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SEATTLE, WA-According to third-quarter compilations from the Seattle office of Colliers International, downtown Seattle’s 32.74-million sf office market is struggling with an 11.15% vacancy rate. Landlords in the central business district alone are looking to fill 1.05 million sf of direct-lease holes in their buildings—in competition with 670,000 of sub-lease space seeking new tenants as well.

But, direct or sub-lease, tenants aren’t signing. Rob Aigner, executive managing director of Seattle’s Colliers, says there is a complete lack of what he calls “velocity “or “deal flow.” “There are no transactions happening. It’s a complete role reversal from 18 months ago,” Aigner tells GlobeSt.

He says landlords are doing everything in their power to generate transactions and induce companies to move, including some free rents. Aigner says rental rates here on Class A downtown space is off 15%. “It’s a market reflection of landlords dropping rents to induce moves,” he explains “But, you can’t do enough to make moving financially feasible,” says Aigner, adding, “A savings of $2 a square foot just isn’t enough. Moving is an expensive proposition. You upset your company for a while. There are lead times, new furniture–lots of costs.”

For those trying to make a living brokering leases, Aigner says, “Brokers are digging under rocks trying to find any kind of breathing tenant that might have an interest in moving.” But, even if they find one, he says it’s more likely that they will end up renewing where they are. “Companies are not looking to move or expand right now. They’re being cautious, standing on the sidelines and taking a wait-and-see attitude,” he says.

“The most important tenant in the market for any landlord,” says Aigner, “is the existing tenant. People are always chasing the new tenant, but it’s the one you have the existing relationship with now that is the most important—especially now.”

“I’ve heard it (the current market) made analogous to the early 80′s,” says the Colliers’ man, “but I don’t see that. Interest rates now are low. People are looking to refinance–recapitalizing their assets rather than selling them. I don’t see properties going back to the lenders like they were in the 80s.”

Aigner says many of Seattle’s landlords have properties with rent rates that rose in the late 1990′s through the first half of last year. “If they bought three or four years ago, even with the drop in rental rates, properties are still cash flowing. But, still, look at any downtown office building with a 20,000-sf vacancy and they’re hurting.” At $24/sf per year net rent, Aigner says that calculates to a negative $40,000 negative monthly cash flow. “When faced with that every single month as owner or property manager, that’s a big hole. So you do what you can to stop the bleeding.”

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