17% Vacancy Rate Shock: How These Savvy Investors Are Pivoting in CRE

In recent years, the commercial real estate (CRE) sector has experienced significant shifts, presenting both challenges and opportunities for investors and developers. While some segments of the market have faced hurdles, others are emerging as promising areas for investment.

The Office Sector’s Ongoing Struggle

The office space market, once a cornerstone of CRE, has been grappling with unprecedented challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic catalyzed a seismic shift in work habits, with remote work becoming the norm for many businesses. Technologies like Zoom and Google Meet facilitated this transition, allowing companies to maintain productivity without the need for physical office presence.

Moreover, the rise of artificial intelligence has begun to reduce the demand for certain types of white-collar workers, further diminishing the need for extensive office space. As a result, the U.S. office vacancy rate has soared to 17%, surpassing levels seen during the global financial crisis.

Many companies have seized the opportunity to cut costs by reducing their office space requirements. This trend has left developers and investors in a precarious position, facing lower-than-projected income from leases and rentals. Coupled with rising interest rates, some property owners have been forced to sell at a loss or return their properties to lenders.

While high-profile companies still invest in modern, ESG-compliant Class A office spaces, older office buildings face significant challenges in attracting tenants. This disparity has created a complex landscape for investors and lenders with exposure to these less desirable properties.

Promising Areas in Commercial Real Estate

Despite the challenges in the office sector, several areas of CRE continue to show promise:

Office to Residential Conversions

In some cases, converting office spaces into residential units presents an opportunity. However, this process comes with its own set of challenges, including plumbing and HVAC modifications, natural light considerations, and zoning restrictions. While not always economically viable, these conversions can be successful in areas with high demand for luxury residential spaces.

Data Centers

The growing reliance on digital infrastructure has fueled demand for data centers. As e-commerce continues to expand and artificial intelligence applications proliferate, the need for robust data storage and processing facilities is expected to increase dramatically. Data centers in high-demand areas can provide faster service, making them attractive investments.


The rise of online retail has driven demand for warehousing solutions. While large companies like Amazon and Walmart maintain extensive national networks, there’s also a growing need for smaller, localized warehouses to optimize delivery times and manage fuel costs. These facilities often incorporate cutting-edge technologies such as sorting robots and blockchain-based tracking systems.

Multifamily Dwellings

As standalone house prices continue to rise, many families are opting for multifamily properties. These developments offer security, convenience, and amenities that appeal to a broad range of tenants. The multifamily sector has shown resilience in the face of economic uncertainties, making it an attractive option for investors.

Special Purpose Properties

Certain types of land development continue to yield steady income streams. Examples include parking lots, garages, and golf courses. However, the success of these investments is highly dependent on location and local market conditions.

Commercial Real Estate in 2024 and Beyond

While the CRE market faces challenges, particularly in the lower-grade office space segment, reports of its demise may be premature. The sector continues to evolve, adapting to changing economic conditions and societal needs. Investors and developers who can identify and capitalize on emerging trends stand to benefit from the ongoing transformation of the commercial real estate landscape.

As with any investment, thorough research and careful consideration of local market conditions are essential. The CRE sector’s diverse nature means that opportunities exist even in challenging times, but success requires a nuanced understanding of each subsector’s dynamics.

While the office space market continues to face headwinds, other areas of commercial real estate show promise. Data centers, warehouses, multifamily dwellings, and strategically located special purpose properties offer potential for growth and stable returns. As the market evolves, investors who stay informed and adaptable will be best positioned to capitalize on the opportunities that arise in this dynamic sector.

Source: Jaffer, Z. (2024, June 21). Promising Investable Areas in Commercial Real Estate. Kiplinger. [Article used as a basis for this piece] 

June 25, 2024