NAIOP/SIOR Annual Market Forecast Remains Positive

This guest blog post was written by Mike Hoban of Hoban Communications.

Elisif_20171129_1972Fueled by one of the strongest economies in the nation, the Boston commercial real estate market should continue to thrive for the foreseeable future. That was the conclusion of the enthusiastic panel at the 2017 NAIOP/SIOR Annual Market Forecast held last week at the Westin Waterfront Hotel before a crowd of 450 CRE professionals.

Moderated by David Begelfer, CEO of NAIOP Massachusetts, the panel included Molly Heath, Executive VP, JLL (Cambridge); Ben Sayles, Director, HFF (Capital Markets); John Carroll, Executive VP, Colliers International (Suburbs); Ron Perry, Principal, Avison Young (Downtown); and JR McDonald, Executive Managing Director, Newmark Knight Frank (Industrial). Barry Bluestone, Professor of Public Policy at Northeastern University and Senior Fellow at The Boston Foundation, set the table for the program with an economic forecast that – with one major caveat – bodes well for the long-term health of Greater Boston CRE.

Bolstered by the highly educated workforce provided by the educational and medical institutions located in Greater Boston, the Massachusetts economy has outperformed the U.S. economy nearly every year since 2009. GDP growth for the Commonwealth has generally been in the 2.5 to 3.0 percent range since 2010, a figure that is significantly above the national average of 2.0 during that period. The Bay State has added 355,600 jobs since the recession (including 62,500 last year), an 11.2 percent increase since 2009. The 4.2 percent unemployment rate has led to virtual full employment, and with the tight labor markets, average wages are beginning to increase, albeit slowly. And none of the factors that typically contribute to a slowdown are in evidence.

Elisif_20171129_1971But despite the positive outlook, there is a looming threat to the overall health of Greater Boston economy, he cautioned. “The housing stock is limited and growing too slowly to meet the demand, and as a result, home prices and rents continue to rise,” said Bluestone, who is one of the co-authors of the Boston Foundation’s 2017 Greater Boston Housing Report Card. The price of housing is pushing workers farther away from the urban core, causing housing prices in traditionally affordable communities to escalate, as well as putting a strain on an overburdened public transit system. The Housing Report Card estimates that the region will need an additional 160,000 housing units by 2030 to accommodate its expanding population (an additional 342,000), “and that is going to be a challenge,” Bluestone concluded.

Elisif_20171129_1988JLL’s Heath led off the program with an overview of the Cambridge office and lab markets. “The Cambridge market is one of the strongest markets that we track globally at JLL, and it continues to be driven by this incredible demand from the tech and life science clusters,” she stated, adding that the demand is coming not only from organically grown companies, but outside firms seeking to establish an R&D presence in close proximity to MIT, Harvard, and the educated workforce. With a vacancy rate below 3.0 percent, there continues to be upward pressure on rental rates, with office (by 13 percent) and lab (23 percent) soaring well above previous highs. Achieved rents for office space in E. Cambridge are now in the low $90’s (gross), with lab space in the low $80s (NNN). And due to the lack of supply in the market, “we really do believe that there is room (for rents) to run,” said Heath.

Elisif_20171129_1992Colliers’ Carroll reported that “the suburbs are alive and well”, as the market has added over five million SF of positive absorption since the downturn. There has also been a steady increase in rent growth in the Class A office market, approximately 10 percent since 2009, with new construction in Waltham achieving rents in the low $50s. The Class B market is not faring as well (although there is some rent growth occurring in select markets), with some of the older building stock being slated for repositioning or demolition to make way for senior living, hotel and other non-office uses (including 450,000 SF of properties in Chelmsford). One particularly bright spot is the emergence of biotech in the suburbs. The Gutierrez Company is currently constructing a five-story, 350,000 SF building for EMD Millipore (2018 Q3 completion) in Burlington, Alkermes is “close to signing” a lease for a 250,000 SF build-to-suit in Waltham, and Waltham-based Tesaro is in the market for a 300,000-500,000 SF suburban campus.

