U.S. Office Rents Won’t Return to Pre-Pandemic Levels Until 2026, Says Moody’s Analytics

Salesforce has gone on the record to say that it expects to reduce its national office footprint considerably after the pandemic subsides. Pictured is the company's namesake building at The Union, a mixed-use development in Dallas.

NEW YORK CITY — It will take at least five years for office-using companies in the United States to demand enough office space to push rents to pre-pandemic levels, with more short-term pain for office owners on the horizon, according to projections by Moody’s Analytics.

The New York City-based research firm, which is a subsidiary of ratings agency Moody’s Corp. (NYSE: MCO), issued the forecast last week, punctuating its findings with an assertion that U.S. office vacancy would rise to 19.4 percent in 2021.

That figure would represent a 30-year high, surpassing the national vacancy rate of 17.6 percent that occurred in 2010 toward the end of the Great Recession. It would also be the highest national vacancy rate recorded since the 19.7 percent posted during the Savings & Loan Crisis of the early 1990s.

In addition, the report from Moody’s Analytics predicted that the national office vacancy rate of nearly 20 percent would hold equally steady in 2022, while rents would fall much more sharply in 2021 than the 0.7 percent decline they posted in 2020.

Effective office rents are projected to decrease by 7.5 percent in 2021 before recovering in 2022 as companies continue to implement entire or partial work-from-home programs in response to COVID-19. The shift to remote working structures is also likely to deter many office users from moving forward with and office lease renewal or expansion plans they may have had.

“Though we expect the office sector will suffer more severely in 2021 than it did in 2020, the vaccine rollout brings hope for more in-person business later this year and into 2022,” says Barbara Denham, senior commercial real estate economist at Moody’s Analytics.

In terms of specific markets, the report found that office rent declines were likely to be sharpest in Tier 1 markets like San Francisco and New York City. Moody’s Analytics is forecasting negative rent growth of 15 percent and 8.9 percent, respectively, for those markets in 2021. Both of those office markets are likely to bottom out in terms of asking rents in late 2022, the report concluded.

Among the most high-profile companies in either of these markets to recently announce a long-term plan to de-densify its office buildings is Salesforce (NYSE: CRM). The San Francisco-based cloud software provider, one of the fastest-growing companies of the last five years whose workforce now exceeds 50,000, told the Wall Street Journal that it will continue with remote-work programs after the pandemic subsides. Employees who do come into their offices will find their settings vastly altered in terms of density.

According to the Journal, Salesforce expects that in the post-pandemic world, roughly two-thirds of its employees will come into the office one to three days per week. While it’s worth noting that 40 percent of the company’s workforce adhered to this structure before the pandemic, Salesforce executive Brent Hyder said that he “doesn’t believe we’ll keep every

Harwood International Begins Construction on 27-Story Office Tower in Dallas

DALLAS — Harwood International has begun construction on Harwood No. 14, a 27-story office tower in Dallas. The building will span approximately 360,000 square feet and will feature a 17,000-square-foot rooftop terrace and sky garden, as well as a fitness center with locker rooms and a multi-purpose flex space. The development team includes Manhattan Construction Co. (general contractor), Dallas-based HDF (architect of record), Dallas-based Corgan (associate architect) and Tokyo-based Kengo Kuma & Associates (design architect). Law firm Haynes & Boone LP has committed to 125,000 square feet at the building upon completion, which is scheduled for 2023.

Georgetown Co. Signs Tenants to 200,000 SF Life Sciences Project in Manhattan

NEW YORK CITY — Locally based developer The Georgetown Co. has signed leases with two tenants to bring its 200,000-square-foot life sciences project at 787 11th Ave. on Manhattan’s Far West Side. The property is now fully preleased. Healthcare provider Mount Sinai signed a long-term lease for 165,000 square feet, and scientist and designer Neri Oxman inked a deal to operate a 36,000-square-foot space. The property houses space for lab, office, research and biomedical uses.

