Thursday, March 28, 2024

Philadelphia’s Suburban Office Struggles Pre-Date the Pandemic

By Brenda Nguyen Costar Research
Philadelphia's office market has in some ways become a tale of two cities, highlighting challenges that preceded the pandemic and those that followed.

The Philadelphia suburbs have grappled with high office availability rates for over a decade, well above the historical regional average. For them, a large amount of available office space is standard operating procedure.

However, the large amount of available office space comes as a shock to Philadelphia’s central business district. Center City, which had previously maintained the region's lowest availability rate, now leads the Philadelphia region in office availability with an 18.1% availability rate, translating to 12.1 million square feet of office space for lease. Meanwhile, the suburbs, which encompass a significantly larger geography—recorded a 16.6% availability rate, which translates to 23.2 million square feet on the market.

Signs of softening demand in the office market first surfaced over a decade ago. Philadelphia’s lowest recorded availability rate of 10.8% occurred in 2007, the year before the Great Financial Crisis. Since then, Philadelphia’s office availability has never dropped below that marker.

The office surplus has been evident in Philadelphia's historically high office availability rates. Over the past two decades, the availability rate for office space has consistently exceeded those of multifamily, industrial, and even retail properties.

Philadelphia’s structural office issue is rooted in the 1980s, a record year of office development locally and nationally. As of 2024, 1980s buildings comprise 22% of existing office space, while offices built between 1960 and 2009 comprise 65%.

The area's aging office inventory presents a challenge. Without modernization efforts, a growing number of buildings risk obsolescence. Furthermore, financing hurdles, structural limitations, and investor risk aversion hinder large-scale renovations or repurposing efforts in 2024, leaving the office market in flux.

Looking ahead, both Center City and the suburbs face a wave of expiring office leases. Over 2.3 million square feet in Center City and 5.3 million square feet in the Pennsylvania suburbs are slated to expire over the next two years. With office tenants downsizing by an average of between 20% and 35%, the Philadelphia region’s office availability is projected to continue to climb, adding to mounting pressures on the office sector.

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Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Lease by JAS Worldwide Solidifies Central Pennsylvania as a Growing Hub for Logistics and Distribution

By Linda Moss CoStar News

Atlanta-based JAS Worldwide last year signed a big industrial lease in the central Pennsylvania region, helping to solidify the area's position as a growing hub for logistics facilities and distribution centers.

JAS, a global freight and logistics service provider, occupies 349,242 square feet at the First Logistics Center @ 283 at 2701 Market St., a nearly 700,000-square-foot facility owned by Chicago-based First Industrial Realty Trust in Elizabethtown. Because the large lease demonstrates JAS's substantial commitment to the region, a panel of local industry professionals selected the transaction as the winner of the 2024 CoStar Impact Award for lease of the year for Philadelphia.

As a leading global freight and logistics company, JAS is expected to create many job opportunities for Elizabethtown and the surrounding area, since it requires a substantial workforce for its operations. And the addition of a company like JAS is expected to attract other businesses and investors to the region, driving economic growth and diversifying employment opportunities. There is also expected to be a halo effect from JAS's presence, which is anticipated to spur the creation of small businesses in logistics and supply-chain operations, as well as complementary retail and services to support the larger workforce.

About the Project: First Logistics Center @ 283 was developed and is owned by First Industrial Realty Trust. JAS, due to its dedication to reducing greenhouse emissions and promoting green initiatives, was drawn to the new property as it aligned with its corporate goals and those of its clients. The tenant broker, Landmark Commercial Realty, in a press release valued the lease at $40 million over its 10-year term.

The JAS lease affirms central Pennsylvania's position as a growing market for relocation and development. The company's new location is seven miles from Harrisburg International Airport and just east of the Susquehanna River, in close proximity to Interstates 76, 83 and 81, along with airfreight capabilities. Harrisburg has received national attention for making the "Best Place to Live" list in U.S. News & World Report.

What the Judges Said: "This industrial warehouse is impactful in the immediate community of Elizabethtown, creating employment as well as providing other economic opportunities and traffic for other businesses," said Kenneth Penn, president of Benchmark Construction Group. "A natural growth in this community as a result of this industrial space will eventually support housing and rental units. This will contribute to this town and this region in their long term sustainability."

