Insights from Colliers’ 40th Annual Trends In the Real Estate Market Seminar: Coworking

Author: Aaron Jodka

By Aaron Jodka | JANUARY 2019

At Colliers International’s 40th Annual Trends In the Real Estate Market Seminar, “Connecting the Dots,” the topic of coworking was front of mind. Coworking has had a profound impact on the real estate market: It’s a new food group that landlords, tenants, and capital sources are paying close attention to. It is disrupting the model of long-term leases, offering tenants flexibility and ease of entry.

There are numerous providers in this space in Boston, which—compared to other markets—is still in the early stages of coworking growth. In fact, in London, coworking represents 4.8% of the market’s occupancy, in 1,100 locations and with more than 100 different operators! Coworking is just 2.4% of occupancy in Boston. WeWork is the largest tenant in both New York and London. San Francisco has a larger coworking concentration than Boston as well. If those markets are a guide, coworking has the potential to grow dramatically here. 

Our own Lauren Vecchione noted that locally WeWork has leased close to 1 million SF and currently has proposals out for hundreds of thousands of square feet, exploring Class A and B assets alike. Despite having no physical ownership in Boston, over time WeWork will become one of our city’s largest space providers and will continue to do more enterprise-type deals like the one in Related Beal’s Congress Square project—where ezcater recently signed a 100,000 SF five-year lease. This sizable transaction doesn’t hit our stats, as no new space was absorbed. 

WeWork isn’t the only coworking game in town, as Industrious and Regus both look to expand their footprints. Also, there are new concepts like The Wing, coworking and community space for women, which recently opened at AEW’s building in the Back Bay.

Co-working map

 And it seems that the attraction to coworking is not necessarily about the “one-size-fits-all” kind of solution we once thought of, with the allure of hip, collaborative spaces, cozy nap pods, and all-you-can-drink coffee bars. What's most important in a lot of cases is flexible lease terms. That is happening in London, where the average lease length continues to fall, to a record low of just three years to the first break clause.

London graph

Acknowledging this market shift, some landlords are proactively accommodating their clients’ needs for flexible terms. Boston Properties successfully launched and leased its first FLEX location at the Pru and will open its second location at 100 Fed this coming June.  BP vs TSSimilarly, after a New York City trial run, in the next several months Tishman too will open its own flexible concept, branded “Studio,” at 125 High.  Over the next several years, more landlords will roll out similar flexible solutions, potentially converting their more challenged spaces to accommodate changing tenant needs.

On the lending side, price discovery is still taking place. Colliers Boston’s Jeff Black mentioned speaking with a cross section of bank and non-bank permanent lenders. No one had a definitive structure in mind, but a few themes did emerge. Deals with meaningful exposure to WeWork are generally viewed as positive because it tends to occupy real estate in strong overall locations. Strength of sponsorship always has been and will remain a significant point of focus when considering financing on these assets.

Most lenders prefer to keep coworking tenants at under 50% of a building’s net rentable area; while this is just a rule of thumb, typically anything north of 50% gets treated as a single- tenant deal and the loan terms get dinged. less than 50

Lenders and rating agencies will want to understand the occupancy of the space and how profitable the location is, and net effective rent is super- important on the underwriting side.

If a coworking company occupies a significant percentage of the building but its rates are in line with market, then terms should be in line with comparable single-tenant deals. However, if a coworking company pays a significantly above-market rent due to what is effectively amortized TIs, then expect achievable leverage from the capital markets to look much lower than it is in standard deals.

Wework collageWe’ve found these underwriting themes to be consistent across the coworking, co-living and short-term housing operator space, so this is all highly relevant as the space continues to mature. During our panel, Shaun Simons from our London office mentioned that coworking, or serviced office space, has been a major driver of overall demand (take-up), which has kept the London market afloat. However, some of this space is still sitting vacant, suggesting that while on the surface this industry is a major driver, it is in fact, “fake-up,” as tenants still need to occupy the space. Jay Sternberg from our San Francisco office explained coworking simply as a wholesale/retail model, as providers lease space from landlords at what they consider to be wholesale rates and then turn it around to users at retail. All it takes is a slight adjustment to rents for these providers to struggle or come back to landlords seeking to mark-to-market.

 Keynote speaker Bryan Koop from Boston Properties also discussed the need for flexible terms and the opportunity that presents for landlords. Their typical model, of long-term leases to credit tenants and often for headquarters locations with 7–20-year terms, has served them well. Coworking tends to work for those seeking short-term options of less than one year, while the 1–5-year term presents an opportunity for landlords. This is where FLEX by Boston Properties will come in. The Prudential space is full, while 100 Federal Street and Hub on Causeway will roll out FLEX in the future. This is not coworking but fully designed space available for shorter, more flexible lease terms. It also gives Boston Properties better insight into tenant needs and allows it to form stronger relationships with tenants than a sublease through an existing tenant would allow. 

 BK collage

 

Boston is still in the early stages of this coworking/flexible/service-office world. Tenants want flexibility and have more options than ever to find the space they want, in the locations they want, with the providers they want. But we have a long way to go before coworking here comes close to its share of London’s market. It will be important to watch coworking providers during the next market down cycle. Will they be the first to suffer, or will they provide refuge for companies in this emerging flexible environment?

 


 

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