Parkview Financial Provides $100M Loan for Conversion of Harrah’s Hotel Casino to Mixed-Use Project in Downtown Reno

RENO, NEV. — Parkview Financial has provided a $100 million loan to Reno City Center, an affiliate of Las Vegas-based CAI Investments. The funds will be used for the renovation and redevelopment of Harrah’s Reno Hotel and Casino into Reno City Center, a mixed-use project. Gryphon Private Wealth Management’s opportunity zone fund provided the equity.

Located at 219 N. Center St. in downtown Reno, the development will include 538 apartments and more than 250,000 square feet of office and retail space. The existing 6.3-acre, 15-building property comprises approximately 1.4 million square feet of gross building area, including three hotel towers rising 17, 24 and 26 stories; a seven-story parking garage with additional parking on the top of the structure; casino and sports book; convention and meeting areas; multiple restaurants and coffee shops; retail sales areas; administrative offices; back-of-house support areas; and maintenance and storage areas.

Luxe General Consulting is performing the renovation, which is slated for completion by summer 2022. Upon completion, the residential component will feature a rooftop pool, amenity deck, outdoor plaza, fountain, fitness center, theater room, bar and game room. The 538 units will feature a home office alcove, full kitchen with stainless steel appliances and quartz countertops, and in-unit washers/dryers. The commercial portion will provide retail and office space — including bars, coffee shops, restaurants, a grocery store, gym and entertainment — within a park-like setting.

Costco Leases 30,000 SF at Woodfield Preserve Office Center in Schaumburg, Illinois

SCHAUMBURG, ILL. — Costco Wholesale Corp. and Costco Innovel Solutions have leased 30,000 square feet at Woodfield Preserve Office Center in Schaumburg. The property is located at 10 N. Martingale Road. Costco expects to begin occupying the space in April. The two-building Woodfield Preserve recently underwent renovations such as lobby remodeling and elevator cab modernization. Amenities include fitness centers, conference centers, tenant lounges, game rooms, delis and an outdoor courtyard. William Elwood and Robert Graham of CBRE represented ownership, Zeller, in the lease transaction. David Stefancic and Lexis Livengood of Cushman & Wakefield represented Costco. Other tenants at the property include Assurance, Byline Bank, Hitachi, New York Life and Progressive.

Wheelock, Camber Buy Life Sciences Building in Northborough, Massachusetts, for $33M

NORTHBOROUGH, MASS. — A joint venture between Connecticut-based Wheelock Street Capital and Camber Development has purchased Sanofi Genzyme’s Northborough Global Operations Center, a 212,000-square-foot life sciences building in Northborough, located outside of Worcester. The sales price was $33 million. The property is situated on a 19.3-acre site and was fully leased at the time of sale. Coleman Benedict, Matthew Sherry, Ben Sayles, Michael Restivo and Corbin Stall of JLL represented the buyer in the deal. The seller was Chicago-based Capri EGM.

Crusader Insurance Sells 46,889 SF Office Building in Calabasas, California

CALABASAS, CALIF. — Crusader Insurance Co. has completed the sale of a two-story office building located at 26050 Mureau Road in Calabasas. An undisclosed buyer acquired the asset for $12.7 million, or $271 per square foot.

Built in 1997, the 46,899-square-foot building features a training center, boardrooms, fitness center, server rooms, employee lounge, outdoor patio, elevator and 157 parking spaces.

Jay Rubin and Eugene Kim of Lee & Associates represented the seller, while Craig Miller and Todd Cobin of Stone Miller represented the seller in the deal.

Premier Commercial Realty Negotiates Sale of 20,600 SF Office Building in Crystal Lake, Illinois

CRYSTAL LAKE, ILL. — Premier Commercial Realty has negotiated the sale of a 20,600-square-foot office building located at 333 Commerce Drive in Crystal Lake, about 50 miles northwest of downtown Chicago. The sales price was undisclosed. The property was 65 percent leased at the time of sale. Michael Deacon of Premier brokered the transaction. A private investor purchased the asset from 333 Commerce Drive LLC.

