Thriving Tech and Ecommerce Sectors Drive Canadian Commercial Real Estate Records in the First Quarter

Industrial availability dropped to a record low in Q1 2019, while office markets across Canada had some of the best results in recent memory

Toronto, ON – April 1, 2019 – A flourishing tech sector and bustling e-commerce activity continue to re-shape the Canadian commercial real estate (CRE) landscape. Office and industrial property markets logged new records in the first quarter of 2019 and saw some of the strongest demand in recent memory, according to CBRE’s Canada Q1 2019 Quarterly Statistics report.

Canada’s office real estate recorded the most vigorous leasing activity in years, primarily spurred by a rapidly expanding tech sector. Overall, the national office property vacancy rate decreased by 40 basis points (bps) quarter-over-quarter to 11.5% in Q1 2019, the lowest level since Q2 2015. The amount of office product under construction nationwide in the first quarter reached 16.0 million sq. ft. for the first time since Q4 2015, as Vancouver saw an additional 1.4 million sq. ft. of new office development break ground this quarter.

The rise of online retail sales, and the associated warehouse space needed to keep up with consumer demand, has pushed the Canadian industrial market into overdrive. The national industrial availability rate dropped to a new record low of 3.0% in Q1 2019. To meet user demand for taller clear heights, larger door counts, and specialized warehouse configurations, 22.6 million sq. ft. of industrial space is under construction, the bulk of which is in Toronto and Vancouver. This is the highest level of national industrial development seen since 2015.

“Canadian office markets continue to gather momentum, in large part as a result of rapidly growing tech and co-working sectors. The remarkable office market momentum continues to build, but tenants have fewer and fewer options if they don’t plan ahead,” commented CBRE Canada Vice-Chairman PaulMorassutti. “Meanwhile industrial developers are responding to chronic space shortages with new construction, while tenants are opting to secure space prior to construction completion. In Toronto, all new supply delivered in Q1 2019 was pre-leased, and 77.6% of the 9.58 million sq. ft. under construction already has tenancies in place.”

Here are some of the other commercial real estate records logged in the first quarter:

  • Downtown Toronto office vacancy tightened another 10 bps, dropping the rate to a new record low of 2.6% in the first quarter.
  • Montreal’s downtown office vacancy now sits at 8.6%, the lowest it has been since Q4 2013, with tech company growth playing a key role in this decline. The downtown core has had 819,500 sq. ft. of new product delivered over the past eight quarters, with 998,139 sq. ft. of additional space under construction as of Q1 2019.
  • Calgary experienced 289,515 sq. ft. of positive net absorption of downtown office space in Q1 2019, the largest quarter of positive absorption since the oil downturn in 2014. Much of the activity came from tenants taking back space previously listed for sublease, spaces being converted to co-working uses, and landlords turning unoccupied supply into amenity space.
  • Toronto’s industrial market, which has had 16 consecutive quarters of positive net absorption, saw its availability rate hit an all-time low of 1.5% in Q1, with 2.2 million sq. ft. of positive net absorption.
  • Calgary’s industrial market, which has logged nine consecutive quarters of positive net absorption, had a further 649,080 sq. ft. of space taken up in the first quarter of 2019.
  • The Halifax industrial market had 50,465 sq. ft. of positive net absorption in Q1, the ninth straight quarter of positive net absorption for that city.

“In recent years, the Canadian real estate market had been somewhat polarized between areas of pronounced strength and areas facing challenges; however, this quarter showed more momentum for cities across the country, including hard-hit Alberta,” said Morassutti. “It’s worth noting that while overall office vacancy has remained stable quarter over quarter in Edmonton and Calgary, the amount of sublet space on the market – which serves as a bellwether for the office segment – decreased by 25.1% and 8.6% respectively. This is a promising indication that Alberta’s CRE conditions look to be improving at long last.”

For further details and insights, download CBRE’s Canada Q1 2019 Quarterly Statistics report here.