Suburban office property is finally experiencing increased investor interest. Suburban office vacancy rates were seen as high as 50% in some markets as a result of corporate downsizing both during and after the recession. Some analysts even gave up on suburban office properties altogether. Suburban office parks and shopping centers were seen as places where no one among the coming wave of millennials would want to work, shop or live. Recent changes however have Suburban office properties at the center of the action.
Yield-starved real estate investors priced out of expensive CBD assets and continued job growth is changing the game for suburban office property. In recent quarters, opportunistic and value-add plays have appealed to investors. Many of which involve vacancy risk that cohere with suburban office investments. Buyers have been enticed by the pricing spreads between well-leased properties north of 90% occupancy and challenged buildings between 50% and 75% occupancy, according to CoStar Portfolio Strategy. Although the spread has heavily declined from 144% in 2011 to only 97% in 2014, it is still double the 2006 level of 48%.
According to real estate economist Sam Tenenbaumin, investors are still able to achieve value-add boosted returns by leasing up a property. The best part for value-add investors is that 75% of metros will likely achieve occupancy gains over the next three years, making it easier to lease up vacant space.
Overseas investors are also aiding in the return of suburban office property. An increasing number of overseas investors whom usually focus on the safest core properties have been bidding on suburban office properties.
So what has made so many investors recently interested in suburban office properties? The success of this sector may be attributed to what the Wall Street Journal called “a casebook study of how to make money on suburban office property.” Rubenstein Partners and Grubb Properties paid $26 million for a vacant 67-acre office park in North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park and were able to sell it just 15 months later for $127 million. The pair of investors planned to upgrade the vacant office buildings and put the space up for lease. They were able to lease out the entire campus to Lenovo Group Ltd.
Success stories like that tend to attract a lot of interest from investors looking to test the market. Many property owners who were able to hold onto their suburban office assets through the recession are eager to lease their vacant spaces in hopes of high returns.
Meanwhile, other investors are moving in to take advantage of the improving prospects for the suburban office market. These investors are attracted by declining vacancy rates amid stepped up leasing volume and historically low levels of new construction.
With the rise of suburban office property, investors are beginning to view half-leased properties as half full rather than half empty and are taking advantage of these opportunities.