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Investment in commercial property declined in Canada and major markets such as Britain and China, with buyers refusing to overpay and landlords hanging on to their properties.

The decline in sales activity so far this year is occurring after a near decade-long boom in commercial real estate, suggesting that the market is starting to plateau.

Today, it is trickier to find real estate bargains, especially compared with the years immediately following the Great Recession, when assets were much cheaper. Now, commercial real estate prices are soaring, there are fewer properties for sale and many owners are opting to keep their buildings.

“It’s more those factors than anything that is negative, like investors leaving,” said Robert White, president of Real Capital Analytics Inc. (RCA), which tracks commercial real estate deals around the world. “It is not like the market is flooded by sellers and no one is buying,” he said. Mr. White spoke with The Globe and Mail on the sidelines of a real estate conference in Toronto.

RCA found that investment declined in numerous countries over the first nine months of this year. In Canada, about US$17-billion in commercial property changed hands in that period, compared with about US$20-billion in the same period last year.

Those transactions included pension fund Alberta Investment Management Corp.’s purchase of Edmonton Tower, a 27-storey office building in the city’s downtown core. Yet, at the same time, another skyscraper in Edmonton was taken off the market because the owners could not get the price it wanted.

In Britain, the total value of commercial real estate deals was down 4 per cent in the first three quarters of the year compared with the same period last year. In mainland China, investment was off by 12 per cent. In Japan, sales fell by 24 per cent. Australia was down by 14 per cent and Germany eased by 8 per cent, according to RCA.

Some countries bucked the trend. The United States was up 13 per cent. Hong Kong, which is benefiting from a surge of capital from mainland China, saw investment jump 65 per cent.

Although property investment eased in many countries, Mr. White said that does not mean the real estate market is tumbling into a downturn.

“I feel comfortable that the real estate fundamentals are going to remain positive. It is going to feel slower because we enjoyed such a great rebound,” he said.

Over the past 10 years, the value of commercial property has skyrocketed in big cities such as Sydney, Manhattan, London, Paris and Toronto. In Toronto, there are more assets selling for close to $1-billion. This year, for example, a non-controlling stake in an office complex known as Bay Adelaide Centre sold for $850-million, and a 370-acre development land near city’s international airport was sold for about the same price.

“It is not a bad time to be in real estate. It is just not as great as it was for the other 10 years of this cycle,” Mr. White said.

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