Elisif_20171129_2005Citing the enormous amount of commercial, residential, retail and restaurant development underway in the Seaport and other Boston locations, Avison Young’s Perry observed that “Boston is clearly a different city today than it was even five years ago.” The in-migration to the city by firms seeking talent continues, he said, citing the recent relocations by Reebok, PTC and Alexion to the Seaport, as well as Amazon’s establishment of a Boston presence with the 150,000 SF lease at 253 Summer St. and Rapid7’s relocation to North Station. Demand remains strong Downtown, with over 4.5 million SF of requirements in the market, including nine companies seeking 100,000-500,000 SF. CBD Class A rents range from the mid $40s to the mid $80s (Back Bay high-rise), and vacancy rates in the top floors of the towers (10 percent) are nearly in equilibrium with the lower floors (9.4 percent), as tech companies continue to absorb space on the lower tiers.

Elisif_20171129_2006NKF’s McDonald reported on the industrial market – the newfound darling of investors and developers – noting the transformational effect that Amazon and e-commerce has had on the product type. With 12.8 percent average annual returns to investors over the last five years, industrial has outperformed both retail (12.1) and multifamily (9.9), driven by feverish demand for “last mile” properties located in urban and infill submarkets. That demand has driven rents “way beyond the norms” of what had traditionally been $5 to $6 psf to the “high single digits and low teens” for buildings such as 480 Sprague St. in Dedham, a 234,000 SF warehouse that straddles the Boston line. And warehouse space located within the urban market, such as 202 Southampton St. in the South End (which lacks basics such as air-conditioning), is fetching $20 psf, based solely on location.

Elisif_20171129_2017HFF’s Sayles addressed the ‘When will the cycle end?’ question early on his presentation. “End of cycle concerns have largely abated,” he reassured the gathering. “Nobody is really talking about that right now, instead, what people’s biggest concern is, ‘If I sell, what am I going to do with that capital?” He expects pricing for assets to remain flat in the near term with cap rates trending downward. Financing for assets is up by 17 percent from Q3 2016 to Q3 2017, but investment sales for that period declined by approximately 8.0 percent as buyers are choosing longer term holds. Sales volume for Boston is expected to be approximately $13 billion for 2017, with foreign capital again accounting for a significant portion of those transactions.

Begelfer was in full agreement with Sayles’ assessment of the cycle concerns. “Boston is pretty unique. There are only a handful of cities around the country that are experiencing this kind of strong growth,” he observed. “Any slowdown that we see is probably not going to come from the economy, it will be from the cost of construction and land costs, or the pricing of assets. It won’t be caused by a recession, but by our own success,”

My Top Ten Predictions for 2018

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The CRE industry kept smiling through 2017! Is anyone talking about innings anymore? We just keep doing deals.

So, here are my predictions for the coming year:
1. Amazon will pass on Boston for a campus, but leave us with a great consolation prize.
2. No Turnpike air rights project will start construction (ditto for 2019).
3. Fed. interest rates will be up 75 basis points by end of year.
4. In Boston, more condos will be permitted than rental apartments (other than the neighborhoods).
5. An office or lab lease will hit $100 per square foot in Cambridge.
6. Construction costs, on average, will be up 7%.
7. More than one million SF of commercial space will commence on spec.
8. The 128 office market will show more transactions (both numbers and SF) than the downtown market.
9. Foreign buyers will begin to acquire major CRE property outside of Boston/Cambridge.
10. And, yes, the Patriots will do it again.

