The economic recovery in the commercial real estate sector was a hot topic in downtown Birmingham Tuesday.

Birmingham Commercial Real Estate Women held its monthly meeting with a panel of eight local real estate experts.

Each were asked to give an update on the respective fields and here’s a summary of what many of them had to say:

• Certain pockets in the real estate industry are doing well, such as health care, casual dining restaurants and franchises.

• The size and number of real estate deals have increased remarkably since the downtimes of 2009 and 2010. Panelist Libby Lassiter of Bayer Properties said her company has seen a 270 percent increase in deal execution over the last year.

• Banks are still having a hard time letting go of the money for commercial real estate projects, putting new development prospects at a standstill. The two bankers in the room – Don Giardina of BancorpSouth and Tom Genetti of BBVA Compass – said banks still want to lend money, but federal regulators are holding the purse strings and making it difficult to lend to just anything.

• Small Business Administration lending and loans to real estate owner occupies have surged because there’s little risk for the banks.

• Everyone agreed there remains a wide gap between property valuations and appraised values, meaning more properties are likely to be foreclosed on. Chad Hagwood of Beech Street Capital said he believed interest rates would go up “dramatically” this year.

All in all, there was a common theme: The situation is looking better, but more pain is likely down the road.

Joining Lassiter, Giardina, Genetti and Hagwood on the panel were Sam Renta of Alliance Capital Corp., Bryan Holt of Southpace Properties, Joe Sandner IV of Sandner Commercial Real Estate and Mike Graham of Graham & Co.

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