Vaughn Construction Nears Completion of $135M Austin Office Project for Texas Facilities Commission

AUSTIN, TEXAS — General contractor Vaughn Construction is nearing completion of the initial phase of a $135 million office project in Austin for the Texas Facilities Commission, an agency that manages government buildings throughout the state. The project includes a nine-story office building, central utility plant and an 1,850-space parking garage. Approximately 1,500 employees from the Texas Health & Human Services Commission will occupy the building beginning in June. Details about subsequent phases were not disclosed.

Hicks Ventures, Taconic Capital Complete Renovation of 341,947 SF Houston Office Building

HOUSTON — A partnership between locally based investment firm Hicks Ventures and New York City-based Taconic Capital has completed the $6 million renovation of 1177 West Loop South, a 341,947-square-foot office building in Houston. The program upgraded the 18-story building’s lobby, conference facilities, common areas, café, fitness center and outdoor patios. Transwestern provides leasing services for the property. Hicks Ventures purchased the building in the spring of 2019 and started the renovation in early 2020.

PRP Acquires Interest in AmerisourceBergen’s 429,122 SF Metro Philadelphia Headquarters Building

CONSHOHOCKEN, PA. — Washington, D.C.-based investment firm PRP has acquired a preferred equity investment in the 429,122-square-foot office headquarters building of drug wholesaler AmerisourceBergen in Conshohocken, a northern suburb of Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Business Journal reports that the value of PRP’s stake is $340 million. Developer Keystone Property Group is nearing completion of the headquarters building, which will be located within the company’s $325 million SORA West mixed-use development and will house approximately 1,500 AmerisourceBergen associates. The company announced its plan to relocate to Conshohocken from Chesterbrook in summer 2018.

space in every city we’re in, including San Francisco.”

The pessimistic sentiment stems in part from a poor finish to 2020. Moody’s Analytics’ fourth-quarter report found that the U.S. office market ended the year with a vacancy rate of 17.7 percent, fueled by some 10 million square feet of negative net absorption in the fourth quarter.

That vacancy rate represents an increase of 40 basis points from the third quarter and an increase of 90 basis points year over year. The fourth-quarter report also stated that effective rents dropped by 0.6 percent during that period.

“There remains much uncertainty as to how secular shifts in office demand will truly impact performance metrics like rents, occupancies, net operating income and cap rates,” conclude the authors of the fourth-quarter report.

Different Sources, Similar Conclusions

As of December 2020, office leasing activity was down by 61 percent year-to-date, according to the VTS Office Demand Index (VODI), which tracks tenant demand for office buildings across the nation via in-person and virtual touring activity.

The index charted national leasing trends over the course of 2020, finding that the most severe drop-off occurred at the onset of the pandemic in the spring, followed by a modest recovery in the summer and more activity in the third quarter, only to close the year on another decline. The VODI synopsis of 2020 did note, however, that the fourth quarter is typically the slowest time for office leasing based on seasonal patterns.

The U.S. office market is still facing tremendous uncertainty in terms of when, what and how a full recovery will take place, notes Simon Rubinsohn, chief economist for the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), a London-based business valuation and economic research group. Nonetheless, early indicators suggest that an office market rebound will be defined by less density within buildings.

“In our surveys, we’ve asked businesses how much less office space they think they will require based on pandemic-related changes, and the general consensus is somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 percent,” he says. “The comments and feedback we’ve received indicate that high-spec buildings that are better equipped to address health and wellness concerns, as well as environmental sustainability, will be at the forefront of investors’ minds.”

Rubinsohn concurs that office rents across the nation are likely to remain under downward pressure for the next 12 to 18 months, in primary and secondary markets alike. He is, however, encouraged by existing research that supports team usage of physical office space as a means of fostering productive collaboration.

— Taylor Williams

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