Land drives rebound in isle commercial real estate market

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An expected rebound has materialized in Hawaii’s commercial real estate investment market during the first half of this year.

Commercial property brokerage firm Colliers International said in a new report that investors spent $970 million on retail space, hotels, undeveloped land, office buildings and other commercial real estate statewide from January to June, up from $510 million in the same period last year.

The midyear rebound, Colliers noted, wasn’t hard to achieve given that the comparable figure last year was a decade low severely depressed by a local economic crash amid early COVID-19 restrictions.

Looking ahead, Colliers predicts that positive acquisition momentum will continue through the end of the year, more than doubling 2020’s total of $1.2 billion and also exceeding the $2.6 billion in sales recorded in 2019.

There are some caveats to this forecast, including interest rates remaining low and no new economy-shattering coronavirus restrictions imposed by state and county leaders who are struggling to tamp down soaring COVID-19 infections.

“There’s a lot of ifs, ands or buts,” said Mike Hamasu, director of consulting and research for the Honolulu-­based firm.

Hamasu also said he’s pretty confident that a considerable number of pending large sales should be completed over the next few months and result in this year’s commercial property sale total exceeding 2019’s tally.

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During the first half of this year, the biggest purchase was by a California-based real estate investment trust that paid $116 million for the land under 22 Hawaii gas stations operated by Par Pacific Holdings Inc., which now pays the new owner rent for the land.

The second biggest was the $93 million sale of the Residence Inn Maui Wailea hotel.

Other notable transactions in the report, which counts sales over $1 million, included a $24 million deal for a former Meadow Gold dairy processing plant on Oahu, a $28 million deal for the Kaanapali Kai and Royal Kaanapali golf courses on Maui and a $50 million deal for 600 acres of land on Kauai bought by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to expand a vast personal estate.

Historically, resort and retail properties accounted for the most transaction volume in Hawaii’s commercial real estate market, but this year through June it was land sales representing the biggest category of sales with a $293 million total.

The land sale volume reflected 42 transactions, or $7 million on average.

Retail volume totaled $254 million, followed by resort property at $149 million.

There was also $122 million spent on industrial property, $117 million spent on multifamily rental housing and $31 million spent on office buildings.

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Colliers said most buyers were local, representing 116 deals totaling $310 million. There were fewer mainland buyers, 63, but their acquisitions were bigger on average and totaled $620 million. The report also noted that only five purchases totaling $35 million were made by foreign investors that have been subdued because of coronavirus travel restrictions.

“The inability to travel due to the pandemic likely inhibited the inspection of potential real estate acquisitions and ultimately dampened foreign investors’ desire to acquire Hawaii real estate,” the report said.

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