New approaches from technology companies and co-working providers across North America and Europe are challenging occupiers’ and landlords’ office-space accommodation strategies, forcing players in more established sectors to adjust how they think about the size, physical form and operational function of their premises. This transformation continues to encourage new development, which is racing to keep up with demand in some markets and being bolstered by a young, educated workforce gravitating to urban centers.
These are some of the key trends noted in Avison Young’s Mid-Year 2018 North America and Europe Office Market Report, released in late August.
The report covers the office markets in 67 metropolitan regions in Canada, the U.S., Mexico, the United Kingdom, Germany and Romania.
“Against a backdrop of economic, geopolitical and financial volatility, the commercial property markets – for the most part – are functioning under relatively sound fundamentals,” comments Mark E. Rose, Chair and CEO of Avison Young. “Nowhere are we seeing more profound changes than in the office sector – especially in urban areas of major metropolitan markets across the six countries covered in our annual review. The impact can be seen on city skylines, which are changing rapidly as new construction picks up pace, driven by insatiable tenant demand from organizations adjusting their workplace strategies to a growing millennial workforce and their adaptability to innovative technologies.”
Rose continues: “At the same time, sectors that have historically accounted for a significant amount of demand for office space are now being both augmented and squeezed by ever-expanding technology and co-working industries. This phenomenon is being seen across national boundaries, particularly in markets with dense and growing urban populations.”
According to the report, of the 67 office markets tracked by Avison Young in North America and Europe, which comprise more than 6 billion square feet (bsf), market-wide vacancy rates declined in 38 markets, remained unchanged in seven, and increased in 22 markets as almost 74 million square feet (msf) was absorbed on an annualized basis.
The report goes on to say that construction cranes remained prominent fixtures across many skylines as nearly 74 msf of office space was completed during the 12-month period, while another 138 msf was under construction at mid-year 2018 – with 50 percent of the space preleased.
“It’s great to see so much confidence on the part of developers as they respond to the supply-demand imbalance in many markets,” says Rose. “As always in this industry, the inherent risk is that circumstances could change, resulting in an oversupply of product at the time of delivery. In many cases, this scenario is the result of external economic and geopolitical factors. This time around, however, the new influences of disruptive technologies and increasing co-working space availability are also affecting how and where people work, potentially impacting the office sector from within – and challenging conventional wisdom.”
Rose adds: “Generally sound office market fundamentals are being threatened on the North American front by ongoing NAFTA talks. In Europe, the looming Brexit deadline continues to dominate the headlines in the U.K., while in Germany, strong leasing activity continues to drive vacancy rates downward in all Avison Young markets. In Bucharest, Romania, development continues in response to demand.”
Canada’s office property markets remained sound through the first half of 2018, supported by stable macroeconomic indicators, including healthy employment numbers, GDP growth and a rebounding Alberta economy. However, U.S. protectionist policies and escalating tariffs pose a risk to the Canadian economy and global trade flows, and may lead to moderating growth ahead.
“Intense competition for office space continues to bolster office market fundamentals across Canada – especially in downtown markets,” states Bill Argeropoulos, Principal and Practice Leader, Research (Canada) for Avison Young. “Demand from traditional sectors is being augmented by the proliferation of domestic and global technology and co-working firms, ongoing urbanization and a burgeoning millennial workforce – all part of Canada’s emerging innovation economy.”
The report shows declining vacancy rates in more than half of the Canadian office markets with suburban markets outpacing downtown markets in terms of absorption (led by Montreal and Vancouver) and new deliveries (led by Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal) during the past 12 months. However, the amount of downtown space under construction at mid-year (led by Toronto) outstripped the suburbs by a significant margin.
Argeropoulos concludes: “Urbanization – partly attributable to growth in the technology sector – has created a noticeable gulf between downtown and suburban vacancy rates in emerging tech hubs such as Vancouver, Toronto, Waterloo Region, Ottawa and Montreal. Given tight conditions and upward pressure on rents in some of the nation’s downtown markets, and with little or no near-term supply relief, suburban markets – particularly those offering transit connectivity and other urban amenities – may be the beneficiaries of overflowing tenant demand during the next couple of years.”
The U.S. office market has benefited from another strong 12-month period of positive economic indicators: Further business expansion and job growth, decades-low unemployment, and rising consumer and business spending. Business spending kept its momentum in the first half of 2018, boosted by corporate tax breaks even while the federal government moved toward greater isolationism and global trade uncertainty. As of June, U.S. unemployment averaged 4 percent and employment over the last 12 months grew by 2.4 million, supported by the office-occupying professional and business sector gaining 521,000 jobs.
The 5.2-bsf U.S. office market reported net absorption of 43 msf on the strength of gains in five markets each achieving more than 3 msf.
“In spite of this strong take-up, I’m not surprised that the overall vacancy rate remains elevated given the volume of construction underway and the continuing trend of more efficient space design,” says Earl Webb, Avison Young’s President, U.S. Operations.
U.S. office market trends mirror those in Canada, registering an increasing impact from co-working firms. Occasionally, co-working companies have occupied large blocks of space in oversupplied markets, helping to keep vacancy in check, and the concept’s popularity with tenants has forced landlords to compete by adding conference rooms, tenant centers and social spaces.
Webb continues: “Flexible occupancy is key. We also see some national corporate tenants utilizing co-working space in order to control costs and create that flexibility. One co-working operator’s recent announcement that it is moving into brokerage operations could further disrupt the office market, and we’ll be watching that situation and other co-working developments as we head into 2019.”
The report goes on to discuss other recent and continuing trends, including the redevelopment of aging inventory and developers’ emphasis on offering transit-oriented mixed-use projects. Tenants continue to display a preference for amenity-laden buildings and geographies – an important recruiting strategy designed to appeal to the millennial workforce in the tight U.S. labor environment.