After three years, all players fully realize that the real estate recovery is dependent on job creation
The last year was difficult for many. While the stock markets were up about 5 percent, it was a bumpy ride. Other markets, such as commercial real estate, were not so volatile. In fact, they continue to be somewhat lethargic.Now speculation turns to 2012. Are there glimmers of hope? Or are we in for more of the same? The answer is yes and yes. Essentially, while there are some glimmers of hope, they do not appear to be enough to move the needle substantially.While demand for space (office, retail and warehouse/distribution/manufacturing) is not going to increase dramatically, there are opportunities. The "blend and pretend" mentality and actions of owners and lenders of commercial real estate are coming to an end.After three years, all players fully realize that the real estate recovery is dependent on job creation and thus 2012, and most likely 2013, will be more challenging times.For retail, the closing of Sears and Lowe's stores, as well as Daddy's Junky Music locally, are clear signs that consumer spending remains down (as it should).Office demand is flat, but some landlords are motivated to fill space, thus we are seeing price adjustments (back to 2000-2001 levels). Warehouse had been strong, but this too is softening because three years into this recession, firms are learning how to truly execute "just-in-time," which results in less need for huge inventories and, thus, less need for huge warehouses.For those institutions and not-for-profits out there that have weathered the storm, prices of some buildings are beginning to fall into their price range. Lenders are interested in this category because long-established, stable and financially strong institutions are good borrowers in these challenging times.As I am writing this column, we are one week from the New Hampshire presidential primary. So much has gone online and so many states have moved their primaries up that the New Hampshire primary is no longer anything like it once was.Over the holidays, I had several conversations with my son (22), daughter (25) and their friends (many of whom are not gainfully employed). They are discouraged by the paucity of viable candidates who can show leadership, management skills and a vision for how to steer us out of this global, national, state and/or local mess. It is discouraging.At the national level, the Republicans are so busy lambasting one another that President Obama should be pleased, except for the unemployment numbers. None of the candidates on either side of the aisle will speak plainly, speak their minds, nor simply state that we are way overleveraged at all levels of government and, thus, hard choices are imminent.Somehow I continue to maintain that New Hampshire, with our 1.3 million population, can dialogue and ultimately act to maintain our quality of life. We will have to face the gap between resources/tax revenues and a reasonable level of government services for an aging and increasingly diverse state population.If we cannot get there, what hope is there for the larger (really broke) states? Recent work has me managing two projects, one in the Bronx and one in New Jersey. The contrast is vivid. Every other week as I drive back to New Hampshire, I wonder when a seasoned leader will emerge to lead the debates and subsequently the actions as we plod through the Great Recession, balance our checkbooks and establish a rational platform for prosperity for the next generation.Bill Norton, president of Norton Asset Management, Manchester, is a Counselor of Real Estate (CRE) and a Fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (FRICS). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.