U.S. office construction is approaching historic levels again

An estimated 108 million sf of office space were under construction in the U.S. at the end of the first quarter, a 17% gain over the same period a year ago, according to CoStar.

April 30, 2015 |
U.S. office construction is approaching historic levels again

CoStar finds building in one-third of the nation’s bigger markets exceeded their averages in the first quarter. Image: Pixabay

Last year, construction spending in New York City was up 26%, to $36 billion. And construction employment in the Big Apple, at 122,975, was the highest it’s been since 2008, according to the New York Building Congress. Of that dollar total, spending on nonresidential construction increased by 20% to $9.8 billion, the first time since 2010 that nonresidential spending grew year-to-year.

Those heady numbers, though, are no guarantees of future spending. In fact, New York is among the major metros—including Washington D.C., Phoenix, and San Diego—where office building development and construction are tailing off from historic levels or cooling down, according to CoStar, the real estate market research firm, in its report on the national office market trends for the first quarter of 2015.

The good news is that an estimated 108 million sf of office space were under construction in the U.S. at the end of the first quarter, a 17% gain over the same period a year ago. That construction level approached the historical average of 122 million sf, which the country last achieved in late 2008.

The cautionary news is that 15 million sf of office space were delivered in the first quarter of 2015, the first time in the latest economic cycle that deliveries exceeded net absorptions, which during that quarter were 12 million sf.

CoStar estimates that construction levels are above historic norms in about one-third of the largest U.S. metros. It singles out Silicon Valley in Northern California, which is seeing a rash of corporate campuses springing up. Other above-average office construction markets include Dallas-Fort Worth, Raleigh, Boston, and Chicago.

The researcher cites a shift in strategy among office building developers such as Boston Properties, which is using capital from the sale of older for new developments with potentially higher yields. Boston Properties has 11 office projects totaling 3.3 million sf in its current development pipeline.

CoStar notes that while rising rents are driving the office construction booms in certain markets like San Francisco, two thirds of the country’s metros are still not seeing the kind of rent appreciation that would justify large-scale new office construction.

That being said, among the notable deliveries in the first quarter was the 1.5-million-sf second phase of ExxonMobil’s corporate campus in Houston, which is also where a 1.7-million-sf campus that is fully leased to FMC Technologies got started during the quarter.

Lincoln Property started the first new office building in San Francisco’s Financial District in a decade, a 433,000-sf project that, despite being built on spec, shouldn’t have too much trouble finding tenants in a market whose office vacancy rate for four- and five-star buildings is 7.8%.

Overlay Init