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GAINESVILLE, FL-”Unemployed people don’t need office space, don’t shop, don’t pay rent and don’t buy houses.” That’s one statement representing the sentiment now being expressed by real estate professionals in the latest quarterly outlook by the University of Florida.

Respondents to the survey, which includes the thoughts of 319 participants representing 13 urban regions of the state and up to 15 property types, believe that uncertainty continues to plague Florida’s bleak real estate outlook. They express that increasing vacancy and decreasing rents will continue throughout most property types.

Making matters worse is a statewide unemployment rate that approached 12% by the end of last year, its highest level since 1975. The rate could be much worse, given that it does not include jobless residents who have given up looking for work, says Tim Becker, director of UF’s Bergstrom Center for Real Estate Studies in Gainesville.

“I’m not sure we have seen the full impact of that yet,” Becker tells GlobeSt.com. Also compounding the problem is widespread unavailability of financing, which affects commercial real estate owners who are nearing the end of current mortgages, he says.

Multifamily may be the only sector to stand out lately because current homeowners face the prospect of losing their homes and first-time buyers are unable to obtain home loans as easily as they could a few years ago, when prices were much higher, Becker says.

“Foreclosures are driving more people into apartment living,” he says, noting that people are less able to make house payments the longer they are unemployed. Apartment investors also have an advantage in that they may be able to obtain financing through Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae or HUD, he says.

As for other commercial real estate sectors, investors face the prospect of lacking refinancing as well as trying to collect sufficient rents to pay their current mortgages, Becker says. As property values decline, the amount of money banks are willing to lend is considerably less than what owners owe, he says.

On a positive note, respondents say they have noticed a fair amount of tire-kicking in many markets by foreign and domestic private investors. Expectations for returns are falling to more realistic levels, thus bridging the gap between bid and ask.

“These developments bode well for the transaction market when quality properties start coming to the marketplace,” Becker says. “Unfortunately, there are few good quality deals to bid on.”

The Bergstrom Center’s survey also shows that larger national companies have a distinct advantage in the marketplace over smaller regional and local firms. Because the bigger firms are in a better position to obtain financing for acquisitions, their outlook is more positive than mom-and-pop shops or those concentrating solely on Florida, Becker says.

The Sunshine State is in the company of other problem-prone states such as Nevada and California with high foreclosure rates, Becker says: “Florida is still competing with the top of the worst and it’s likely to stay that way.”

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