Vancouver Commercial Real Estate Podcast

Providing real-time insight into today's commercial real estate industry.

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July 26, 2023
VCREP #105: Is the Office Market the Best Investment? With Meg Cooney

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This week, Cory and Melisa have back on the show past-guest fan-favourite, Meg Cooney, a seasoned Commercial Real Estate Broker at our William Wright Commercial Vancouver office.

We have the spotlight on commercial office space, and this week Meg is taking a deep delve into a transformational approach that draws people back to offices without enduring long commutes. This isn't just a discussion about office spaces—it's a blueprint for redefining the future of our communities.

If you're curious about the potential of commercial real estate, the reinvention of office spaces, and strategies for thriving in this dynamic market, this episode is a must-listen.

Is the Vancouver office market a good investment today? Commercial broker Meg Cooney sits down to tell us how the office market is doing, why suburban markets may lead the way, and how you can get a 6% cap rate on office real estate in Greater Vancouver!

How is the Greater Vancouver office market?

Back in Q4 of 2019, the office market in Greater Vancouver had a 3% vacancy rate with the downtown core being closer to 2%. We would consider that an unhealthy vacancy rate with the sublease and sub-sublease markets being very active. That sparked a surge of development to increase office supply.

Now in 2023 with the work from home movement, changes in the tech space and increased supply, the vacancy rate in the office market in Vancouver is around 12%. Even though that’s drastic for us in Vancouver, a healthy vacancy rate is 4-8%, so we’re not far off.

Compared to cities like Seattle, San Francisco and New York, where office vacancy rates are 20-32%, Vancouver is looking quite healthy.

Developers are looking at the current vacancy rate and switching gears. They see the amount of office supply, so now want to build something else. I think we’re heading into a market where the current office productwill be absorbed and we won’t see as much supply in the years to come.

How does population impact the office market?

The fact that we have such a nice blend of residential density coming in supports the office market and the retail market in Vancouver. The population supports the commercial market, which you don’t see as much in places like Seattle. There aren’t as many people living downtown to support those buildings.

How is office real estate in Vancouver’s suburban markets? 

Looking at the suburban markets, it’s not always tech groups going out there. In response to the work from home movement, we’re seeing more satellite offices closer to where people live. A lot of HQs in Vancouver are expanding into the Fraser Valley.

It’s challenging to bring people back to the workplace, especially in downtown Vancouver. People got used to not commuting. That’s why we’re seeing more strength in these suburban markets with satellite buildings. If people live in North Vancouver, they’re more likely to go into an office in North Vancouver.

We’re also seeing new players in the suburban office market, like the medical sector, which has been quite recession proof. They need new space in communities with growing populations. So it’s not just the tech boom or bust that’s driving the office market in Vancouver.

How does the cost of construction impact the office market?

Construction costs have been a concern since the beginning of covid and they’re only continuing to rise. Add to that the interest rate increases and it’s hard for projects to pencil out. All of that impacts the land market and whether or not it makes sense for developers to replace and rebuild. Those added costs are creating a pause on new office product.

Is now a good time to invest in the Vancouver office market?

Great question! When looking at investments for clients, we like to strike in sectors that aren’t operating at their full potential and at a price that provides room for upside. I know the lending environment is a major concern right now. But if you have capital to deploy, is it better to pause or is now the time to be bullish?

I believe now is a great time to take advantage of attractive pricing and high cap rates in the Vancouver office market.

As increase rates start to fall, we’ll see cap rate compression. We’ve seen 2-3% vacancy rates when interest rates were low. But there’s more room to play when you’re at a higher cap rate, like we are right now.

If you’re well capitalized then you may have to put a higher percentage down to secure financing but as interest rates come down, you have the option to refinance and take that capital out.

A lot of groups were very bullish when interest rates were low for obvious reasons. But when we’re in multiple offers, you may miss out on those properties. Once interest rates start to decrease, all of those same players – plus new ones – will enter the market and drive prices up again. So now is definitely the time to take a risk, structure your financing so you can change gears, and secure the property you want at a low price.

