published on April 15, 2016 - 11:43 PM
Written by The Business Journal Staff
“Be Bold” was the theme of this year’s annual Real Estate Forecast, which drew a well-healed crowd of nearly 400 to the Doubletree Hotel in Downtown Fresno Thursday night.

The event, put on by the Fresno County Economic Development Corp., gives Realtors, developers, investors and business and civic leaders an opportunity to review real estate-related news of the past year as well as preview what markets are likely to do in 2016.

“Things are going in the right direction, which they have been for the last few years,” said Lee Ann Eager, EDC president and CEO.

Most segments of the Valley’s real estate market are experiencing a fourth straight year of solid appreciation and Eager told the audience she did not believe there was any danger of a “bubble” — a belief echoed by the majority of speakers at the event.

“I travel a lot,” Eager said. “And everywhere I go, people are interested in what we are doing in Fresno County. The rest of the country is really taking notice of the exciting things happening here.”

Thursday night’s presentation was the 13th annual installment of the popular event, which combines industry commentary, micro and macro analysis and crystal ball gazing with plenty of real estate-related humor.

Matt Renney of California Realty Capital and Doug Cords of Commercial Retail Associates emceed the evening’s program, which included sector updates from Fresno Association of Realtors President Patrick Prince (residential), Newmark Grubb Senior Vice President Brent Visintainer (commercial investments), Cushman & Wakefield Senior Associate Tony Cortopassi (office), Newmark Grubb Senior Vice President Nick Audino (industrial), Colliers International Vice President Nick Rendino (retail) and Pearson Realty Vice president Stanley Kjar (agricultural properties).

With the exception of Kjar, who reported that recent ag land sales had been hit by the downturn in commodity prices, the panel of experts were all bullish on their current markets, although Visintainer did note that “the whispers are beginning to start about how long this [uptrend] can continue.”

With Fresno/Clovis area residential real estate prices appreciating 8 percent in 2015, Prince said he expected the uptrend to continue, “although at a more moderate pace.”

“How long will low interest rates last is the biggest question in real estate this year,” Prince said, noting that last December’s quarter point rate hike by the Federal Reserve “shows the Fed’s confidence in the U.S. real estate market.”

Prince also said that in terms of affordability compared with most other areas of the state, “Fresno County is still very attractive.”

And with just 2,076 single-family housing permits pulled in the county in 2015, the relative lack of new housing stock should continue to support rising prices, Prince added.

“With more and more home owners now regaining equity, it’s still a sellers’ market,” Prince said. But that sellers’ bias could slowly begin to shift over the next year as the market comes more into balance, he added.

Visintainer reported that the commercial market had a record-breaking year in 2015, buoyed by four mega deals — the sales of Fig Garden Village, at $106 million, the largest commercial sale in the county’s history, as well as deals for El Paseo Shopping Center ($70 million), Via Montana Shopping Center ($31 million) and River View Shopping Center ($26.6 million).

“It should be another relatively strong market in 2016,” Visintainer predicted, “but not the same as last year. The question is how long will this ride go on for.”

Recent developments related to California’s High-Speed Rail plan were another hot topic at the event, which included a lengthy update from Rail Authority Vice Chair Thomas G. Richards.

Introducing Richards, Eager, who has been a huge supporter of the bullet train project, said “it’s good to have a local guy” on the Rail Authority’s board. She also predicted that jobs and related economic development created by the $68 billion project will “bring the Valley out of poverty.”

Richards, who has lived in Fresno since 1976 and is president and CEO of the Penstar Group, called Fresno “the epicenter of high-speed rail activity in the U.S.”

“This is an exciting time for the Valley,” he added. “This project is really going to be the catalyst to transform Fresno County.”

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