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Office real estate may be struggling, but there are bright spots in commercial real estate – Financial Post

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Industrial real estate has emerged as an unexpected saviour, with leasing volumes rising across Canada

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The suburbs made a remarkable comeback during COVID-19, as residential prices, rents and sales escalated faster than those in the urban core, while commercial real estate data depict a similar picture of strength and resilience in the areas outside the downtown areas.

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Indeed, the real estate story during COVID-19 is a tale of not one, but several markets. One is that the roaring housing market defied all predictions of doom and gloom, with unprecedented increases in demand coupled with lacklustre supply pushing housing prices upwards.

Another is focused on commercial real estate markets, which are further differentiated by geography and type. Often concentrated in the urban core, office real estate continues to struggle with growing vacancy rates and softening of rents. The short-term forecasts for office markets spell even more trouble, with vacancy rates projected to rise further.

But not all is lost in commercial real estate. Industrial real estate, especially suburban warehousing space, has emerged as an unexpected saviour, with leasing volumes rising across Canada. And if you thought COVID-19 had taken the retail sector down, think again. The on-again, off-again restrictions have certainly hurt retail real estate as has the shift to e-commerce. But retail leasing volumes started to recover after the second quarter of 2020, and retail vacancy rates are forecasted to stay steady.

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Recent data from CoStar Group, which tracks and analyzes activity in commercial real estate markets, demonstrates the diversity in market trends. For example, office leasing, like residential real estate sales, declined in the first quarter of 2020. But office leasing has since struggled to fully recover, while residential sales sprang back almost immediately.

The decline in office leasing is most pronounced in Toronto, where CoStar Group data show leasing volume in the third quarter of 2021 was 47 per cent lower than the average for the same quarter from 2018 to 2020. Other major markets, including Calgary and Edmonton, which were struggling even before the pandemic, showed similar declines.

The office market in Vancouver, though, showed resilience. Leasing volume there was up by 33 per cent in the third quarter of 2021 compared to the average for the same quarter from 2018 to 2020. Why is Vancouver bucking the trend? Carl Gomez, chief economist and head of market analytics at CoStar Group Canada, believes it’s because of the number of small- to medium-sized tech companies located there.

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  1. The higher number of housing starts this year has only reached the same level observed decades ago when Canada’s population was nearly half of what it is today.

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Toronto’s urban core is dominated by firms specializing in banking, finance, law, and insurance. The shift to working from home has been more pronounced in those sectors, according to Statistics Canada. The decline in office space leasing was, therefore, expected given the declining demand.

Suburban office markets, however, have managed to stay in the black. The net absorption of office space has been negative in downtown Toronto since the second quarter of 2020. But the suburban Greater Toronto Area (GTA) has fared much better, with positive net absorption quarter after quarter.

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The urban-suburban divide also persists in Vancouver. The net absorption of office space has been negative downtown, at least since the first quarter of 2020. The suburban office markets, on the other hand, have reported positive net absorption. Even in the second quarter of 2020, soon after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, suburban Vancouver reported almost one million square feet in net absorption.

The suburban markets are also conducive to the growth in industrial real estate. By the fourth quarter of 2020, industrial leasing had topped pre-pandemic leasing levels in Canada. Furthermore, an additional 16 million square feet of industrial real estate is in the pipeline for Toronto and almost eight million for Vancouver.

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The better-performing suburban commercial real estate markets in Toronto and Vancouver suggest a slight shift in location preferences that the pandemic has accelerated. However, one should not be quick to write-off downtown areas just yet. With offices and educational institutions resuming face-to-face operations by early next year, downtown spaces are expected to be back in demand, which might require vacancy forecasts to be revised downwards.

Murtaza Haider is a professor of Real Estate Management at Ryerson University. Stephen Moranis is a real estate industry veteran. They can be reached at the Haider-Moranis Bulletin website, www.hmbulletin.com.

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Google real estate executive says 5% more workers coming in to office each week

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Alphabet Inc’s Google has seen an increasing number of employees coming in to its offices each week, particularly younger workers, the company’s real estate chief said during an interview at the Reuters Next conference on Friday.

On Thursday, Google indefinitely pushed back the mandated return date for employees due to concerns about the Omicron variant. The company had previously said its 150,000 global employees could be required to come in to the office as soon as Jan. 10.

Nevertheless, David Radcliffe, Google’s vice president for real estate and workplace services, said many Googlers are returning of their own volition. About 40% of its U.S. employees on average came in to the office daily in recent weeks, up from 20-25% three months ago, he said. Globally, 5% more employees are returning to offices week after week, he added.

“People are actually showing voluntarily that they want to be back in the office,” Radcliffe said. “We’re moving in the right direction.”

Younger employees and those who joined Google more recently have been coming in at higher rates, seeking opportunities to learn from colleagues, Radcliffe added.

Google expects workers in the office at least three days a week once it mandates a new return date.

Based on feedback from those already back, it is redesigning floor plans to increase private, quiet spaces for distraction-free individual work and adding conferencing and other collaboration areas in open spaces both indoors and outdoors.

Real estate and human resources experts have considered Google a trailblazer for the past 20 years in sustainable office design and variety of workplace perks, including free meals, massages and gyms.

