0 Boston Realty Advisors is Open for Business

We quickly transitioned to our new temporary reality and instituted a new morning ritual called – “Zoom with Wil.”

The all hands-on (employee only) virtual call jump starts our day, providing each of us the opportunity to connect, share information, and learn from one another.

Every morning “Zoom with Wil” features an industry guest speaker.  Today, we were honored to have Christopher Rosser from WS Development.  Mr. Rosser served in the military and discussed the similarities of battling COVID-19 to actual combat.  Fundamentally, he said the best thing to do is, “Stay calm.”  The following are other takeaways from his presentation and Q&A session.

  • Stressed the importance of learning from this episode in order to be better prepared for the next time.
  • Touched upon the value of convenience retail versus the potential hit that high-end retail will likely endure.
  • Talked about coworking space and reminded the tuned-in group that most experienced operators budget and plan for reduction spikes.
  • He warned against price cuts to prevent chasing a downward direction.
  • When we return to normalcy, office leasing will rebound.
  • Reminded us that the quicker we can overcome this disruption, the faster consumer confidence and spending will rebound.

0 STAY THE COURSE, DESPITE COVID-19

Letter to the Editor by Jason S. WeissmanBanker & Tradesman | March 16, 2020

The communal, personal and economic effect of the coronavirus has infringed every fabric of our daily lives. This unwelcome disruption has generated a panic that we must quickly transcend. Staying healthy is paramount – both physically and mentally. 

We need to be mindful and act responsibly to minimize effected individuals. This includes properly washing hands and listening to the CDC. Companies that are set up with remote access for their employees will experience less impact to their business, and provide the ability to focus on their respective trades and the overall economy. 

Still in its infancy in the United States, the economic consequences of the coronavirus epidemic have caused the stock market to crash and the US Treasury bond yields to hit record lows. While I hope the recent volatility diminishes, the market will likely not fully return until the spread of the coronavirus decelerates. 

The same panic and speculation have crept into the real estate industry. Please stay calm and recognize that today’s realities are based on an event and not a bubble. Further, and unlike many plays in the equities market, decisions for real estate investments are based on a seven- to 10-year action plan. 

Real estate fundamentals are strong. Gateway Cities are expanding in and around CBDs, with an abundance of liquidity waiting to activate their allocated dollars in both urban and suburban markets. Today continues to be a great time to buy a home and invest in high-quality commercial real estate. 

While the drivers and circumstances were very different in the 2008 recession, the real estate investors that persevered were the landlords that stayed the course. When many owners froze out of fear, a few proceeded with their planned capex projects and growth strategy. Staying the course positioned their properties to achieve full occupancy and maximize NOI. 

Do not let panic paralyze the entire country. Stay the course and stay strong. 

— Jason S. Weissman 
CEO, Boston Realty Advisors 

0 The New Office Rewards Quality Over Value

By William H. Catlin

Commercial landlords consumed the past 10 years trying to accommodate a moving target, under the budgetary guise of “maximizing heads per square foot.” The open floor plan has been tried and tested in multiple formats – from coworking solutions to headquarter locations.

Architects, landlords, and tenants alike have learned from trying to accommodate the Millennial generation. Fast forward, Gen-Z is even more transient and pushing remote access to new levels. All the same, everyone needs a place to plug-in. In Deloitte’s recent marketplace survey on workplace flexibility, 89% of respondents said that a traditional work setting is essential for advancing their careers.

Quality office spaces, designed to maximize productivity, is the new trend and earning more dollars per square foot.

A recent Boston Globe article that featured “hoteling” in PTC’s new Seaport office was a great example of a quality buildout, and is the beginning of what landlords throughout Boston are doing to attract today’s workforce. 121 Seaport is a new build and in a league of its own. Boston is also fortunate to have an abundance of original brick and beam commercial properties being revived. This includes opportunities being activated via strategic investments, with a focus on today’s users.

Gould & Company, a private real estate investor with a large portfolio that dates back to 1970, recently reinvested in 727 Atlantic Avenue. They converged the unique architectural character from 1899 with modern-day office space – offering rare full-floor opportunities, with a premium window line. Gould & Co strategically selected 727 Atlantic for reinvestment because it’s only a few steps from South Station and across the street from WeWork South Station (AKA, the preferred venue for the blockchain sector). This CAPEX plan increased asking rents from the mid $30s to the mid $50s.

