Commercial real estate market cools in Triangle

In each of the past four years, investors have set sales records in the Triangle by dumping more and more money into shopping centers, skyscrapers and other kinds of commercial real estate.

But more than halfway through the year, the streak is waning, as stricter lending standards make it harder for many to buy, and as sellers refuse to budge on the overheated prices common a year ago.

At least $1.2 billion in office, industrial, retail and apartment properties were sold through June 30, CB Richard Ellis data show.

The total, bolstered by $850million in apartment sales, is on pace to eclipse all but one full-year tally by the brokerage's Raleigh office.

But a closer look at the other types of properties sold shows why the total could fall far short of the record $2.6 billion in sales tallied in all of last year:

Only $20 million in industrial-property sales closed through June 30, down 86 percent from the same period last year.

Just $242 million in offices were sold in the first half of the year, down 47 percent from the first half of last year.

And the $91 million in retail centers sold though June 30 – on pace to beat the 10-year annual average of $178 million by a hair – is a paltry sum compared with last year's $523 million.

Higher borrowing costs and the need for more equity have hurt sales.

But so have sellers. There are still prospective buyers who are encouraged by the region's employment growth. But asking prices rarely have gone down even though competition for properties has waned.

Until the gap closes, fewer deals will get done.

“There's a lot of bark, but not a lot of bite right now,” said Jim McMillan, a Grubb & Ellis/Thomas Linderman Graham broker who specializes in property sales. “It's probably going to be this way for a while. ... Sellers are going to have to (budge).”

Still, the shining star this year has been apartments. Sales have surged as companies such as Equity Residential of Chicago and UDR of Denver unload dozens of properties across the country, including at least 26 in the Triangle.

Lenders have been willing to support those deals in part because rental demand is growing as fewer would-be homeowners are able to qualify for mortgages.