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Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Law firm office-leasing activity hit a milestone in 2023. It could fuel a domino effect.

 By Ashley Fahey – Editor, The National Observer: Real Estate Edition, The Business Journals

The legal industry leased more office space last year than it has since the Covid-19 pandemic.

In 2023, U.S. law firms leased a collective 16.9 million square feet. That's not only more office space leased by the sector since the Covid-19 pandemic, but exceeds the amount leased nationally by law firms in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

The legal industry has bucked the broader trend of office-market leasing since the pandemic upended norms around office-space usage. While law firms, like other industries, have taken a hard look at their office real estate, they on the whole are using the office more regularly than other industries. Therefore, they've occupied a more robust segment of the leasing market while other industries have slowed their deal activity, put spaces on the sublease market or exited big chunks of space.

For those in commercial real estate who work with law firms on their office-space needs or otherwise track the industry, the legal sector's recent leasing activity is indicative of its new normal.

Many law firms that saw their leases expire in 2020 or 2021 inked a short-term extension because of the uncertainty during the height of the pandemic. But in the past two years, law firms have gone back to the office more frequently and overall feel more confident making longer-term decisions about their space.

The biggest relocation signed by a law firm since the pandemic, according to Savills plc, was Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP's deal inked late last year. The international law firm agreed to take 765,931 square feet at 1345 Avenue of the Americas in Manhattan. Not only was it the largest law office relocation since the pandemic, it was also the largest office lease signed across all industries and the U.S. last year.

What law firm leasing activity says about U.S. office market

Although it's only one sector — and legal tenants only made up 8.8% of the national leasing market in 2023, according to Savills — how this industry is making office-space decisions is somewhat indicative of broader trends affecting the U.S. office market.

For example, like many professional-services tenants, law firms are largely seeking to be in the top 10% of office buildings in the markets they're in. Many law firms that have made leasing decisions in the past couple of years have departed office buildings that, while not necessarily Class B or C space, are no longer considered the top-tier towers in town.

"It's almost an office market within an office market. You’ve got this really premium level of office buildings that tenants are competing (for) ... (There's) a lot more tightness and competition for space in those premium assets that you might not necessarily see in a dated Class A building, and definitely not a Class B or C building."

Notably, a growing share of legal-industry tenants have decided to renew their leases in their current buildings rather than relocate, which may be indicative of the shrinking amount of top-tier office space available in a given market. That's especially true of office tenants that require 100,000 square feet or more.

Data found, in 2023, 56% of leases signed within the legal sector were stay in place, compared to 33.9% in 2022.

But when a law firm departs a somewhat dated Class A building for a brand-new office tower, they leave behind what's generally considered an attractive office option for other companies, law firms included, to backfill, McWilliams said.

"It creates a domino effect in backfilling office space into the nicer buildings," he said, adding lesser desirable space subsequently ends up becoming unoccupied.

Tom Fulcher, chair of the legal practice group at Savills, echoed that sentiment, saying moves by the legal industry tend to benefit the upper echelon of office space in a given market, ripple effects that ultimately create more vacancy in Class B and C buildings.

And as office space at the high end of the office market is leased, and buildout construction costs are growing, a greater number of legal tenants are considering higher-quality sublease space on the market, experts say.

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Apartment Rent Growth in Pennsylvania Exceeds National Average

By Brenda Nguyen and Veronica Miniello

Pennsylvania's largest apartment markets have demonstrated resilience, surpassing both national and statewide rent growth trends in the first quarter of 2024, except for Pittsburgh.

Lancaster, Scranton and York posted impressive annual rent increases exceeding an average of 3%, making them the top performers in the state. These tertiary apartment markets, along with the state capital Harrisburg and Reading, have benefitted by not seeing the same level of new apartment construction as larger cities such as Philadelphia. Limited supply, alongside a modestly growing population and an influx of residents from costlier areas like New Jersey and New York, has contributed to stable rent growth.

What's more, Harrisburg, Reading, Lancaster, Scranton and Allentown were recently recognized as the nation’s top places to retire in 2024 by U.S. News. This publicity, combined with the region’s existing affordability, has attracted renters seeking a slower-paced lifestyle near amenities like healthcare, local shops, restaurants and community events. The appeal of smaller towns with limited development has created an increasingly competitive apartment market for renters seeking alternatives to costlier cities.