Another example comes from Synergy Investments and its investment at Center Plaza – 1, 2 & 3. When they purchased the 741,237 square foot interconnected buildings, they inherited mothballed space vacated by the FBI. Synergy transformed a vintage facility into a state-of-the-art workplace with improved entrances, excellent access, engaging public spaces, underground parking, and a plethora of building amenities. The investment attracted Spotify, Grubhub, and Twitter to lease space in Center Plaza – now over 90% occupied.

Boston is a supply-constrained market and experiencing unprecedented growth. New commercial product is being delivered, and select B-Class space is being reimagined. Developers are also active in several suburban markets – such as the Davis Companies in Medford and Rubenstein Partners in Tewksbury. Regardless of the location, all office occupiers are in a race for talent and require a quality work environment that maximizes work productivity.

0 Millennials and Gen Z Still Value Traditional Office Space

Commercial landlords swept up in coworking and open office trends have not lost sight on the importance of physical office space in accommodating the Millennial and Gen-Z consumer.

By Mariah Brown | GlobeSt| March 10, 2020 

Commercial landlords swept up in coworking and open office trends have not lost sight on the importance of physical office space in accommodating the Millennial consumer. Architects, landlords, and tenants alike note that Millennials, as well as their younger cohort Gen-Z, are more transient than previous generations and because of that need flexible work accommodations. However, both groups also desire an office setting to plug-in for longterm career confidence, according to a recent Deloitte survey on workplace flexibility.

According to the survey, 89 percent of respondents said that a traditional work setting is essential for advancing their careers. And landlords have no choice but to get creative in its office offerings to not only compete with coworking companies but as well as other office landlords for corporate tenants that are competing for young professional talent. “Regardless of the location, all office occupiers are in a race for talent and require a quality work environment that maximizes work productivity,” Will Caitlin, managing director and senior partner of Boston Realty Advisors, tells GlobeSt.com.

According to a recent GlobeSt.com article, In the office market, companies are meeting the demand for a seamless experience to attract and retain talent, or rather companies have been forced to comply, Jolanta Campion, director of research for San Diego at Cushman & Wakefield, tells GlobeSt.com.  “Attractive, amenity-rich real estate is one of the ways companies are able to attract talent in this highly competitive market,” Campion said.

To keep up with the changes for office space, Millenial and GenZ groups have been drawn to traditional office spaces that aren’t your regular real estate and have a live-work-play mentality in mind. “These younger generations typically offer vibrant energy and drive, an existing and future talented labor pool and therefore potential job growth and economic expansion, new ideas and concepts that are helping shape and advance the region,” Campion said.

0 Boston Tech Firms Are Laying Off Hundreds. Will The Office Market Feel It?

In Cameron Sperance’s latest, he says that, “TAMI tenants accounted for 40% of all office transactions in Boston’s central business district last year.”  Fresh off of over 140 leases in 2019, Managing Partner of Boston Realty Advisors, Wil Catlin said, “Office space in Boston has become a commodity, and commercial landlords are stepping up to ensure their asset is ready for today’s workforce. It’s a competitive environment and the landlords with quality, ready-to-go space are getting deals done.”

By Cameron Sperance | Bisnow | March 5, 2020

A string of recent layoffs in Boston was bad news for the city’s typically robust tech sector. But analysts say the furloughs have more to do with normal business operations than signs of a tech pullback from Beantown.

Cambridge-based Akamai Technologies cut around 75 jobs in early February. Wayfair laid off 550 employees worldwide, including 350 employees at its Boston headquarters, Feb. 13. The following week, Boston-based software company LogMeIn cut 300 jobs, nearly 70 of which were in Boston. Agricultural tech startup Indigo Ag then announced at the end of last month it was laying off 150 employees.

Wayfair’s job cuts were tied to the company’s previous overexpansion. LogMeIn said its layoffs were due to “evolving priorities,” per the Boston Globe. Indigo Ag is “focusing resources on the fastest growing aspects of the business,” the company said in a statement to Bisnow.

