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.

Residential Agents Can Hit Jackpot With Commercial Referrals

But synergy between the two sides is sorely lacking in the real estate industry, experts say.

Residential real estate professionals may be leaving money on the table by neglecting to send referrals to commercial practitioners. But agents on both sides of the business should partner with each other to expand their clientele and improve their bottom lines, a panel of brokers told attendees at the Coldwell Banker Gen Blue conference in Las Vegas.

Robert Pressley, president of Coldwell Banker Commercial MECA in Charlotte, N.C., demonstrated how lucrative these partnerships can be. He recalled working with a New York–based residential agent in August who had a client looking to place $100 million in cash in a 1031 exchange. “I was able to close on more than $70 million and sent the referring agent a $345,000 referral fee,” Pressley said. “That’s one way to make money.”

Synergy between the residential and commercial sides, though, goes largely untapped in the industry, which flummoxes Bob Fredrickson, CCIM, president of Coldwell Banker Commercial Danforth in Federal Way, Wash. Having worked on both sides of the business himself, Fredrickson said he’s always had commercial and residential teams working together. “We’ve seen the results,” he said. “In 2017, we had $86,000 in referral fees, and in 2018, we had $525,000 in referral fees on the residential side. That is powerful. We got [residential agents’] attention because they can add 10 to 20 percent a year to their incomes.”

Pressley cautioned residential agents against pursuing their clients’ commercial interests if they don’t have experience handling such transactions. It’s bad for the client and themselves if they do it wrong, and it’s better to hand it off to a commercial pro, he said. “It’s never the big-performing residential agents trying to do [a commercial] deal. It’s the newer agents that don’t have a lot going on, and the last thing they should be doing is a commercial transaction. I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings, but I have never sold a house in my life and never will. I will mess it up so fast.”

But his advice is conditional: In rural areas where commercial transactions are more infrequent, agents may be wise to learn both sides of the business so they don’t have to send a client to another market to find a commercial pro, Pressley said. But in larger cities with a wealth of both types of transactions, residential and commercial deals should be handled separately by knowledgeable agents.

Commercial pros, too, should understand when to seek the expertise of a residential agent, Pressley noted. Oftentimes, they must cooperate with one another in a leasing or multifamily transaction, and it’s wise not to assume either party misunderstands the other and can be taken advantage of. Residential pros can be helpful to commercial brokers because they’re good at developing client relationships and can offer advice on making deeper business connections, Pressley said.

Duff Rubin, president of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage Mid-Atlantic, said that many home buyers may also be entrepreneurs interested in leasing space nearby. “Everyone who has a home has a job,” Rubin said. “Every single person [residential agents] are speaking to and selling a home to is a buyer in a potential commercial lease. They need to pull the leads out of them.”

Pressley said that while commercial agents can get a lot of referrals from the residential side, it doesn’t necessarily work the same in reverse. He said that most times when he sends referrals to residential agents, it involves a commercial client who needs to find homes for relocating employees. But with so many more residential agents than commercial ones, there’s a lot of competition, he said.

 

March 25, 2019 | by Buck Wargo