Evolving workplace trends force office occupiers and owners to adjust traditional strategies
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 centres.
These are some of the key trends noted in Avison Young’s Mid-Year 2018 North America and Europe Office Market Report. “Against a backdrop of economic, geopolitical and financial volatility, the commercial property markets – for the most part – are functioning under relatively sound fundamentals,” says 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. 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 six 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 per cent 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.”
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 Montréal and Vancouver) and new deliveries (led by Toronto, Vancouver and Montréal) 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.
“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 Montréal,” Argeropoulos concludes. “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.”
Notable Mid-Year 2018 Canadian Office Market Highlights:
- Canada’s 530-msf office market recorded positive absorption of almost six msf in the 12 months ending at June 30, 2018, led by strong gains in Toronto, Vancouver and Montréal, offsetting losses in the struggling, but stabilizing, Calgary market;
- Canada’s overall office vacancy retreated 60 basis points (bps) year-over-year to finish the first half of 2018 at 11.5 per cent. Vacancy declined in six of 11 markets. Unchanged from one year ago, Calgary (23.5 per cent) maintained the highest vacancy rate, Toronto (6.2 per cent) now has the lowest, while Waterloo Region (up 360 bps to 17.1 per cent), Edmonton (down 320 bps to 14.1 per cent) and Ottawa (down 320 bps to 9.5 per cent) recorded the biggest swings;
- Most downtown markets posted positive results, combining for more than 2.2 msf of absorption in the 12 months ending at mid-year 2018. Consequently, Canada’s downtown vacancy rate declined 80 bps year-over-year to reach 10.5 per cent at mid-year 2018. Vacancy was lower in seven of 11 downtown markets; four remained in single digits and below the national downtown average, while Toronto (2.2 per cent) registered the lowest downtown vacancy not just in Canada, but North America;
- Aside from Edmonton and Calgary, the nation’s suburban markets expanded by varying degrees with strong results in Montréal and Vancouver. Outpacing downtowns, suburban markets combined for positive 12-month absorption of nearly 3.4 msf, slightly behind the previous 12 months’ pace. Suburban vacancy fell 50 bps during the year to close first-half 2018 at 13.1 per cent. Though double-digit vacancy prevailed in all but two suburban markets, six of 11 suburban markets recorded lower vacancy levels year-over-year – with Winnipeg being the tightest (5.5 per cent);
- New office completions slowed to 3.6 msf delivered in the 12 months ending at mid-year 2018, down from nearly 10 msf in the previous 12-month period, aggravating the shortage of available space, especially in Vancouver’s and Toronto’s downtown markets. In a change from the prior period, suburban completions (led by Toronto, Vancouver and Montréal) overtook downtown completions, while Toronto recorded the most deliveries overall;
- Trying to keep pace with demand, developers had more than 15 msf under construction (52 per cent preleased, 3 per cent of existing inventory) at mid-year 2018 as downtown construction outstripped the suburbs by a four-to-one margin. Toronto had the most overall (8.5 msf) and downtown (7.2 msf) office space under construction in Canada and was in good company globally with cities such as London, Mexico City, Washington, DC and New York;
- Weighed down primarily by Calgary and, to a lesser degree, Ottawa, average class A gross rents softened collectively year-over-year. The downtown average was down $1.97 per square foot (psf) to $38.83 psf, and the suburban dipped $0.43 psf to $31.86 psf. Similar to one year prior, Vancouver boasted the highest downtown class A gross rent at $59 psf and Regina edged out Vancouver for the highest suburban class A gross rent at $40 psf.