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PHOENIX-Although bargain-basement hunters haven’t yet begun to test the market’s distress, a local expert says it’s possible that hardship acquisitions could increase by mid-2009. With office vacancy rates ranging from 16% to 18%, and more space rising, it means there could be some potential in foreclosed shell space rather than stabilized assets.

“We’ve been seeing investors coming in, predicting there will be opportunities and waiting on the sidelines for them,” says Eric Wichterman, senior vice president with Grubb & Ellis/BRE Commercial LLC’s Phoenix office. “These are local investors as well as out-of-state investors that were active several years ago. When they saw the run-up in price, they didn’t participate, but now they’re looking to make their move.”

They are, however, in a wait mode. In a recent report by Wichterman and Grubb & Ellis senior associate Ann Sondrol, research found that sales volume in Phoenix decreased 70% in the second quarter from last year’s Q2. The statistics showed the larger share of the reduction occurred with larger assets while smaller assets with some upside were, and still are, in high demand.

The difficulty is that those types of assets are “few and far between,” Wichterman tells GlobeSt.com. “Meanwhile, buyers are waiting on other projects to see if great deals do materialize. It’s stalling the market.”

While investors wait, vacancies rise. According to CB Richard Ellis’ Q2 office report, the 70.6-million-sf inventory is 16.34% vacant. In the Grubb & Ellis report, its team reported an 18.6% vacancy for a 63.3-million-sf inventory. And, there is 4.2 million sf to 4.3 million sf under construction, all slated to come on line by year’s end or early 2009.

Wichterman says the just-completed shells are destined for the majority of activity. “The foreclosures will likely happen on an empty shell, where there are five other competing empty shells and none of them having a prayer of being sold out as [office] condos or leased up,” he says. “That’s where the buyer opportunity will likely come in.”

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