What cap rate can you get for office real estate in Vancouver?

Pre-covid, depending on the asset, you’re looking at a 3-4% cap rate on office real estate in Vancouver. Today that same property would be at a 4-5% cap rate.

What does the Vancouver office market look like in the future?

The work from home movement is starting to recover. The big boom of supply that entered the office market is starting to be absorbed, which will decrease the vacancy rate. When tenants have less choice, there’s more urgency. That moves the market a lot quicker.

There is definitely an opportunity in the office market because it is at a low right now. Prior to covid, it was very strong and there’s hope that it will return to those levels again.

Tell us about your new office listing in North Vancouver.

Our team just listed a 26,000 square foot, four-storey office building in North Vancouver that was renovated in 2019. It’s sitting at 95% occupancy and the owners have put in a lot of work. The building generates over $1 million in gross revenue. I think it’s safe to assume a 3.75-4% cap rate in 2021.

We are marketing this property today for $14 million, which is a 6% cap rate. It’s a turnkey property with 95% occupancy and a waitlist for certain units. This proves that there is still demand for office space in suburban markets. You would not have seen an opportunity like this even 1-2 years ago.

This building is stratified. There’s a single owner but there are 16 separate strata lots. That opens up a lot of opportunities for investors. You could purchase the building and sell strata lots individually. The building is priced at $5.50/square foot but the average in North Van is $9.15/square foot. So even if you’re not interested in this as a long term investment, there’s an exit strategy for you to sell the units at a premium.

It’s an exciting time to be in this industry. Over the past couple of years, opportunities were limited and 10 other groups were looking at the same place you were. But now there’s less competition and buyers have more power. You can take advantage of cap compression or repositioning plays in the office market.

The 6 Pack: Getting to Know Commercial Real Estate Broker Meg Cooney

Favourite bar or restaurant?

Probably L’Abattoir in Gastown. It’s kinda moody. I had a really good steak there a couple of months ago and I can’t stop thinking about it.

What would your last meal be on death row? 

I won’t say steak because that’s too obvious. Maybe some lobster or crab with lots of butter!

Favourite band or musician?

I’m on the Fleetwood Mac train again. There’s something about Stevie Nicks in the summer!

What is one book you can recommend to our listeners?

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. I’ve owned it for a while but Cory encouraged me to finally give it a read.

What is your go-to karaoke song?

Probably Lean on Me. It’s a crowd favourite. But I take requests, so whatever you want!

What is something you’ve purchased recently for $1500 or less that has had a positive impact on your life?

My paddleboard! I live in Port Moody by Rocky Point so I got this inflatable paddleboard. It’s so nice paddling in the inlet where it’s calm with a beer or two.

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Vancouver Commercial Real Estate Podcast

For all the curious minds interested in commercial real estate investing, grab a coffee and pull up a chair because we have exclusive stories and tips from commercial real estate brokers, investors, developers, economists, urban planners, and everyone in-between. From the successes and failures to the motivations and lessons learned, the Vancouver Commercial Real Estate Podcast is your insight into commercial real estate in Vancouver, Victoria, Kelowna, and beyond.

What's the best real estate market to invest in? What are the commercial real estate asset classes and property types? Hosted by Cory Wright, founder of William Wright Commercial, and co-hosts Adam and Matt Scalena of the Vancouver Real Estate Podcast, our podcast opens the door to real estate investing for everyone from beginner investors to experienced real estate professionals. New episodes are released every Tuesday. Follow the Vancouver Commercial Real Estate Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or your favourite streaming platforms.

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This communication is not intended to cause or induce breach of an existing agency agreement. E&OE: All information contained herein is from sources deemed reliable, and have no reason to doubt its accuracy; however, no guarantee or responsibility is assumed thereof, and it shall not form any part of future contracts. Properties are submitted subject to errors and omissions and all information should be carefully verified. All measurements quoted herein are approximate.