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New York City Has a Zombie Building Problem Tenant-less office buildings are wreaking havoc on New York's commercial real estate industry.

By Dan Bova

Darren Tierney | Shutterstock

New York City's Flatiron building is one of the most iconic structures in the world — and it is also unrentable. Business Insider's Alex Nicoll reports that the Flatiron has been nearly vacant since 2019.

Michael Cohen, a real estate veteran and managing principal of Williams Equities, says that the Flatiron, and many like it, have become "unrentable" for a few big reasons:

  • Valuations have dropped due to rising interest rates, reducing owners' equity.
  • Lower leasing rates mean that owners can't justify the costs of updates.
  • Hybrid and work-from-home setups have driven office space demand off a cliff.

These mostly vacant buildings mirror a problem seen in other parts of the country we've seen over the past decade: abandoned shopping malls that have fallen into such disrepair they look like the sets of post-apocalyptic movies.

Related: Kevin O'Leary Slams Martha Stewart's Comments on Remote Work: 'Nobody Wants to Work in These Places'

"Any building purchased within the five years preceding the pandemic is a zombie candidate," Cohen told BI. "I'm being kind — it might actually be the last 10 years."

Nicoli outlines a few viable possibilities for the resurrection of these dead structures, including conversion from offices to apartments and lenders taking control of the properties to renovate, sell, lease, or use themselves, but there doesn't seem to be a magic bullet that can immediately rid the city of zombies.

Related: Westfield to Give Up San Francisco Mall Due to 'Challenging Operating Conditions'

A study entitled Work From Home and the Office Real Estate Apocalypse by economists at NYU Stern Business School, Columbia Business School, and the National Bureau of Economic Research showed that vacancy rates in NYC hit 22.2% in Q1 of 2023, and predicted that worsening as real estate prices drop.

Summarized by Shannon Thaler at the New York Post: "Lower values means less tax revenue. In the case of the Big Apple, the paper predicted a 6.5% drop by 2029. To plug the hole, cities will raise taxes and fees in other ways — making the city less attractive to live in, which means even less revenue."

Related: 5 Essential AI Marketing Hacks Every Real Estate Agent Should Start Using Today

Where's zombie slayer Rick Grimes when you need him?

Dan Bova

Entrepreneur Staff

VP of Special Projects

Dan Bova is the VP of Special Projects at Entrepreneur.com. He previously worked at Jimmy Kimmel Live, Maxim, and Spy magazine. His latest books for kids include This Day in History, Car and Driver's Trivia ZoneRoad & Track Crew's Big & Fast Cars, The Big Little Book of Awesome Stuff, and Wendell the Werewolf

Read his humor column This Should Be Fun if you want to feel better about yourself.

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