Philadelphia presents a contrasting picture. Rent growth has softened more significantly, dropping from an average of 3.4% in the first quarter of 2023 to 1.5% in the first quarter of 2024. Despite experiencing the highest level of development since the 1970s, Philadelphia's annual rent growth has outperformed national and state averages, although marginally.

This performance can be attributed to robust rent growth in Philadelphia's suburbs, where construction has been limited. Meanwhile, the city has seen stagnant rent growth in some neighborhoods due to a high concentration of new development. However, Greater Center City's residential population has grown by 3% in the last four years, helping buoy rent growth in the city’s downtown neighborhoods amid a surge of apartment completions.

On the western side of Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh posted positive annual rent growth of 1%, outperforming the national average but falling slightly below the statewide average of 1.3%. Pittsburgh is the only metropolitan area in Pennsylvania that has consistently lost residents since 2020. Similar to Philadelphia, an influx of new units in downtown Pittsburgh has weighed on rent growth, which has been negative in the downtown area over the past six months.

Overall, Pennsylvania's apartment market offers a mix of opportunities for renters and investors alike, with Central Pennsylvania emerging as a region to watch for continued rent growth and stability.

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Thursday, March 14, 2024

Netflix plans two-story Netflix House at King of Prussia Mall with themed experiences and dining

By Emma Dooling – Reporter, Philadelphia Business Journal

Netflix is targeting Philadelphia for one of the first locations of its new retail, dining and live entertainment experience.

The streaming giant plans to open a Netflix House in the former Lord & Taylor space at the King of Prussia Mall. The brick-and-mortar concept aims to immerse customers in their favorite Netflix shows and movies through themed merchandise, food and activities.

Netflix has previously created several temporary activations around the world based on its content, including the "Stranger Things Experience" and "The Queen's Ball: A Bridgerton Experience," as well as a pop-up restaurant called Netflix Bites. Netflix House gives the streaming service a permanent venue to host its themed experiences.

"This isn't a place that folks are going to travel to once a year," Brent Nikolin, senior program manager for Netflix's live experience team, told members of the Upper Merion Township Planning Commission during a presentation Wednesday night. "We want to be in the communities. We want to be in city centers. We want to be in great malls like King of Prussia where people come over and over again."

Nikolin said Netflix expects to open the venue in late 2025. Bloomberg reported in October that Netflix plans to open its first two Netflix House locations that year.

Netflix is seeking approval from the Upper Merion Township Board of Supervisors for conditional use of the former department store as a performing arts facility and movie theater to host the proposed activations within Netflix House. The Planning Commission unanimously recommended the application for approval during the Wednesday meeting. The entertainment company will go before the Board of Supervisors for final approval on April 11.

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Assessed value of Philadelphia office buildings to plummet by $1 billion, city officials project

 By Paul Schwedelson – Reporter, Philadelphia Business Journal

Philadelphia officials expect the total assessed value of office buildings across the city to drop by an estimated $1 billion as property owners battle financial woes and vacancy rates continue to rise.

Finance Director Rob Dubow said the sinking valuations had to be factored into Mayor Cherelle Parker's $6.29 billion proposed budget for fiscal year 2025, released Thursday, and the city’s five-year plan, as the plummeting value of office buildings means fewer property tax dollars flowing into city coffers.

While Philadelphia does not lean on property tax revenue as heavily as some other big cities across the country, Dubow admitted the significant reduction of assessed values across the office market is "a big concern."

“We are different from a lot of governments in that we’re really dependent on wage tax rather than property tax,” he said. “The office sector is a small percentage of our property tax. So it’s a concern, it’s something that we’re building into our plan. It will be a hit to revenue.”

Dubow attributed the projected $1 billion decline to a flurry of assessment appeals. As office property owners witness the sinking value of their buildings, they’re petitioning the city to adjust their assessments accordingly. The vacancy rate for Philadelphia office buildings is creeping toward 25%, and reduced leasing revenue and rising interest rates over the past two years have squeezed property owners with floating-rate loans.

