Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Not Obsolete - Demand Challenged

A few weeks ago, I began an investigation into obsolescence of buildings in the office market here in Southern Nevada. The question has been floating around for several years now: Is obsolete space artificially increasing Southern Nevada’s office vacancy. This is an interesting question, and not an easy question to answer.

The first challenge is in identifying what makes a property obsolete. The factors might be structural (i.e. how the property is designed) or geographic (i.e. where the property is located). The character of the ownership of a property might make it obsolete as well. All of these are important factors, but they not necessarily easy to quantify – at least not when you have a few hundred properties to work with.

The term obsolete is itself a problem, as needs change over time, a formerly “obsolete” property can become viable once again. Witness the brief moment before the Great Recession when vacant retail big boxes suddenly became attractive to call centers (before they moved to India and then moved back to the United States ...).

For my part, I decided to ditch the term obsolete, and use the term “less desirable”. To decide whether a property was less desirable, I first examined the lease comps we have collected over the past three years to determine the average time on market for each class of office.

On average, Class A availabilities remained on the market for 2.7 years before they were leased. Class B availabilities remained on the market for 2 years. Class C availabilities for 1.6 years. I then assumed that an availability that was on the market for twice as long as this average period of time was “less desirable” for one reason or another.

Using this assumption, I got the following stats:

Class A: 25% of available space is less desirable
Class B: 25% of available space is less desirable
Class C: 34% of available space is less desirable

If you removed this less desirable space from the market (without removing the “less desirable” buildings this space is in from total inventory), you would bring office vacancy down to around 13 percent. This appears to make the case that the office market, though not as healthy as it was before either the Great Recession or the Boom, is not as unhealthy as it seems.

I wasn’t done, though. I decided next to look the situation on a building by building basis, using the office market as my test case. It is possible to have a less desirable available unit in an otherwise desirable property, so simply looking at less desirable availabilities can skew our results. I wanted to figure out which properties in Southern Nevada were generally less desirable.

To figure out which buildings would make the list, I tallied the “less desirable” space in each building. If that space represented 50% or more of that building’s total size, I deemed the building “less desirable”.

What did I learn from this experiment?

1. There is a great deal of old space available in the office market. Medical office space is worse off than professional office space, and office space is worse off than industrial and retail space.

2. Medical Class B and Industrial Flex space stay fresher longer; the average Class B Medical unit was on the market for 1030 days before it leased, and for Flex 1380 days, indicating that tenants in these product types don’t care much if a space has been vacant for an extended period. Quickest turnover is in Incubator, Medical Class A and C and in Strip Centers.

3. Less desirable buildings are not the same thing as old buildings. The average age of less desirable buildings is 16 years, but the buildings themselves range in age from 5 to 37 years old.

4. Old parts of town do not dominate in the less desirable category. Properties built in the waning days of the Boom have struggled to absorb space. If any submarkets dominate, it is the Southwest along the Beltway, the Airport submarket and West Central. East Las Vegas, Henderson, Northwest, Downtown and the small North Las Vegas submarkets actually come off pretty well.

5. The Beltway is not a bust, but it does not seem to automatically increase the desirability of office space. Many of Southern Nevada’s less desirable properties are located near the 215. As alluded to above, the old center of the Valley – what we would characterize as Downtown, East Las Vegas and West Central – have the fewest “less desirable” buildings.

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