The current state of the Greater Boston industrial real estate market is strong. In my 30 plus years of experience, I have never seen such low vacancy rates and resilience in this market sector. Consider the following: Current vacancy rates in this sector is approximately 6.1% and we have witnessed 18 consecutive quarters of positive absorption. This is unprecedented and truly remarkable. Given such tight market conditions, lease rates and market values have naturally risen.
While this pace of absorption and near full vacancy is bound to eventually swing back, I predict that there will not be a dramatic jump to ultra high vacancy rates. A major contributing factor to reduced supply has been the removal of large swaths of industrial space as these properties have been re-purposed to higher and better uses. Consider that approximately 2,000,000 square feet of industrial space was scrapped to make way for a new life-style center at University Station in Westwood. Once a vibrant, high-demand industrial park is now a mixed used residential, office and retail development including anchors such as Wegman’s, Target, TJ Maxx, LifeTime Fitness, Bridges by Epoch, several restaurants plus a Marriott Courtyard hotel is now under construction. North of Boston, the once staid Northwest Industrial Park in Burlington has been transformed to “3rd Avenue Burlington” which includes popular restaurants, residences, and recreation including Kings Bowling.
In the wake of the removal of industrial space, little new construction has followed. Even with such compressed vacancy rates there are just a handful of spec construction projects. Examples include: 151 Charles F Colton Road in Taunton (200,000 sf), 600 West St in Mansfield (91,000 sf) and Kevin Lucy’s 140,000 sf project in Peabody which is rumored to be committed.
New construction has the added benefit of adding modern, high bay space that is more suitable for current manufacturing and distribution requirements. Ceiling heights in these new buildings tend to be 30 ft. clear allowing for higher storage capacity and use of technically superior material handling equipment, heavy floor loads and ESFR sprinkler systems. Drivers for industrial demand will continue with the advances in the biotech industry, e-commerce and the growing population will always have a need for such essentials as food, pet supplies, tires, etc. Indeed we have seen new build to suit projects such as Martignetti’s new headquarters distribution center and Sullivan Tire’s new facility in Taunton.
While I realize that record low vacancy and absorption rates are not sustainable forever the demand drivers, the lack of new supply plus limited land sites to support new construction will continue to dampen a dramatic increase in vacancy rates. The likely scenario in a down market and inevitable economic downturn will be that Class B industrial product will first see vacancy rates rise. Real estate is a commodity and will behave as such subject to supply and demand. Absorption will slow and vacant properties will linger on the market. In such scenario vacancy rates will likely rise to low double digits and values will decrease as much as 20%. While such market disruption is not desirable this is not a cataclysmic outcome.
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Warren Brown, President, Boston Commercial Properties, Inc.