In January, Centre Square owners Nightingale Properties and Wafra Capital Partners negotiated a decrease in the assessment of the two-building office complex for both the 2023 and 2024 tax years. The 1500 Market St. property has been in receivership for almost a year after its owners failed to pay off a $368 million commercial mortgage-backed security (CMBS) loan on the property before its maturity date, according to CMBS reports.

he city's Board of Revision of Taxes approved a 31% reduction in Centre Square's property tax assessment, previously set at $362.6 million, to $250 million for 2024 and dropped the 2023 assessment 24% to $275 million.

Based on Philadelphia’s property tax rate, Centre Square's owners are now responsible for paying about $3.85 million in property taxes for 2023 and $3.5 million for 2024. That’s a reduction from $5.1 million in taxes that would have been owed in each of the two years had the assessment remained the same, giving Nightingale and Wafra a combined savings of more than $2.8 million.

The uncertainty surrounding the future of office space has led to a lack of office building sales in the last few years. In turn, accurate assessments have become more difficult to achieve, industry experts say, because there’s little sales data to set current market prices.

A few recent and potential sales could soon provide some clarity.

A four-building Old City office portfolio was recently handed over to a lender, which is now in talks to sell at least two of the buildings. On the other side of City Hall, a 15-story office building at 1760 Market St. was recently listed for sale and positioned as a potential conversion to residential.

Last fall, Alterra Property Group bought a nearby 18-story office building at 1701 Market St. for $26.25 million and is now converting it into 299 apartments. Less than a year prior to the sale, the building was under contract to sell for nearly double that price.

In recent weeks, Parker has made a public push to encourage businesses to bring workers back to offices. While the long-term effects are still playing out, increasing the occupancy of office buildings would help both property owners and the city.

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Monday, March 11, 2024

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Amazon Pays $650 Million for Nuclear-Powered Data Center in Pennsylvania

 By Mark Heschmeyer CoStar News

Amazon Web Services bought a northeast Pennsylvania data center site in the shadow of a nuclear power plant, a source of carbon-free energy for the digital hub to help the tech giant meet its emission goals.

The deal comes as data center demand surges, driven by the rapid growth of artificial intelligence, and pushes developers into new markets.

AWS paid $650 million for the 1,200-acre property, making it the largest individual U.S. commercial sale of the year. The cloud computing business of Seattle-based e-commerce giant Amazon is one of the world's largest providers of those services with more than 100 data centers in over 20 countries.

Houston-based Talen Energy sold the site as-is with one data center on the property. AWS expects to expand the campus to up to 960 megawatts of data center capacity, or the equivalent of the energy consumption of nearly 900,000 houses. Data centers are measured in their power-handling ability as opposed to square footage.

Amazon has set a goal to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2040 — 10 years ahead of the Paris Agreement deadline, a legally binding international accord on climate change.

“We’re on a path to power our operations with 100% renewable energy by 2025 — five years ahead of our original 2030 target,” Erika Reynoso, an Amazon spokesperson, said in an email to CoStar News. “To supplement our wind and solar energy projects, which depend on weather conditions to generate energy, we’re also exploring new innovations and technologies, and investing in other sources of clean, carbon-free energy. This agreement with Talen Energy for carbon-free energy is one project in that effort.”

Data centers are attracting a broad swath of investors across the globe. Blackstone acquired data center developer and owner QTS Data Centers in 2021 for $10 billion and, just last year, QTS signed at least $8.5 billion of development deals preleased to major technology companies that need more AI capabilities.

The sites generate significant heat and humidity that must be mitigated to keep equipment functioning and prevent fire hazards and other safety issues. While cost-effective, cooling data centers takes a significant amount of water. The average data center uses 1 million to 5 million gallons of water per day, equivalent to the daily water use of a town with a population of 10,000 to 50,000 residents, according to a study this month by Frederick County, Maryland.

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National Office Attendance Rises With Slow but Steady Gains

More In-Person Mandates Help Boost Daily Foot Traffic, but Numbers Still Short of Pre-Pandemic Days

By Katie Burke and Nicole Shih CoStar News

It hasn't been quick or easy to get office attendance rates closer to what they were prior to the pandemic, but workplace foot traffic is on a slow but steady climb.

As more companies add stricter in-person mandates and adjust to longer-term flexible work policies, attendance rates for days in the middle of the week have jumped 27% from 2022, data firm's National Office Index shows. The data analyzed foot traffic among roughly 1,000 commercial office buildings in the United States, excluding buildings that are both residential and commercial.