Below were my predictions for 2017. Not the best batting average, but here is to a New Year!
1. Cap rates will finally start to rise in the Boston/Cambridge markets.
2. A new Fortune 500 corporate HQ will relocate to Boston.
3. Apartment construction starts will drop in downtown Boston.
4. The Dow Jones Industrial Average will finish the year down.
5. Fed interest rates will be raised twice.
6. Foreign investment will increase as a percentage of total CRE sales in Boston.
7. There will be a noticeable business migration from 495 to 128, 128 to Boston, and Cambridge to Boston.
8. Drones will pilot consumer product delivery.
9. An infrastructure bill will pass Congress and be signed by the President.
10. No viable candidate will step forward to run against Mayor Walsh.

2016 Greater Boston Real Estate Confidence Index

­This post originally appeared on Solomon McCown’s blog.
Greater Boston’s real estate market has been on a bender – record-shattering sales, huge demand for office space in key submarkets such as Kendall Square and the Seaport and massive amounts of new luxury residential filling up in record time. But will these trends continue?

Solomon McCown and NAIOP Massachusetts teamed up on our first Real Estate Confidence Index to check the pulse of the industry and see if this run will continue – or are we “in the seventh inning?”

From a pool of more than 200 real estate industry respondents, 63 percent feel the Boston market is still rising (either quickly or slowly) and only ONE percent thinks we are already on the decline. Just about a third of respondents (31 percent) say we’ve plateaued. A whopping 76 percent have a positive outlook for our city just one year from now, with almost 56 percent continuing to be confident for the next three years.

See below to dig in on the confidence factors for the submarkets, new vs. existing construction and specific sectors. How confident are you? Let us know in the comments below, or on Twitter at @SMCRealEstatePR or @naiopma.

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Social Media in the Real Estate Industry

The real estate industry is all about people. Whether you’re a developer working to find an investor or a leasing agent trying to reach potential tenants during lease-up, real estate professionals are all looking to make the personal connections that are vital to success in the industry.

Social media in an incredible tool for reaching the people who drive the real estate industry. NAIOP Massachusetts, in partnership with communications firm Solomon McCown & Company, surveyed more than 100 real estate professionals in June 2015 on how they use social media for their business. How do architects, construction professionals, brokers, developers and professionals in all aspects of the business use digital communication tools? Here are the key takeaways from our survey.

LinkedIn is the most popular social media platform for real estate professionals (Tweet this!), with 52.3 percent of those polled saying they use it. Facebook was a distant second place, with 20 percent of professionals saying they use the world’s largest social media network.

Only 6.5 percent of those surveyed said they don’t use social media for personal or professional use. (Tweet this!) It’s clear that professionals in all areas of the industry are active on social channels.

81 percent of professionals in the real estate industry access social media networks on mobile devices. (Tweet this!)

Social media isn’t just used by young professionals. (Tweet this!) While nearly 81 percent of 21-30 year olds in our survey say they use social media both personally and professionally, 66.7 percent of 61-70 year olds also use digital communication tools.

100 percent of real estate brokers surveyed believe social media helps them to do their jobs. (Tweet this!) The only differentiation is to what degree social media is helpful: 61.9 percent of brokers consider social media to be very helpful, while 38.1% consider it somewhat helpful.

89 percent of brokers surveyed have found new leads through social media. (Tweet this!) No wonder 100 percent of brokers say that social media helps them in their professional lives!

One-third of real estate owners say they only use social media a few times a year. (Tweet this!) A scant 22 percent of owners say they understand social media enough to do it in-house at their companies. (What a missed opportunity!)

How do professionals measure success? In our poll, 65 percent of respondents said that engagement with their target audience was the most important goal for their social media campaign. Sourcing new leads was the primary indicator of success for 26 percent of those surveyed.

Take a deep dive into the data unearthed by the NAIOP/Solomon McCown survey in the infographic below.

SMC-NAIOP_SocialMediaRE-infographic

Boston May Be Hurt By Its Development Successes

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Construction costs have been increasing steadily over the last four years, up 8% from 2011 to 2013 and they are on track for, at least, another 4% this year. That is good news for labor, but it may not be so good for future development. Material costs are also climbing with structural steel and reinforcing bars up double digits over the last 12 months. There are substantial increases projected for other building materials like gypsum, cement and lumber.

