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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, February 19, 2010

Commercial property sales fall 20%

by Andrew Gomes
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

One notable property transaction last year was the $20 million sale of the former Weyerhaeuser warehouse to a partnership headed by the owner of the local Ba-Le bakery and sandwich shop chain.

BRUCE ASATO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser
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Investment in Hawai'i commercial real estate dwindled to a trickle last year as the faltering economy, softening property values and tougher financing kept buyers away, a new report shows.

Money spent buying hotels, shopping centers, office buildings and other commercial properties fell to $627 million last year the lowest level in more than a decade, according to local commercial real estate brokerage firm Colliers Monroe Friedlander.

The decline was the fourth consecutive year of falling sales since investment peaked in 2005 at $4.3 billion.

Last year's total was down 20 percent from $788 million in 2008. A year earlier, money invested in Hawai'i commercial property sank 74 percent from $3 billion in 2007.

Mike Hamasu, Colliers research and consulting director, said that the absence of big hotel sales depressed last year's investment total to what he estimates was a low point for commercial property sales one not experienced since the mid-1990s, after the Japanese investment bubble imploded.

Colliers began producing its local commercial property sales report in 2001.

The largest purchase last year was the Plantation Golf Course at Maui's Kapalua Resort, which Maui Land & Pineapple Co. sold for $49.8 million to a company formed by the head of Tokyo-based apparel store chain Fast Retailing Co. Ltd.

The largest hotel sale was the Queen Kapi'olani Hotel in Waikīkī, which local developer Bert A. Kobayashi sold for $10.8 million to a Los Angeles investment firm.

By comparison, three hotel property sales in 2006 Hualalai Resort, the Ilikai and Ritz Carlton Kapalua sold for a combined $700 million, or more than last year's total for 113 properties.

Colliers said only 16 sales last year were for more than $10 million.

Hamasu predicted that the market will rebound this year, largely because foreclosure actions on several properties could lead to some sizable sales.

If property values continue to weaken due to declines in occupancy, rents and other factors, investors may want to snap up distressed assets in hopes of achieving higher returns when the economy improves.

However, there is also concern that continued erosion of commercial property values and available financing could keep the market depressed this year.

"The jury is still out as to whether a more serious downturn will occur here," Hamasu said in the report.

In many cases, commercial property sales will be in the hands of lenders holding delinquent mortgages, as they decide whether to keep an asset in hopes of a market rebound or sell it quickly at a discount.

Hawai'i hotels that are in foreclosure or have been taken over by lenders include the Ilikai in Waikīkī, The Fairmont Orchid Hawaii luxury hotel on the Big Island and part of Makena Resort that includes the former Maui Prince Hotel.

Mark Bratton, a Colliers agent, said in the report that 11 Hawai'i hotels are in foreclosure or threatened by foreclosure, while four are for sale. He said investors from Asia are increasingly looking at Hawai'i property.

"Recovery will be slow but sure, and we believe we have bounced off the bottom," Bratton said in the report.

Last year, several large foreclosure auctions and distressed sales contributed to the property sale total. Among such transactions were the distressed sale of the Plantation Golf Course, the $36.3 million pre-foreclosure sale of the partially built Moana Vista condominium tower in Kaka'ako, and the $8.5 million foreclosure auction of the former W Honolulu-Diamond Head hotel in Waikīkī.

Colliers didn't count foreclosure repossessions by lenders as sales in its tally of commercial property sales. The firm also limits its count to sales of more than $1 million.

The report said the average sale price was $5.6 million, and that 85 percent of buyers were from Hawai'i.

According to the tally, industrial property, with 35 sales valued at $178 million, was the most active category. Other categories:

• Retail accounted for 24 sales at $121 million.

• There were 21 office transactions for $91 million.

• Multi-family housing accounted for 19 sales for $85 million.

• Resort property, including hotels and golf courses, accounted for seven sales for $88 million.

• Farmland accounted for seven sales for $65 million.

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