The New York City real-estate market is struggling with several uniquely challenging problems resulting from developers' lopsided favoring of high-end, luxury space while neglecting to build enough affordable housing to accommodate the population, which has swelled with millennial creative types (who all incidentally make about $40,000 a year).
And some of these problems are also being felt in the commercial market, where companies are increasingly looking to save money on their rent bill in an increasingly expensive city.
Just as developers are celebrating the opening of 3 World Trade, which, at 40% rented, has unleashed roughly 1.5 million square feet of open space on the market, yet another troubling phenomenon that originated in downtown retail storefronts has spread to the broader commercial market. To wit, Bloomberg is reporting that existing tenants are dumped 600,000 square feet in space seeking a sublet in recent months. It's driven downtown subleases to make up 2.3% of the market's 105 million square feet at the end of May. But while Bloomberg refuses to do more than speculate about the possibility that this phenomenon could soon drive down rents, others have pointed out that the impact is already being felt. As we said last month, rents at retail storefronts in hip downtown neighborhoods like SoHo are plunging.
One problem facing the newly developed World Trade Center is the lack of media firms to follow Conde Nast down town. News Corp. and 21st Century Fox, the two legs of the Murdoch media empire, abandoned plans to move down town and give up space in their Midtown skyscraper. And now Conde Nast is giving up 376,000 of the more than 1 million square feet it rented at 1 World Trade. And they're not the only ones.
On top of that, Liberty Mutual Insurance Co. is looking for takers for 130,000 square feet at 55 Water St., a 3.5 million-square-foot behemoth by the East River, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is marketing two floors at its headquarters in Silverstein’s 4 World Trade Center. Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman said officials “identified space efficiencies in the tower and are taking advantage of it.”
All told, downtown subleases made up 2.3 percent of the market’s 105 million square feet at the end of May, according to Franklin Wallach, managing director for tri-state commercial property data for Colliers. Other than April’s 2.4 percent, that’s the highest level since 2010, when the city’s financially driven economy was struggling to recover from the 2008 crisis.
Subleases in the New York metropolitan area now make up more than 1.5 percent of the market, the highest since 2010, CoStar data show. According to Colliers, both Midtown and Midtown South -- the area roughly between Bryant Park and Canal Street, which has been popular with technology and media tenants -- are at 1.7 percent.
And with 14.3 million square feet in Manhattan office space about to go online, "it's hard to think there won't be winners and losers as these buildings pull tenants away from the older space," said Lauren Baker, an analyst at CoStar Group, which monitors office leasing. That's because, as Craig Caggiano, executive director for the New York tri-state region at Colliers International Group Inc., pointed out: "Sublet space is usually priced at a discount to direct space" offered by landlords, said Craig Caggiano, executive director for the New York tri-state region at Colliers International Group Inc. "if sublet space stays on the market, or even more sublet space comes on the market, that could exert a downward pressure on prices."
After years of valuation increases that have brought property prices past their pre-crisis peak, it's understandable that some companies feel the need to consolidate. But it's difficult to ignore the context because, as Caggiano said, "it's not 2009 again." This time, the economy is strong. "The subleases are not primarily the result of relocations out of downtown, and we have seen continued migration from Midtown and Midtown South."
On average, commercial retail space in Manhattan has stood at $74 a square foot in recent months, only half a percent more than last year. And while this trend could create "great opportunities" for tenants, with all the space about to hit the market, it's more likely that price pressures will only intensify - and ultimately, developers - and their investors - could be left to shoulder the losses.
Silverstein’s Moss said that “everyone is going to succeed as long as New York City is growing. This is not a war"... just like the trade-discussions are not a trade-war?
We'll see how war-like the situation gets if the sublease space keeps surging.