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This summer ULI put out a massive Deloitte-sponsored report on the future of the global real estate industry entitled “Global Demographics 2008 Shaping Real Estate’s Future.” The Leanne Lachman and Deborah Brett-authored report found, among other things, that populations will continue to urbanize in Asia, leading to more dense urban development in that region; the demand for infrastructure is increasing dramatically in developing nations; and retail demand, though waning in this country, will ramp up in other parts of the world. David Jacobstein, senior advisor to Deloitte’s real estate group spoke with GlobeSt.com about some findings in the report and what is to come for the industry.

GlobeSt.com: Does this report find any particular real estate sector performing poorly in the future?

Jacobstein: The purpose of the report is to talk about trends. As detailed as it is, it cannot get down to the level of every single city and every single geographic area and what the positive and negative implications are. They tried to do it on a top down basis. The message that I read from it is that there are going to be, in most places, significant increases in population. There will also be a stabilization in some places. The opportunities exist in the developed countries nowhere near to the extent that they do in the developing countries because those countries have been incredibly undeserved in terms of housing and retail.

Will the retail be as robust in the United States and Europe, for example, as it was in the last 15 or 20 years? The answer is probably “no.” To that extent you can say they’re taking a hit, but it’s really more of a slowdown. But this is more looking at opportunities than any particular sectors of the industry that are going to be negatively affected. And where there’s negative impact, the opportunity exists to do something else somewhere else. Companies that are well-positioned and have the vision to do global work are the ones that are probably going to be the most successful.

GlobeSt.com: So while retail here might have a slowdown, in areas of Africa for example, it will grow because those areas are undeserved?

Jacobstein: It is, particularly in sub-Sahara Africa, but in terms of US companies, in the intermediate term, the greatest opportunities are going to be in what are being called the developing countries, and most of sub-Sahara Africa, with only a few exceptions would not be in that category. They’re in a category below. The real opportunities are areas of growth in the Middle East, Asia and Latin America. Because of the large populations in those countries, and the fact that there’s some basic infrastructure, that’s where the real opportunities are for the next 15 years. Opportunities are particularly strong in Brazil, Russia, India and China. It varies a little bit as to what those opportunities are. It also varies as to who’s already there and what’s being done. But those countries and others like them are where there are opportunities.

GlobeSt.com: The report talks a lot about density and mixed-use projects. Are we ever going to see again a suburban model like we’ve seen in this country?

Jacobstein: There are some countries where having suburban sprawl is not as feasible because they didn’t have the land mass that we did here in the US. Having said that, Brazil, China and Russia are very large countries, but the focus so far has been on dense types of developments. For example, in China, there is a huge movement of bringing people in from the countryside, clearing out substandard housing, finding replacement housing for those people, and then building mixed-use developments which include significant numbers of apartments as well as retail and office. Those projects are immense and are going on all over the country, where there are literally hundreds of cities with one-million people or more.

We’re not going to have the kind of sprawl that came about in the US until we come up with alternative sources of energy for transportation. There are real issues in terms of the cost of gasoline. As high as it is in the US, there are many places where it is considerably higher. If not, the government is subsidizing. The countries that are developing are going to need to create residential and retail models that are not a mirror image of what we did starting in the 1950s.

GlobeSt.com: Do you think that gas prices are at the forefront of the planning of these projects?

Jacobstein: There’s the price of gasoline and also the carbon-footprint, global-warming issue. There are countries that are developing that aren’t going to be as particular about that issue as those of us who feel guilt-ridden by what we’ve done to the globe in terms of carbon dioxide. That’s very much part of the picture.

GlobeSt.com: Infrastructure is a big issue in many countries. Will we start seeing, or have we, developers specializing in global infrastructure?

Jacobstein: Right now the capital for much of the infrastructure is coming from, if not the countries themselves, funds that have been raised. The model that has been used to date is the Macquarie model in Australia. They have significant infrastructure funds. Some are listed on the Australian stock exchange. The ones that are listed publicly have had a substantial decline in their values recently, but that’s just because everybody’s nervous about everything. But there is a significant need for infrastructure. You see what’s going on in the Middle East. They have significant wealth on their own because of the oil situation. But then there are those that don’t. In Dubai they’re trying to create a different kind of economic model by building all of these luxurious facilities where people will come, just like they come to Las Vegas.

There is a tremendous need for infrastructure, but in many cases it is done by construction companies because we’re really talking about roads, bridges and power plants. The question is: Where is the funding going to come from? It’s either going to come from oil revenues if you’re in the Middle East or commodities revenues if you’re in countries like Brazil. But I don’t see US REITs changing their model to being a creator of infrastructure. They’re different skill sets. Infrastructure is much more construction and project-management related, as well as requiring enormous amounts of capital. It’s far more than office, residential and shopping centers. Those pale by comparison.

GlobeSt.com: More firms are going to be building projects in countries where they’re not based. Will that be welcomed or meet interference?

Jacobstein: It depends on the country and the type of infrastructure. Controlling a toll road or a bridge is far less important that controlling a port, airport or a power plant. There is going to be continued political sensitivity in this country regardless of who controls the White House or Congress. The country as a whole is still in some sort of shock from 9/11. There is a lot of sensitivity, and it’s going to take some time to wear off. But there are companies and private funds from the US that will be plenty willing to go abroad.

GlobeSt.com: With aging populations in many developed countries growing, will we see our senior-housing model adopted abroad?

Jacobstein: They will. We have been amongst the leaders in that. In the US historically there has been less multi-generations living in the same household, so called extended families. That’s much more common in other countries. So we’ve been the leader in the freestanding, independent-living for active adults, and assisted-living nursing care. It’s a good opportunity for companies here that build and manage those prototypes to take that model abroad. And that idea will be copied too.

GlobeSt.com: What is the biggest challenge the industry is facing in the future?

Jacobstein: The real challenge in the short term is overcoming the global financial issues that have been created. It’s spreading. It’s started with the housing crunch and the credit crunch, but there’s also now inflation, and it’s not just in the US on commodities, it’s also in other countries. We have to overcome those issues, and most of them probably will be overcome, with the possible exception of energy, in a 12-to-24-month period.

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