The commercial real estate industry has encountered a series of challenging years and it appears that the situation will not improve in the near future. Due to the surge in interest rates, the sector is expected to experience a potential increase in defaults as the costs of refinancing have escalated.

With a total of $2.8 trillion outstanding debt to be repaid within the timeframe of now to 2028, there is a growing possibility that more landlords will face financial difficulties. Data from Trepp, a firm specializing in collecting and analyzing information, indicates that commercial debt maturities are projected to expand over the coming years. Although numerous loans have been granted extensions or undergone refinancing, the clock is gradually ticking for the commercial real estate sector as these extensions are nearing their expiration dates.

The commercial real estate market, particularly in office spaces, has been grappling to recover from the worst slump it has encountered in the past 50 years, which started with the onset of the pandemic. As the pandemic struck, many office spaces were left vacant, thereby compelling landlords to negotiate arrangements for deferring rent payments until the situation improved.

Over the past few years, the souring CRE market has had a significant impact on the office sector, with the entire market feeling the effects. According to CBRE, multifamily homes are experiencing increased vacancy rates, and rent growth is expected to decline in the near future. Even industrial spaces are showing signs of weakening.

However, amidst this challenging landscape, the retail sector is proving to be a potential bright spot. Demand for outdoor shopping centers has been driven by robust consumer spending and suburban migration.

While interest rates have decreased slightly, The Wall Street Journal reports that many borrowers are still refinancing at rates that are higher than when they initially took out their loans. This has put pressure on the Federal Reserve to implement rate cuts. Some economists predict a cut to 3.75%-4% by the end of the year, with further cuts anticipated in the first half of 2026 until the rate reaches 1.75%-2%. Nevertheless, these cuts may not be swift enough to alleviate the concerns of the CRE sector. Fitch Ratings projects an increase in delinquency rates to 4.5% in commercial real estate this year, raising concerns among regulators about potential spillover effects.

In its annual report for 2023, the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) expressed worry about financial institutions' exposure to commercial real estate and emphasized the need for a better understanding of the associated risks. Approximately 50% of CRE's outstanding debt is held by banks. The FSOC stated in its report that as losses accumulate from a CRE loan portfolio, they can have a broader impact on the financial system. Distressed property sales may lead to a downward spiral in CRE valuations.

Looking ahead, real estate investors should prepare for a turbulent period in the commercial real estate market. While there is still some time for landlords to negotiate, the pressure on the CRE space has caused a devaluation of properties, making it difficult for lenders and borrowers to agree on their worth.

With banks exhibiting increased risk aversion towards CRE and facing closer regulatory scrutiny, there may be opportunities for non-bank lenders, such as private credit, to step in. Savvy investors could potentially take advantage of the stress in the CRE market to find distressed properties at attractive values.

In summary, while the next few years may be challenging, there are opportunities for investors to capitalize on distressed properties if they are willing to navigate through uncertainty.