Commercial real estate a bargain in Las Vegas, but what about income potential?

The office building at 1401 N. Green Valley Parkway in Henderson, as seen Jan. 29, 2013. Southern California investor Ed Mustafa recently acquired this and six other nearby commercial buildings.

Las Vegas’ commercial real estate market will not fully recover anytime soon from the recession, but it has one perk: low-priced deals for investors.

Prices for strip malls, office buildings, warehouses and other commercial properties are about 20 percent below what they were in 2000, while other U.S. markets are 75 percent higher, said Glenn Mueller, a professor at the University of Denver’s school of real estate and construction management.

“I’d say to an investor, Las Vegas is a screaming buy,” Mueller said Thursday at a commercial real estate symposium hosted by UNLV’s Lied Institute for Real Estate Studies.

It’s unclear when investors will reap the benefits of their discounted deals, though. Occupancy growth and rental rates are no longer at bottom but still trail most of the country. An expected influx of Baby Boomer retirees could eventually help the commercial real estate market, given their need for retail, medical and financial management services, Mueller said. In the meantime, the business has a long ways to go.

“The income potential hasn’t picked up yet,” he said in an interview.

Some buyers have flocked to Las Vegas. In recent months, national investment firms and other out-of-state buyers made bulk purchases of office buildings, shopping centers and fast-food restaurant properties.

They came here largely because real estate is getting expensive in more-desirable markets such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, and because of the potential for big returns on risky Las Vegas properties.

Most notably, in late September, Houston-based Hines Interests and Los Angeles’ Oaktree Capital Management bought 32 office buildings in Summerlin for about $120 million from Chicago’s General Growth Properties. The buildings, which total 1.1 million square feet, were half-vacant at the time.

Three months later, Illinois-based Inland Diversified Real Estate Trust acquired a majority stake in six shopping centers for almost $300 million from Las Vegas developer Terri Sturm.

For now, the valley’s commercial real estate industry remains sluggish, especially with office buildings.

The office market had a record 26.2 percent vacancy rate in the three months ending March 31, up from 25.1 percent a year earlier, according to local research firm Applied Analysis.

The average asking rent for such buildings was $1.87 per square foot last quarter, down from $1.94 a year ago. Rental rates have dropped for 15 consecutive months and are down 21.4 percent from their peak, in the second quarter of 2008.

The vacancy rate for anchored retail centers dipped to 9.8 percent from 10.4 percent, and average asking rents inched up to $1.49 per square foot from $1.45. Industrial space had a first-quarter vacancy rate of 17.2 percent, down from 17.9 percent a year ago, and asking rents were flat at $0.51 per square foot, Applied Analysis reported.

In the fourth quarter last year, Las Vegas had the highest office vacancy rate in the country and was tied with Cleveland for the fifth-highest retail vacancy rate, according to the brokerage firm CBRE Group.