To extend those sustainability and wellness benefits to remote work, Google has encouraged employees to buy carbon offsets and non-toxic furniture for their home offices. It also has provided free cooking classes and discounts to fitness studios near workers’ homes.

“It was amazing how many employees had really never cooked themselves,” Radcliffe said.

 

(Reporting by Paresh Dave in Oakland, Calif., and Julia Love in San Francisco; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall and Matthew Lewis)

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Calgary real estate is on a late-year roll – Western Investor

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With $468 million in sales – not counting the $1.2-billion Bow office tower purchase that has yet to close – in the third quarter (Q3) 2021, Calgary is on track to top $2 billion in commercial and industrial real estate sales this year, according to Altus Group.

Meanwhile housing sales in November reached 2,110 transactions, just shy of the record for the month set in 2005, as the sales-to-new-listing ratio hit a blistering 100 per cent.

Altus reports that the Calgary’s commercial real estate market recorded 115 transactions for a total investment volume of $468 million in the third quarter, bringing the total investment volume for the year close to $2 billion. The total sales volume was up 37 per cent from the first three quarters of 2020.

Industrial sales led the commercial and industrial assets investment parade in the third quarter, with 27 transactions valued at $188 million. This sector was dominated by two substantial distribution logistics centre deals. These were the $69.7 million purchase of a Canadian Tire 496,000-square-foot distribution centre by Skyline Commercial Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT); and the $32.18 million sale of the Valad Construction headquarters industrial and office complex to Nexus REIT.

The ICI (industrial-commercial-institutional) land sector was the second most active in terms of dollar volume with 38 transactions amounting to $83 million, up 62 per cent from Q3 of 2020.

The multi-family rental apartment sector saw 15 transactions totalling $82 million, a 70 per cent increase from the same point last year, and only a marginal decrease from the previous quarter.

The retail sector tallied $44 million in transactions amounting to a 110 per cent increase from Q3 2020.

The biggest retail sale was the $8.35 million purchase of the Hansen Ranch Plaza, a near-12,000-square-foot retail centre in northwest Calgary, bought by local investors.

“Calgary’s beleaguered office market has remained flat, with five transactions amounting to $15 million, a negligible change from the same quarter last year,” noted Ben Tatterton, manager of data solutions at Altus, who prepared the Calgary report with national research manager Krut DSesai.

The landmark sale of the Bow office tower will be registered in a future quarter, Altus noted.

The two-million-square-foot Bow tower was purchased in August from Toronto-based H&R REIT by Oak Street Real Estate Capital, of Chicago, for $1.216 million, in a deal expected to close by the end of this year.

The Calgary Real Estate Board (CREB) reported a rush of home buyers in November.

“Lending rates are expected to increase next year, which has created a sense of urgency among purchasers who want to get into the housing market before rates rise,” said CREB chief economist Ann-Marie Lurie. She added that supply levels have tightened, causing prices to rise.

The benchmark composite home price in November was $461,000, up nearly 9 per cent from November of 2020, according to Lurie.

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Saskatchewan real estate market conditions making it hard for buyers: realtors – Globalnews.ca

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Saskatoon real estate agent Warren Ens says the current real estate market conditions in Saskatchewan aren’t for the faint of heart.

“The really good houses, you pretty much have to go the exact same day as (they’re) listed, and even then you probably are going to get into a bidding war,” he said Friday.

Read more:

Saskatoon real estate market slows but still healthy, says realtors association

He adds that bidding wars over Saskatoon homes are happening at a rate he has never seen in his 11 years working in Saskatchewan.

“(Last) Friday I got into two bidding wars with two different clients,” he laughed. “That’s not something you see too much of.”

A new report from RE/MAX shows this is the case across the country, making it harder for first-time homebuyers to get into the market.

Read more:

Canada’s housing market hotter than ever — and investors are playing a big role

RE/MAX Canada Regional Executive Vice President Elton Ash says this competition could continue.

“In March, we’re anticipating the Bank of Canada to start edging the overnight rate up with inflation concerns and that sort of thing,” he said Thursday. “That’s going to push buyers suddenly, because they’ve been looking and they’re going to want to lock in at a lower rate.”


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He said buyers from all across Canada are now seeing the value of an affordable new house in the Prairies.

“People are looking at that and saying, ‘Hey, yeah I might today be working in Toronto but I can work remotely and I can move back home to Saskatchewan where prices are much more affordable; family life will be better and I can work remote,’” Ash explained.

Read more:

Toronto-area home sales top November record, prices reach all time high

Ens says he’s seen this play out in his day-to-day job, with plenty of newcomers in the last year.

“We’ve seen people from Toronto, Chilliwack, B.C., places like that that are coming here,” he said.

From his perspective, the report is accurate in its prediction that houses will likely only continue to slowly increase in price, but he says a seller’s market won’t always make things easier.

Read more:

‘Not as crazy as it seems’: How COVID-19 gave rise to home-buying sight unseen

“When you have bidding wars and you have multiple offers it sounds great for a seller,” he explained. “But it’s also very tricky because you could actually lose all the offers because you do something wrong.”

The bottom line, he says, is that Canada is a seller’s market — and Saskatchewan is selling fast.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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