Hotel Investors In Buying Mood, But Opportunities To Spend Money Scarce

June 13 2013 | Latest News

June 12, 2013

Hotel transaction volume is 50% higher this year compared to the same period in 2012 as room demand heats up in a U.S. lodging market that’s seen little new construction over the last five years.

This year’s deals, almost evenly split between single-asset and portfolio sales, reflect a spreading of activity beyond the international gateways of New York, San Diego, Washington, D.C., Miami and San Francisco that have dominated hotel investment activity since 2010.

The historically low level of new supply, combined with rising hotel pricing and the relative dearth of properties available for sale in the largest metros, is causing investment activity to spill into secondary markets like Atlanta, New Orleans and Houston.

"We anticipate that by year-end, U.S. transaction volume will reach $17.5 billion, marking a 10% increase over 2012," predicted Art Adler, Americas CEO of Jones Lang LaSalle’s Hotels & Hospitality Group. "These large secondary markets will remain targets for investors, as their RevPAR [revenue per available room] growth should outpace national averages. For the balance of 2013, we also expect the traditional gateway markets, which have been a bit quieter in terms of deal closings, to experience more robust transaction levels."

Forecasts like Adler’s brought a strong infusion of optimism to New York University’s 35th International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference last week, an annual gauge of market sentiment among owners, operators, brands, consultants, lenders, brokers and analysts.

"While not quite the irrational exuberance we saw in 2007 before the bottom fell out, sentiment was extremely positive," noted Cantor Fitzgerald hotel analyst Robert A. LaFleur. "The NYU conference certainly confirmed that the industry continues to hum along."

LaFleur said that for the first time in several years, NYU conference attendees recognized that supply growth is finally going to accelerate -- and that in an increasing number of markets and product types, the "buy-versus-build" dynamic has shifted in favor of new development, even talk about increasing the availability of construction financing.

"We’ve rarely seen the amount of demand for room nights combined with such low supply growth," added Jonathan Falik, senior managing director and head of hospitality capital markets at BGC Partners, the publicly traded broker dealer affiliated with Cantor Fitzgerald and parent company of Newmark Grubb Knight Frank. "The brands are feeling good about the world, investors are feeling good and developers are feeling better."

Average room rates are on the rise in most markets, hotels are becoming a more desirable asset class among investors, reflected in results of the Hospitality Pricing Index within the CoStar Commercial Repeat Sale Index (CCRSI), which increased by 11% in the first quarter of 2013 from the first quarter of 2012.

"We’re not seeing a lot of institutional quality hotels on the market, so the REITs have been having a tougher time finding product," Falik said. "The availability of debt financing from CMBS and balance sheet lenders and insurance companies is pushing prices up; companies are able to borrow upwards of 60-70% of acquisition costs at very low rates."

With interest rates still very low, debt markets are robust and hotel capitalization rates, at least for now, are stable.

"With asset values passing prior peaks and accommodating capital markets, we expect deal volumes to pick up and exceed last year's pace," LaFleur said.

JLL’s hospitality group noted a nearly doubling of activity in the resort segment year to date over last year, including a deal announced Wednesday by Omni Hotels & Resorts to acquire five resort properties from KSL Capital Partners for an undisclosed sum.

Resorts have accounted for a quarter of total transaction volume in 2013, headed by the$1.46 billion sale in February of four resorts managed by the Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts brand of Hilton Worldwide -- including the 780-room Grand Wailea Resort in Maui -- to GIC Real Estate, the real estate arm of the government of Singapore. JLL expects investors to remain particularly active in resorts, given the lack of new resort product in the pipeline.

The Hilton/GIC transaction was one of two $1 billion-plus portfolio deals that have boosted sales volume in the first half of 2013.

BRE Select Hotels Corp., an affiliate of The Blackstone Group, in May completed the acquisition of Richmond, VA-based Apple REIT Six Inc. for $1.2 billion, with a portfolio of 66 hotels with 7,658 rooms in 18 states. Blackstone now seeks to take BRE Select public as a REIT.

A number of large deals for individual properties have also added to the year’s strong activity. Sunstone Hotel Investors Inc. (NYSE: SHO), a lodging real estate investment trust based in Southern California that has interests in 27 hotels totaling 11,882 rooms, announced in May it has agreed to buy the 1,053-room Boston Park Plaza Hotel & Towers for $250 million.

Sunstone also acquired the 250-room Hilton New Orleans for $59.35 million, or $237,400 per room key, excluding closing costs. Sunstone CEO Ken Cruse said the two transactions will complete the firm's capital recycling of the proceeds from the sale of non-core hotels and the issuance of common equity earlier this year.

Hersha Hospitality Trust (NYSE: HT), a Philadelphia-based owner of upscale and extended-stay hotels in major metropolitan markets, closed on its acquisition of the new 178-room Hyatt Union Square from the developer, McSam Hotel Group LLC, for $101 million, or about $567,000 per key. Cushman & Wakefield’s Jared Kelso and Ernest Lee with the firm's global hospitality group represented Hersha Hospitality in the acquisition financing with a $55 million, floating-rate loan provided by Natixis Real Estate Capital.

The transaction "demonstrates the robust appetite of balance sheet lenders for hospitality product," said Kelso, a Cushman managing director. "The Hyatt Union Square will accommodate an underserved lodging submarket in Manhattan and demonstrates Hersha's continued ability to source unique acquisition opportunities."