By Corbett B. Daly
WASHINGTON, Nov 29 (Reuters) - U.S. commercial real estate vacancy rates have already peaked or will soon top out, though rents are likely to continue to fall, a realtors group said on Monday.
The National Association of Realtors said it expects the vacancy rate for office space to rise a tick to 16.7 percent this quarter and gradually decline to 16.4 percent in the final three months of next year.
“Still, high vacancy rates imply falling rents,” said NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun.
An index measuring conditions in the commercial real estate sector rose 1.6 percentage points to 42.6 in the third quarter, well below a level of 100 that represents a balanced marketplace. The last time the commercial market was in equilibrium was in the third quarter of 2007.
Although the index remains weak, this marked the fourth straight quarterly rise.
“The outlook for the office and industrial markets has moderated with modestly declining vacancy rates expected as 2011 progresses, while the retail sector should hold fairly steady,” Yun said.
The weak commercial real estate market has been a drag on economic growth in the past two and half years, subtracting from gross domestic product in nine of the past ten quarters.
Vacancy rates for apartment rental buildings, which have been one of the few bright spots in the hard-hit commercial real estate sector, are expected to fall to 5.8 percent in the fourth quarter of next year after rising to 6.4 percent in the final three months of 2010. (Reporting by Corbett B. Daly; Editing by W Simon )