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Revival in commercial real estate, mortgage finance needs more jobs

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Executives in real estate and mortgage finance share a common concern: both groups say a full recovery in their space is contingent on private sector job growth. On Thursday, The Real Estate Roundtable, a public policy group that brings real estate owners and developers together, released a report saying "absent strong improvement in U.S. job markets and demand for business space, the nation's commercial real estate sector will likely continue its slow, bifurcated recovery over the coming year — with top urban markets outpacing recovery in secondary, non-gateway markets." Mortgage finance professionals made similar claims this week at the Mortgage Bankers Association's Secondary Market Conference in New York. Jay Brinkmann, chief economist and senior vice president of research and economics for the MBA, told reporters everything ties back to jobs. In other words, you can revamp parts of the mortgage finance space, but if individuals are without jobs, they will not buy homes, inevitably slowing the recovery. "Economic growth and job growth ultimately drive mortgage growth," Brinkmann said. "We are at the mercy of what happens to the rest of the economy." Brinkmann said this recovery has not been as pronounced as others because the usual effect of having construction jobs return to the economy post-recession is noticeably absent. The Overall Sentiment Index released by The Real Estate Roundtable is hovering at 77. The index, which measures the responses of industry professionals, only reaches 100 when all survey respondents report "much better" market conditions today when compared to a year ago and expectations for improved conditions over the next 12 months. Real estate professionals in the commercial sector are notably concerned, with only 31% of respondents surveyed in the second quarter saying conditions are "much better today." While that's still low, it's an improvement from 25% during Q1. Commercial real estate respondents said substantial risk remains, with one noting in a survey that "interest rate increases could have a dramatic impact on pricing, especially if they precede job growth." "Congress needs to help bridge the massive 'equity gap' between today's diminished property values — particularly in second-tier markets — and the high levels of debt that must be refinanced and paid off," said Roundtable President and CEO Jeffrey DeBoer. "Policy action is also needed to make the nation more competitive on a global level. Until that is achieved, industry optimism will remain dampened due to economic weaknesses that remain far from resolved." Write to Kerri Panchuk.

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