homebuyer market.
PBN: How would you characterize the demand for mixed-use investment properties right now? Why?
BRACKENBURY: Relative to mixed-use properties, we are seeing the creation of more and more home-workplace living environments. Among these has been a strong connectivity of apartment and condominium residential living paired with food and retail space.
Over the past 24 months, BankRI has been involved with a number of financial transactions that echo this style of living, so the demand is there to develop these properties. All in all, with the continued redevelopment of historic mills and the redeployment of office buildings to home-workplace living space, Rhode Island’s market has invited more of a mixed-use environment that works well with its changing demographics.
PBN: Does Rhode Island have the available inventory to accommodate such demand? Why or why not?
BRACKENBURY: I think Rhode Island is in a nice position to satisfy the changing demographics and growing interest in mixed-use space. Providence, in particular, has enjoyed resurgence by redeveloping some very interesting and unique historic buildings.
As a result, the city offers a number of options attractive to both young professionals and empty nesters who crave the many things a city of Providence’s size and accessibility has to offer. There are a number of developers and investors who share the vision of this trend and are offering great opportunities to consumers looking for mixed-use space.
PBN: What type of commercial real estate is seeing the most consistent appreciation right now? Why?
BRACKENBURY: The most recent trends that BankRI is experiencing relate primarily to residential housing stock. Due to timing delays in the approval process with local municipalities and towns for land and housing during the recent economic slow-down, development inventory is tight, which has created low supply and high demand.
Over the past 18 to 24 months, we have had an increasing number of requests relative to age-restricted (55 and older) and starter home construction. Although Rhode Island is not experiencing population growth per se, there is pent up demand across the state for the various stages of homeownership and we anticipate that will continue.
PBN: Are there any emerging trends in commercial real estate that you anticipate having influence on the market moving forward?
BRACKENBURY: With regards to new trends, we have seen a number of interesting opportunities for additional loan growth as Rhode Island continues to be home to some of the most innovative and entrepreneurial developers. One of these opportunities is the ongoing conversion of mill and historic office buildings into both apartments and condominiums that feature work-live space. In addition to this, we have had the opportunity to become involved with micro-lofts, which have been an innovative way to develop certain historical buildings.
With changing demographics, there has also been a shift to more urban locations, where there is easy access to conveniences such as restaurants and nearby retail that results in strong walkability ratings. This has been a growing trend in areas such as the East Side of Providence, surrounding Garden City in Cranston, and East Greenwich. Another interesting trend that we are watching is the development of residential college housing, which has the ability to change the investor outlook in and around colleges and universities.