While residential real estate is booming, the prognosis for commercial real estate must be pretty bad, especially since the Covid-19 pandemic has inspired many companies, big and small, to let their employees keep working at home permanently. And, of course, many companies, especially in the hospitality industry, have called it quits. Also, the oil and gas industry, a big part of Colorado’s economy, has suffered greatly from the reduced value of oil on the world market and we’re seeing big cut-backs in their operations. BP, for example, recently announced a 15% cut in personnel by year’s end.
This means that there will be a lot of vacant office space, and many commercial landlords, seeing a shrinking demand for commercial space and a rising demand for residential units, are thinking of converting their buildings to residential use.
This trend could “free up a lot of commercial space, which can be converted to affordable housing,” HUD Secretary Ben Carson told Fox News in a June interview.
An Aug. 12 article by Clare Trapasso on realtor.com is headlined “As the Pandemic Empties Office Buildings, Can Those Spaces Help Solve the Housing Crisis?” The article quotes realtor.com senior economist George Ratiu as saying, “Office-to-residential conversions would be a win-win solution in some cities where you’re seeing declining lease renewals and a massive shortage of housing.” The building shown here, which once housed the office of East Ohio Gas, is now an apartment building.
I have witnessed such conversions — in both directions — first-hand, long before Covid-19. Back in 1991 I purchased a building that had been built in 1905 as a 28-unit apartment house. It had been converted to an office building before I bought it, but after I sold it in 2007, it was converted back to apartments.
During Denver’s 1980s oil bust there were many vacant office buildings in Denver and elsewhere, but they weren’t converted to residential use because the residential real estate market at that time was also depressed. Now, with the residential real estate market booming more than ever, I fully expect to see some of those high-rise office buildings converted to apartments or condos in coming years, some of them as mixed use (only partly residential).