CBRE: Manhattan Office Rents Up, Leasing Volume Down in First Quarter

NEW YORK CITY—Despite a modest downturn in leasing activity, the overall office market in Manhattan remains strong with average asking rents in the first quarter of this year in Midtown, Midtown South and Downtown increasing 10%, 8% and 3% quarter-over-quarter.

Commercial brokerage firm CBRE released a series of MarketViews reports today that covered the three major submarkets in Manhattan. Leasing activity in all three markets was down, however, both large and mid-sized deals fueled 2 million square feet of lease deals Downtown, which was 52% above the five-year quarterly average, but down 6% from leasing totals registered in the fourth quarter of 2018.

“Despite a modest slowdown in overall Manhattan leasing activity, the market looks strong and healthy in 2019. Tenant demand remains high, with several large leases either completed or set to close during the second quarter. With a solid pipeline of active tenant requirements, we expect leasing totals to pick up later in the year,” says Nicole LaRusso, director of Research & Analysis for CBRE Tri-State.

She adds that thus far in 2019 the Downtown market has outpaced other submarkets with strong activity from tech firms and other creative companies that are being priced out of Midtown and Midtown South. “These firms continue to find not just value, but the quality space and amenities they need to grow and attract talent,” LaRusso notes.

CBRE states in its Downtown report that similar to the prior quarter, large transactions in the first quarter propelled new leasing activity. Largest among those were New York Health & Hospitals’ 527,000-square-foot lease at 100 Pearl and WeWork’s 201,000-square-foot deal at 199 Water St., which caused leasing in the 100,000-square-foot and higher segment to account for 36% of all Downtown’s activity in the first three months of this year.

CBRE reports the Midtown market saw 3.92 million square feet of leasing activity in the first quarter of 2019, 11% below its five-year quarterly average. The addition of several large-block availabilities drove quarterly net absorption to negative 1.42 million square feet and represents the largest negative quarterly total in three years. As a result, the market’s availability rate increased 40 basis points quarter-over-quarter to 10.7%, but remains down 50 basis points year-over-year.

Midtown average asking rents increased 10% to a record $86.57-per-square-foot quarter-over-quarter. This marks a new high for the recovery period and matches the market’s highest-ever average asking rent, CBRE states in the report.

Midtown South leasing activity totaled 1.03 million square feet in the first quarter of 2019, down 47% from the fourth quarter of 2018 and 25% below the market’s five-year quarterly average. The availability rate increased to 10.2% in the first quarter, up 50 basis points from the previous quarter, but down 80 basis points from a year earlier. At negative 600,000 square feet, net absorption weakened markedly from the prior quarter, CBRE states in the report.

A good number of high-priced sublease space hit the market in the first quarter and the taking rent index reached its highest level in three years. The average asking rent rose 2% from the prior quarter to $83.51-per-square-foot and was 8% higher year-over-year.