While foot traffic on Mondays and Fridays — popular work-from-home days — is down as much as 49% from the years leading up to the pandemic, several elements in the return-to-office shift are proving to be a benefit for a property type struggling with record-high vacancy rates.

For starters, companies in industries including finance, insurance and real estate are propelling attendance rates in cities with larger shares of those types of employers because they tend to require more in-person workdays. New York, Dallas and Miami, cities with a high concentration of workers in those fields, have led the national office recovery push as attendance rates have come close to nearly 80% of their pre-pandemic levels, according to the data.

What's more, young professionals — especially affluent, educated ones — prefer to commute to an office more regularly to avoid missing out on mentoring, professional development and other social opportunities. Attendance rates for that demographic have exceeded those reported before the pandemic, according to, with cities such as San Francisco posting the largest jump in its share of "educated urbanites."

To be clear, the office market still has a long way to go before it regains its balance. The national vacancy rate has climbed to a record high of nearly 14%, according to CoStar data, a figure propelled by a greater portion of tenants looking to offload space rather than take it on.

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Majority of Industrial Space Under Construction in New Jersey Is Not Pre-Leased

By Mateusz Wnek CoStar Analytics

Industrial developers and property owners are bracing for a challenging leasing environment later this year and into 2025 owing to the amount of new industrial space set to be completed this year and what appears to be a shift in tenant preferences since many of the largest projects first broke ground.

Currently, there are 18.2 million square feet of industrial space under construction in New Jersey, with 90% still available for lease. This year's influx of new supply is widely expected to weigh on the Garden State’s fundamentals, particularly in Northern New Jersey.

The metropolitan area is already reeling from an abnormally weak year for industrial space demand. Last year, net absorption, or the change in occupied space, posted the first annual negative reading since 2012. CoStar expects a second consecutive negative print in 2024, pushing the average industrial vacancy rate for the region roughly 100 basis points higher to 5.1%.

Middlesex County has the most new industrial space underway in the state, with 4.7 million square feet in the pipeline and 4.3 million square feet of that being marketed as available. Perth Amboy is the epicenter of development activity here, with over 1 million square feet being developed in a pair of Bridge Point Perth Amboy buildings. Both distribution centers are expected to be move-in ready on April 1.

Like these two facilities, New Jersey's industrial construction pipeline is littered with mega-sized properties still looking for tenants. According to CoStar’s construction data, the average property being built is 172,000 square feet. Additionally, 32 logistics assets currently under construction are larger than 200,000 square feet, accounting for 67% of all space underway. Meanwhile, just 8% of space at the largest properties is pre-leased, setting the stage for a fierce concession environment early in 2025.

Against this backdrop, industrial operators have noted that over the past 12 to 18 months, industrial tenants have largely ceased committing to new space before touring the completed property. Few expect pre-leasing volumes to return to pandemic-era highs.

Additionally, CoStar data, backed up by broker sentiment, has shown that industrial tenants in the market today increasingly prefer buildings sized between 50,000 square feet and 150,000 square feet. That could work against new properties measuring over 250,000 square feet that are nearing the finish line but designed for single-tenant use.

With landlords facing the choice of holding out for a big-box tenant or opting to subdivide their new buildings, it’s conceivable that full occupancy for many of these large properties may be a long way off. As a last resort, property owners might eventually contemplate repositioning some assets into alternate uses, such as cold storage facilities, data centers or film studios.

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Monday, March 4, 2024

Retail Is Only Property Type in Philadelphia To See Vacancy Shrink

By Brenda Nguyen Costar

The Philadelphia commercial real estate market has undergone divergent trends across its major property sectors—retail, industrial, multifamily and office—between the first quarters of 2020 and 2024. While retail defied expectations and experienced steady demand and declining vacancy, the industrial and multifamily property sectors faced interim supply challenges due to the recent development boom.

The retail property sector surprised many by showing resilience amid the pandemic, witnessing a decline in vacancy rate since early 2020. Robust consumer spending fueled by stimulus checks and growing wages, alongside limited new retail construction, had driven strong demand for store space among retailers. Low-interest rates and easy access to capital further facilitated retail business expansions, bolstering absorption performance across the Philadelphia region.

