New Lease Research from Metropolis

The London office market has maintained steady office letting take-up during 2017. The latest figures calculated by Metropolis to the end of Q3 2017 reveal office transactions totaling 8.8m sq ft for the first nine months of the year (deals 5,000 sq ft and above). Based on these figures and a number of large office moves under offer, 12m sq ft take up by the end of the year is not out of the question. If 12m sq ft is achieved this would surpass the 11m sq ft of 2016 and match the total for 2015.

The table below breaks down take-up in London in 2017 by the five largest sectors

Sector                             % of take-up
Financial                          20%
Business Services           19%
IT/Computer                   15%
Professional                     12%
Media                                11%

Financial services leads the way, boosted by the large pre-let in the City to Deutsche Bank. Business services comes a close second helped by over 900,000 sq ft of lettings to serviced office operator WeWork. IT has been driven by large expansions by Expedia, Amazon and Spotify. By area, the City has taken around 40% of take-up, with West End, Midtown and Southbank broadly taking 15% each. Docklands has had  a very quiet 2017.

Metropolis has recorded 96 deals for London office space of 20,000 sq ft or more in so far 2017 amounting to 5m sq ft. Business services, underpinned by WeWork deals, takes over 1.2m sq ft of that, followed by 880,000 sq ft of financial sector driven by Deutsche Bank, 600,000 sq ft of IT industry deals and nearly 500,000 sq ft from professional companies (law firms, accountants, consultants). a further 2m sq ft of deals are ‘under offer’ and close to signing in Q4 2017.

Recently some office market analysts have advanced the view that the London office market for moves under 20,000 sq ft is ‘patchy’. So Metropolis went back to all the potential office occupiers contacted in 2016, approaching 2017 lease expiries, to trace what happened next.

Taking a sample from the 700 London-based occupiers contacted during 2016, Metropolis found that, despite the fact that many were simultaneously negotiating with the landlord of the existing office, over 70% of occupiers decided to move, prior to the upcoming lease expiry. The sector with the strongest propensity to move was media and the least likely to move was business services. The larger a company, the slightly higher propensity to move. West End companies were slightly more likely to move than City-based ones.

The last nine months has seen a strong pace of office space pre-lets set by incoming tenants in advance of construction completion. In total, some 4.3m sq ft of London office space, that is currently under construction, has been pre-let. Some of the high profile recent pre-lets included Boston Consulting, Metro Bank taking 67,000 sq ft of offices at 20 Old Bailey, EC4; Boston Consulting and Arup at 80 Charlotte Street, W1; HSBC taking 30,000 at Cork Street, W1 and Kings College at Roman Wall House, EC3.

The most common trigger for pre-let relocation is expansion. Nearly 50% of the space completed over the previous 6 months has now been let and includes big lettings to likes of Universal Music, Cancer Research, XTX Markets, British Council, Cleary Gottlieb, Schroders and Moneysupermarket.

Looking ahead, our research with thousands of London office tenants suggests a robust level of take-up in Q4 2017, although the increasing attractions of serviced office space and Brexit uncertainty could have an impact in the medium term.

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Shorter Leases ? More Moves ?

New research from Estates Gazette suggests that office lease lengths are getting shorter and office relocations are becoming more frequent.

The research through EG Data shows that in five of the six big regional cities, average lease lengths, averaged for new and secondhand space, have fallen in the past 12 months compared with the previous 12 months.

OBI Property say: “For new larger requirements of more than 10,000 sq ft, particularly in newly built floorspace, I don’t see much evidence of a change in lease lengths – 10 years with a break at year five – but on the smaller requirements or in older stock, yes, leases are definitely getting shorter.”

EG data shows average Manchester lease lengths down to 6.8 years. Bristol average lease lengths are down from 8.1 to 7.1 years. Leeds leases are down to 5 years. Strutt & Parker/MSCI data suggests the UK average lease length for smaller office occupiers is 4.6 years, with 5.2 for larger occupiers.

Metropolis data suggests an average lease length of just over 6 years. Metropolis has noticed a growing trend of companies extending leases by 2-3 years while other options are assessed

In London, forthcoming lease expiries are set to rise from a relatively low 4.7m sq ft in 2017 to 6.7m sq ft in 2019:

London Lease Expiries (sq ft millions and number of leases due to expire)
2010 2.7 364
2011 3.8 513
2012 4.2 505
2013 5.1 521
2014 6.9 622
2015 6.1 708
2016 6 727
2017 4.3 709
2018 5.9 830
2019 6.7 893
2020 6.5 812

All occupiers with forthcoming leases are researched by Metropolis and clients are updated on tenant intentions.

More frequent movers after Brexit ?

Comment this week from the CEO of Citibase suggests that the market uncertainty triggered by Brexit will lead to even shorter leases, than the current 6-7 year average. Citibase say that the trend towards flexible working is growing, with businesses needing the ability to cope with unpredictable events such as Brexit.

If large numbers of foreign businesses move out of the UK it could lead to an increase in the supply of secondary office space. This would mean many landlords would look to make space income generating even if it meant accepting short leases.

Metropolis’ direct weekly research with hundreds of office tenants suggests increasing numbers looking for and being offered, short term leases of three years or less. In recent weeks Metropolis has reported on short term office lease agreements by companies such as insurer Manulife; retailer Monica Vinader; software group SanDisk; law firm Carbon Law and media group Ominicom. May more future requirements involve searches for flexible space on leases not exceeding five years.

Small businesses continue look to shed inflexible long-term leases in favour of flexible offices.

Citibase point out that long-term leases were dying out well before Brexit, but believe that the process will be hastened by the uncertainty of current market conditions.

If the average lease length falls even further, this implies that office moves will become even more frequent and could become a fact of life every five years for many firms.