Just as capital starts to flow back into commercial real estate comes news that about 40% of the largest U.S. corporations plan to reduce their space in the fourth quarter.

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In a new survey by the International Association of Corporate Real Estate Executives, 22.6% of 119 members surveyed said they plan to add to their space, 36.9% plan to change and the rest plan to reduce space.

Although the first-time survey offers no indication whether the market is improving or getting worse, it does sound a note of caution at a time when banks are beginning to lend for acquisitions by real estate investment trusts and originating commercial mortgages for sale in a developing secondary market.

The association, which goes by the name NACORE, plans to repeat the survey on a quarterly basis in hopes of identifying trends, said executive director Mark Hoewing.

NACORE is a nonprofit trade association with 40 chapters and 3,300 members worldwide.

Mr. Hoewing acknowledged that the downsizing by corporations is nothing new, but added, "Probably the most surprising factor is how much activity there is out there, whether in terms of increasing or reducing space."

While the overall trend among corporations is to reduce space, the survey did note signs of strength in research and retail sectors.

About 15.1% of companies with retail space planned to expand, while only 8% planned a reduction in space.

Among companies with research space, 13% said they planned an expansion in the quarter and only 9% planned a reduction.

Mr. Hoewing said efficiencyminded corporations not only are reducing total space as they reduce their work forces. They also are reducing the amount of space for each employee, he said, through the use of such strategies as "hoteling," in which employees use the same space in rotation.

Mr. Hoewing pointed out that banks are among the companies most active in reducing their real estate.

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