The explosion of construction has left some developers finding it more difficult to even attract bids from some subcontractors. After being burnt in the last downturn, many subcontracting companies scaled back and have chosen not to take the risks of accelerated expansions of their companies.

With new developments projected to start this year and next, and additional large scale projects on the drawing boards or in permitting, the demand for labor and materials will only increase, pushing costs up even higher.

What many developers are nervous about down the road is the start of the mega projects. The convention center expansion and the Winn casino in Everett are sure to “suck the oxygen” out of the construction environment.

Unfortunately, at some point the construction costs are going to make a number of commercial and/or multi-family developments infeasible. In a free market, one would expect labor to move into the area when demand is strong and supply limited. Unfortunately, our high cost of living (especially housing) will severely limit that correction in the market. The last recession brought down construction costs. Let’s hope we can find a different solution this time around.

Developers take steps to reinvent suburban office parks

The following article was written by Jay Fitzgerald and appeared in the July 27, 2014 edition of The Boston Globe:

When the exodus to the suburbs got underway more than a half-century ago, employers followed, and the office park was born. But today, as younger workers return to the city, and employers again follow the labor, these isolated campuses of low-slung buildings, parking lots, and company cafeterias face challenges, from new competitors to aging facilities to high vacancy rates.

As a result, owners and developers across Eastern Massachusetts are seeking to reinvent the suburban office park, taking a page from urban revitalization that transformed old mill and factory buildings into mixed-use developments of housing, retail, and office spaces. In communities such as Burlington and Marlborough, developers are adding restaurants, hotels, and other amenities, as well as housing, to compete with the “live, work, play” attraction of the city.

In Marlborough, for example, Atlantic Management Inc. of Framingham purchased the former Hewlett-Packard campus three years ago to launch a more than $200 million rehab of the 110-acre site, which dates back to the 1960s. The project is well underway, with Atlantic refurbishing the two office buildings, while AvalonBay Communities of Virginia, which purchased 26 acres at the site, builds 350 luxury apartments.

Atlantic Management also plans to develop a 153-room hotel and 50,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space that may one day include a farmers market. Already, this redevelopment of the Marlborough Hills office park has attracted a major corporate tenant, Quest Diagnostics of New Jersey, which plans to locate more than 1,000 lab workers there later this year.w

“The number-one challenge for many companies is how to attract talent,” said Joseph Zink, chief executive of Atlantic Management.“Companies need to attract talent and this is one way to do it. I think we’re going to see more of this in Massachusetts.”

Suburban office parks across the nation are trying to respond to tenants insisting on more amenities, said David Begelfer, chief executive of NAIOP Massachusetts, a real estate trade group. In Massachusetts, there’s no precise figure on how many office parks are undertaking renovations large and small, Begelfer said, but “it’s dozens of them and they’re easily spending billions of dollars.”

“The market is demanding it,” he said.

Commercial real estate specialists say the trend in office park redevelopment is driven by two forces. First, property owners need to renovate aging, outdated buildings, some of which are a half-century old. Second, they must meet increasing competition from Boston, Cambridge, and other nearby urban communities.

Along Interstate 495, the vacancy rate for Class A offices is hovering at nearly 18 percent, compared with 11.5 percent in Boston and less than 6 percent in Cambridge. Commercial rents are depressed. Offices lease for only $20 per square foot in the region, less than half of what similar space fetches in Boston and Cambridge, according to Jones Lang LaSalle, a commercial real estate firm.

The site of the former headquarters of data storage giant EMC Corp. in Hopkinton is an extreme case of a struggling suburban property. The 160,000-square-foot building, just off I-495, has sat empty for 13 years, ever since EMC moved to newer offices elsewhere in town, said Steven Zieff, a partner with Hopkinton’s Crossroads Redevelopment LLC.