As a result, Philadelphia’s retail vacancy has declined by 0.4% to 4.2% in the first quarter of 2024, the lowest level since CoStar began tracking data in 2006.

The industrial sector also experienced substantial demand but has encountered a distinct short-term challenge. Developers swarmed into the sector, building more than 46 million square feet of new inventory in just four years, an unprecedented pace. The recent construction boom surpassed even healthy demand, which totaled over 36 million square feet during the same period. Consequently, Philadelphia's industrial vacancy rate increased by 1.4% to 6.9% in the first quarter of 2024 as new supply flooded the market.

Similar supply trends played out in the multifamily sector. While developers produced over 35,600 new apartments in the past four years, the absorption, or net change in occupied units, of 29,000 units could only partially keep up, resulting in a 1.2% vacancy increase from the first quarter of 2020 to 7% in 2024.

Meanwhile, the office sector experienced the most significant vacancy run-up during this period largely the result of deteriorating demand rather than new construction. While nearly 1.8 million square feet of new office space was still built over the past four years, over 8.7 million square feet of existing office space was returned to the market, leading Philadelphia's office vacancy rate to climb by 3.2%—the highest among all the property types in the region.

Unlike the short-term, supply-driven challenges of industrial and multifamily in early 2024, the office sector's challenges are longer-term and demand-driven.

These divergent performances across the Philadelphia commercial market suggest that each sector is navigating its own unique set of opportunities and challenges in the post-pandemic era.

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Here's where office space inventory is actually shrinking — and what's driving the trend

 By Ashley Fahey – Editor, The National Observer: Real Estate Edition, The Business Journals

Office inventory is holding steady or shrinking in select cities across the country, due in part to an increase in conversion projects and a slowdown in new construction.

That's according to a recent analysis found office inventory shrank in seven metro areas tracked by the commercial real estate firm. Those markets are Washington, D.C., as well as the adjacent northern Virginia and suburban Maryland markets; New York; Phoenix; Orange County, California; and Baltimore, which saw its inventory shrink the most, by 3.2%.

The analysis examined office inventory between the fourth quarter of 2022 and the final three-month period of 2023.

Notably, though, more metro areas examined by Savills posted gains in office inventory, led by Salt Lake City and Austin, Texas, which posted 4% and 3.7% gains in office space, respectively, on a yearly basis. The Dallas-Fort Worth metro area and Seattle-Puget Sound followed, at 3.6% and 2.8%, respectively.

San Diego and Philadelphia saw their inventory remain unchanged year over year.

United States has been oversupplied on office space since even before the Covid-19 pandemic. Most markets seeing their inventory grow have projects that broke ground two or three years ago that delivered in 2023.

"Now there are redevelopment pressures in these markets to finally deal with some of the office stock that has long-term office vacancy."

The conversion of office space into a new uses — primarily residential — has become a hot topic of discussion as reduced office-use patterns become permanent, office buildings with high vacancy see their values decline, and massive loans those properties back reach maturity. Developers in some metro areas, including D.C., have completed conversions successfully for a long time and also have an abundant supply of buildings considered ideal for such conversions. Other cities that have seen little to no conversions historically are starting to develop policies and incentives around conversions.

Despite that uptick in conversion activity shrinking office inventory in a few places, most of the office markets analyzed by Savills are still considered oversupplied. The firm examined average square feet per office-using worker and average utilization levels nationally, determining 151 square feet per employee to be a national baseline.

Based on that, only three markets — Nashville, Tennessee; south Florida and Tampa-St. Petersburg, Florida — were considered undersupplied at the end of 2023. Boston, New York, and Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, ranked as the most oversupplied.

Sublease space dips for first time in two years

For the first time since the fourth quarter of 2021, sublease inventory shrank nationally at the end of 2023.

It went from 176.4 million square feet in Q3 2023 among markets tracked by the firm to 173.7 million square feet in Q4. Still, compared to 127.5 million square feet of sublease space on the market in Q4 2020, that market overall has continued to grow since the pandemic.

It was surprising to see sublease space decrease nationally at the end of 2023 but, he added, there were some high-profile subleases around the country in which the lease term expired, which meant that space turned into direct vacancy.

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