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(Carl Cronan is editor of Real Estate Florida.)

WESTON, FL-The outlook of real estate executives in Florida mirrors those from across the country in the latest survey by Grant Thornton LLP. However, one of the firm’s advisors within the state says those attitudes may depend on how they prepared for the current economic downturn.

Chicago-based Grant Thornton’s 2008 Real Estate Survey, released this week, shows that nearly half of this year’s survey respondents share a pessimistic view of the industry’s business outlook, compared with just 5% in 2006. More than a third chose the national economy as the single most important issue facing the real estate industry in the coming year.

Seth Siegel, an audit partner in Grant Thornton’s construction, real estate and hospitality group in Weston, says Florida industry perceptions are affected by the fact that most executives considered this state to be insulated from national economic woes. However, he says investors who prepared for the fallout from an anticipated statewide housing bust are faring much better than those who didn’t plan, and are now seeking new opportunities.

“They are champing at the bit to do deals,” Siegel tells GlobeSt.com. “They’ve got dry powder, but they don’t have as much leverage because there’s just no debt capital in the market to be had.”

Besides the national credit crunch, commercial investors are facing the prospect of too few properties on the market. Siegel notes that owners are reluctant to sell buildings unless it becomes financially necessary or they are looking to move on to another project.

“They are paying the price because of the low bids that they’re receiving on their property,” he says. “The buyer is looking at every seller as a distress seller.”

While predictions vary as to when the commercial market will return to an up cycle, Siegel believes a rebound is possible in mid-2009 if there are any positive economic developments, such as a resurgence of the US dollar. “Deal flow will start to pick up once the forest fire dies down,” he says.

Aside from the national economy, respondents to the Grant Thornton survey express concern over earnings and operation results (21%), ability to access capital (19%) and tenant relationships (10%). Among other survey highlights, 69% believe local unemployment rates will rise in the coming year, 61% predict vacancy rates will rise in their market and 79% expect cap rates to increase nationwide.

The survey is based on 341 responses to surveys collected throughout March. Developers were the largest group, but respondents also included real estate investors and owners, asset managers, property managers and contractors.

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