Crossroads has an option to buy the 38-acre property, which also includes four one-story buildings, and hopes to redevelop the site into a mixed-use complex of housing, retail stores, restaurants, and office space.

“People are looking for something different,” said Zieff. “It’s the entire ‘live, work, play’ environment that people want. They don’t want to go to just an office park with a cafeteria and parking lots.”

Along Route 128, the situation is not nearly as dire, with the office vacancy rate between Woburn and Needham running at 6.4 percent, below Boston’s. Rents near that stretch of the highway are rising as the economy continues to improve, averaging about $34 per square foot, about $20 less than office space in Boston and Cambridge.

But office park owners still feel pressure from intensifying competition with cities. In recent years, a number of suburban companies have moved to Boston or Cambridge, including ad firm Allen & Gerritsen, which moved to the Seaport District from Watertown. Biogen Idec soon will move from a Weston office campus to a new headquarters under construction in Kendall Square.

At the 13-building New England Executive Park in Burlington, the vacancy rate is 10 percent, with tenants that include tech firms BAE Systems, Charles River Systems, and Black Duck Software. Still, National Development, the park’s owner, is convinced it needs improvements to stay competitive.

Later this year the firm plans to start a major overhaul that includes demolishing an office building — all 13 buildings were built between 1969 and 1986 — and constructing 300,000 square feet of new development. The new additions will include a 170-room hotel, three full-service restaurants, and new retail and office space.

“We’re seeing this great rush to the city [by tenants],” said Ted Tye, managing partner at the Newton-based National Development. “What that’s doing is forcing suburban properties to stay on their toes. And we’re responding to that.”

National Development, however, won’t add housing to its New England Executive Park mix. Tye said he’s not convinced that housing within office parks is a smart idea. Some towns might end up getting financially hurt because commercial and industrial properties are usually taxed at higher levels than residential properties, he said.

He added that it’s also hard to duplicate urban settings within suburban parks if they’re not near public transit and don’t have easy pedestrian access to offices. “This is a source of some disagreement within the industry,” he said of housing’s role in office park redevelopment.

In contrast, Nordblom Co., owner of Northwest Park in Burlington, is a firm believer in “live, work, play.” Three years ago, it launched a massive $500 million project to redevelop about half the 285-acre office park to include 600,000 square feet of retail space, 300 new apartments, a 225-room hotel, and 3.5 million square feet of new or refurbished offices.

Todd Fremont-Smith, senior vice president of Nordblom, said the redevelopment, which could take another 10 years to complete, has already attracted new office tenants, a steakhouse restaurant called The Bancroft, and a new Wegman’s supermarket, which opens in October.

“By mixing the uses, you have a more dynamic environment — and it’s more rentable,” Fremont-Smith said. “People are seeking urban-like amenities where they work. I think we’re going to see more of this at both office and industrial parks. People want it.”

View the original article here.

Boston Still Riding the Wave for Growth

Although recent article in The Boston Globe, “Rents soaring in city’s Innovation District”, gives the impression that the Seaport is competing head-on with Back Bay, one needs to look closely at the two markets. The majority of the increases in rents from Class A, high-rise space are from existing properties in the Back Bay, while it is the newly constructed buildings in the Seaport that are contributing to its high rental rates.

Obviously, any tenant committing to newly built office space will be paying a premium to occupy the space, due to the high costs of land and construction.  More telling is the solid rental increases within the existing office building environment occurring in the Back Bay with renewals and new leases.

There is no question that the Innovation District is now on the map and is a credible locational choice for growing businesses.  However, the Back Bay is the established work/play/live neighborhood that will continue to be attractive to a full range of businesses. As time goes on, demand for space (and rents) will be more similar in those districts as well as in the “new” downtown market (formerly referred to as the Financial District).

The good news is that Boston is still riding a wave of growth and construction, setting it apart from most other CBD’s in the country.