Akamai, Wayfair, LogMeIn declined or didn’t respond to requests for comment. But Boston real estate experts don’t see the layoffs impacting the office market.

“I don’t sit at the dashboard of Wayfair, but it’s normal to right-size,” Boston Realty Advisors Managing Director and Senior Partner Wil Catlin said. “What’s happening is labor is your No. 1 item on the [income statement]. But if you choose to let go of 10% of those people, you’re not going to get rid of 10% of your office space. You’re getting rid of that salary component.”

The February layoffs followed Needham-based TripAdvisor’s 200-job cut in January. Even if the layoffs are perceived as standard business practice, the impacted companies are leading office tenants across Greater Boston, which means this could ripple through property. Numerous tech companies, including Indigo Ag, are actively seeking hundreds of thousands of square feet for office expansion, according to independent brokerage documents obtained by Bisnow.

Catlin, who focuses on small to midsized tenants, doesn’t expect that demand to go away. A little more than 70% of the active tenants of that size are TAMI (tech, advertising, media and information) companies, Catlin said. Office developers are almost exclusively building for those kind of tenants.

“Today, subleases are few and far between and typically lease off market,” Catlin said. “Office space in Boston has become a commodity, and commercial landlords are stepping up to ensure their asset is ready for today’s workforce. It’s a competitive environment and the landlords with quality, ready-to-go space are getting deals done.”

Boston is the third-fastest growing tech hub in the U.S., according to job listing site Indeed. But housing production hasn’t kept up with the surge of new workers flooding into Boston, pushing costs higher and higher. Boston is the second-most-expensive city to own a home, according to a January report by moving research firm Move.org.

The high cost of living could be weighing on employers determining who stays in the urban core and who could be employed in a cheaper environment.

“It’s getting tougher and tougher to keep those borderless sales jobs in downtown Boston,” Hunneman Director of Research Tucker White said.

Other major Boston companies have been moving select operations out of the city for years. Fidelity Investments announced in 2011 it was moving 1,100 jobs from its downtown headquarters to other parts of the country. Liberty Mutual maintains its corporate headquarters in Back Bay, but has also built a Plano, Texas, campus where the insurance provider is expected to eventually employ 4,000.

Tech companies could be looking to do the same, especially with artificial intelligence expected to impact as much as 25% of all U.S. jobs, including many tech jobs.

“Wayfair is committed to Boston and that’s allowed them to grow, but at the end of the day, they’re still paying a comparatively high real estate cost to other markets and can hire similar personnel elsewhere,” White said.

There may have been a string of early 2020 tech layoffs in Boston, but there have also been some industry wins.

Boston-based restaurant tech firm Toast is now valued at $4.9B after a $400M round of fundraising. Its revenue increased 109% in 2019 due to thousands of new restaurants using its payment hardware, Toast announced last month.

Following its planned merger with sportsbook technology provider SBTech, DraftKings is expected to be valued at $3.3B. The fantasy sports company is headquartered in Back Bay and has the leading U.S. market share for sports betting, according to Morgan Stanley.

Amazon continues to expand its tech reach across Greater Boston, with new offices planned for Medford and the Seaport.

There are 23,764 open tech jobs across Massachusetts — with more than 9,000 in Boston alone, according to Burning Glass Labor Insight data. That is more than 1,000 more open positions than there were at the end of 2019.

The collective, ongoing growth is enough to offset the layoffs, according to one of the state’s leading tech voices.

“When you look at each of the examples [of layoffs], there are real business reasons for it and [it] doesn’t reflect a larger trend in the economy,” said Pat Larkin, director of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative Innovation Institute. “We don’t view what happened as a trend.”

Professional, scientific, technical services and information tenants, which encompass the TAMI sectors, have the largest office footprint in Boston, with a little more than 34% of the overall office sector, according to Newmark Knight Frank. TAMI tenants accounted for 40% of all office transactions in Boston’s central business district last year.

Despite the layoffs, strong demand coupled with job growth from burgeoning sectors like cybersecurity and digital health keep brokers and landlords cautiously optimistic in signing deals with tech tenants.

“Landlords don’t want a repeat of the bust era and are being mindful to sign tenants that can perform to the lease terms they have available,” Catlin said.