Owners of big-name office buildings in some U.S. cities are racing to put them up for sale to exploit surging prices before it is too late.
In recent weeks, owners of the Willis Tower in Chicago, Constitution Center in Washington, the Seagram Building in New York and numerous other large properties have put all or portions of them on the block. They are hoping to cash in on the near-boom-era prices being paid by yield-hungry investors discouraged by the volatility of stocks and low interest rates in the bond market.
The surge comes as the U.S. economy shows new signs of weakness, raising questions about the direction of office rents and vacancy rates.
“Who knows what the market will be like in a year or so?” says Tim Jaroch, one of the general partners who own the 1.4 million-square-foot Constitution Center.
In April, the total value of new sales listings of U.S. office buildings was $8.7 billion, according to real-estate research firm Real Capital Analytics. That was the highest level since 2008. Preliminary data for May show $10 billion in new listings, which would be the highest monthly total since late 2007.
Until recently, post-recession sales activity in the office market has been slow. Lenders have held onto distressed assets rather than sell them, frustrating many investors who hoped to take advantage of the pain of others. Even as values rise, many owners continue to resist selling because they don’t like their options for investing the proceeds.
The sharp rise in values has come over the past year, a relatively short time frame in the real-estate market. Recent deals include the sale of 750 Seventh Ave. in New York’s Times Square by Hines Interests for a surprisingly high $485 million and Beacon Capital Partners’ sale of Market Square in Washington for a record $905 a square foot.
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