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“Stress Testing” The Oakland Class A Office Market

By Connor Blick (Blickensderfer)

Every other year the Federal Reserve performs a “stress test” on the nation’s largest banks in order to assess and, hopefully confirm, the resiliency of the U.S. banking system. I ran my own version of a stress test on the Oakland Class A office market using publicly available data to assess the financial health, if not resiliency, of the Class A buildings in downtown Oakland and their prognosis in today’s challenging leasing and lending environment. First, some background for context as to what is at the root cause:

  1. The recent and abrupt interest rate rise has thrown commercial loans off-balance making refinancing challenging for most, and simply not feasible for many. This kind of shock to the system inevitably causes cap rates (i.e. required yield) to rise and building values, by definition, to decline.
  2. With most lenders now turning away from commercial office lending, there is a sudden lack of liquidity as banks are under pressure to stop lending to this asset class. This has led to an increase in seller financing and all-cash acquisitions.
  3. Exacerbating the problem, we now see dramatic increases in vacancy rates as tenants reevaluate their office space commitments to find their remote/in-office work balance. Increasing vacancies puts immense downward pressure on net cash flow at these buildings, making it challenging to cover debt payments and other operating expenses.

This stress test uses a version of “Mark-To-Market” evaluation and is intended to determine current equity positions, positive or negative, for Class A office owners. After running the test on each building, from our viewpoint, approximately 75% of Oakland Class A buildings are in negative equity positions—meaning that the market value of the building in today’s environment is insufficient to support any landlord equity in the building. That’s another way of saying that the building has more debt on it than it’s worth.

Oakland Class A Office Trendlines Hughes Marino

Historically, Oakland has been a more stable office market than other Bay Area office markets, due to the heavy concentration of government entities such as BART, UCOP and other public agencies. However, the Oakland office market isn’t immune to the current turmoil and is now going through its own version of a market reset. We are continuing to see office owners hand over the keys to their lenders (known as a “deed in lieu of foreclosure”), as was the case for 360 22nd Street and 1440 Broadway in 2023. Fast forward to 2024, we’ve seen two institutional landlords faced with this very issue. AXA Investment Managers and Harvest Properties have placed their distressed loan at 180 Grand Avenue on the market and Starwood Capital gave the keys back to their lender on a $364 million dollar loan covering three Class A assets—1901 Harrison, 2101 Webster and 2100 Franklin.

Interesting to note, some lenders may prefer not to foreclose on a property even if the landlord is struggling with debt payments. There are a number of reasons for this, such as the burden of operating the asset and the risk that a foreclosure can lead to significant losses for the bank.

Instead, lenders may opt to renegotiate terms or agree to delay payments through a “pretend and extend” strategy, giving landlords time to improve property performance or wait for market conditions to improve, hoping to recover the full loan amount over time without taking substantial losses.

This problem has touched a large majority of office landlords to some degree, while some have been hit much harder. As an office tenant in one of these Class A office buildings, it is important to keep be aware of these developing stories.

Marketing statistics provided by CoStar Group

Connor Blick (Blickensderfer) is a vice president of Hughes Marino, an award-winning commercial real estate company specializing in tenant representation and building purchases with offices across the country. Contact Connor at 1-617-356-0111 or connor.blick@hughesmarino.com to learn more.

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