Growth to return after a sharp decline in take up hits Dublin city centre rents, says HWBC

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An 81 per cent decline in take-up of new office space in the past 12 months has seen rent levels soften in the Dublin office market according to leading independent agent HWBC. 

Publishing its H1 2021 Office Review, HWBC said that Covid has meant demand for new space has been subdued, but that the lifting of restrictions and successful vaccine rollout has led to a marked increase in tenant activity as we move into the second half of the year.

HWBC’s reports prime Dublin city centre rent levels of €57.50 per square foot at June 2021, down 7 per cent compared to last year and at their lowest level in five years. Just 209,000 sq feet of space was let in the first half of the year, compared to 1.1 million in the first six months of 2020 when the impact of Covid was already starting to hit market sentiment during the second quarter.

Assuming no serious Covid variants emerge, HWBC expects that 2022 will see a return to more normalised levels of demand activity with transactions back to the long-term average for the market. This will likely see rents stabilise and then return to growth from 2023 onwards. Office space reserved stands at over 800,000 sq ft, and large occupiers such as An Post, TikTok and KMPG are all in advanced discussions for new space.

The overall market vacancy rate stood at 10.1 per cent at mid-year with a continuing increase in the amount of ‘grey’ space coming to the market, where a company looks to sub-let excess space that is surplus to requirements. HWBC estimates that the ‘grey market’ accounts for around 24 per cent of available city centre space and is appealing to some tenants due to the flexible lease terms on offer

HWBC’s report states 5.2 million square feet of new space is under construction, but finds that the amount of completed space delivered in the first half of the year was down 21 per cent on the prior year. Delivery was hit by lockdown restrictions on building sites but also the limited supply of materials and skilled personnel in a competitive market. There is now very little office space under construction in the suburbs, where rent levels held steady over the past 12 months and a shortage of new office space is expected as demand returns in 2022.

A growing trend influencing demand is the flight to quality by tenants who are looking to ensure they lease space in buildings with strong sustainability credentials. With awareness of the climate emergency growing, tenants are seeking to minimise their offices’ carbon footprint as part of their ESG obligations. Offices with poor green credentials will struggle to compete, and likely require investment in retrofitting if they wish to command higher rents.

Tony Waters, Managing Director of HWBC, says: “With the office market in effective lockdown since March 2020, there are now increasing signs of pent-up demand from occupiers. The staggered lifting of Covid restrictions and the successful vaccine rollout has supported a marked increase in tenant activity heading into Q3 which will translate to increased take up for the full year. All the signs are for the market to stablise in 2022, with growth returning from 2023 onwards.”

HWBC’s report says that occupiers are starting to think beyond the pandemic and trying to decide the right blend of office space and remote working to suit their business and staff profile. Most companies are targeting September / October to have protocols in place for staff returning to the office and this will lead to increased deal activity over the coming quarters.

Paul Scannell, HWBC’s Head of Offices, says: “Two particular themes have come to the fore in recent months. The first is a clear appetite for people to return to the office, and the recognition of the important role they play as spaces for collaboration and creativity. It’s encouraging that a number of high-profile companies are paving the way for a safe and measured return to the workplace over the next 3 to 6 months. The second is the importance of a building’s green credentials to attract top tier tenants and command premium rents. It is clear tenants and investors are now prioritising a building’s sustainability performance and carbon emissions as a key element in their decision making.”

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