Suburban office markets pose the greatest opportunity for commercial real estate occupiers and investors as the latest phase of the pandemic drags on, according to one major CRE firm executive.
“Pretty much anywhere where there’s a lesser commute or you’re in a suburban area or a less dense area—that’s from an office standpoint where folks are most likely to return,” Gil Borok, Colliers US CEO, told CNBC’s Squawk On The Street. “And in terms of opportunities, if you’re an investor, obviously those markets follow suit.”
CBDs “are not completely dead,” but Colliers is seeing more interest in suburban markets, according to Borok. Dense cities like Manhattan and San Francisco that require commuting bring a “heightened sense of concern” among a workforce heavily reliant on public transit.
Against that backdrop, however, Class A and trophy office properties in cities like New York City are retaining value—which Borok attributes to investors “looking beyond the pandemic” and the resilience of those assets.
“Perhaps that’s bold, because it’s really not a clear pathway at the moment,” he told CNBC. “ Every time it clears it seems to cloud—but I think investors are taking, just like in the stock market, a long term view. We will eventually beat this pandemic and once we do then those offices have value. They may be used a little differently than they were…but nevertheless they have value.”
It’s a sentiment that’s been echoed by researchers and CRE execs alike over the past six months: a recent Commercial Edge report noted that “high-quality and high-potential office assets have maintained investor appeal throughout the pandemic,” and Marcus & Millichap CEO Hessam Nadji told CNBC last fall that he expects $5 trillion in excess capital will eventually get released into the market.
“Even buyers of office space—they’re not out of the market,” Nadji said at the time. “They’re in the market, taking advantage of low interest rates way ahead of the recovery in every property type.”
The recent uptick in COVID cases nationally, driven by the Omicron variant, have resulted in a slew of big-name companies delaying their return to office start dates. That list includes CNN, Apple, Ford, Lyft, Google, Wells Fargo, Uber, Chevron, and Meta.
But Borok called the variant a “blip” in the return-to-office cycle, and said “once it passes…we should be back on track.”
“Assuming we go back to what was the atmosphere or environment prior to Omicron, I think we could start to see a lot of companies returning to the office late in the first quarter (or) early in the second,” he predicts.