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Office occupiers get upper hand as market tries to keep its balance

Office occupiers get upper hand as market tries to keep its balance

Gulf News, July 1 2018.

The office market has recorded a range of activities across the board, with some companies expanding and others consolidating operations. According to Cluttons, factors like rising costs, high inflation, value-added tax (VTA) and other global economic factors have affected the office market. Moreover, there has been a wide range of new market entrants and some are attempting to regear existing leases. Office rents, meanwhile, have continued to remain moderate, according to the Cluttons Spring Office Market report.

“Global economic factors continue to have a direct impact on the real estate market in the UAE. In the office market, upper limit headline rents have been affected, with occupiers either sitting tight, regearing leases, or continuing to consolidate operations,” says Faisal Durrani, head of research at Cluttons. “In fact, five of our 24 submarkets registered minor downward adjustments during the final quarter of last year, with the weakness persisting into 2018. It is our view that this will continue for the remainder of the year with rents set to fall Dh5 per square foot to Dh20. However, core free zones are likely to buck this trend, with rents holding steady.”

Landlord offers

Office rents are expected to remain relatively flat in the midterm, with landlords expected to offer more competitive terms, especially to strong covenant clients with large requirements.

“We do not expect rental rates to increase any time soon, nor do we expect them to fall drastically,” says Dana Williamson, regional director and head of agency and corporate solutions at JLL Middle East and North Africa (Mena). “However, the tenants that have relative flexibility in their requirements concerning location, amenities and space layout, can expect a large number of options in the market, where landlords will be motivated to offer attractive terms.”

Williamson notes that the amount of new stock entering the market is not disproportionally high compared with existing stock, but it does exceed the rate at which companies are looking to grow. “Last year 175,000 sq m of new office space was added, bringing the total office stock to 8.9 million sq m of gross lettable area,” she says. “Moreover, approximately 537,000 sq m of office space is currently under construction and due to be delivered by 2020.”

Supply will come from communities like Dubai International Financial Centre (18 per cent), Dubai Trade Centre District (12 per cent), Jumeirah Lakes Towers (11 per cent), Dubai Hills Estate and Deira Waterfront Development (10 per cent each) and Business Bay (9 per cent). Other locations will account for up to 30 per cent of the supply.

“While there is currently an oversupply in the market, the level of oversupply ranges across the various districts and properties. Within Dubai’s central business district, vacancy currently sits at 9 per cent, which is only slightly higher than vacancy rates in key global cities, which sit around 4-7 per cent,” says Williamson.

Apart from the age of a property, other critical determining factors for occupancy include location, floorplate design, accessibility, landlord profile, building amenities and rental or sale price expectations, according to Williamson. Vacancy, nonetheless, is not high across the whole market. “Those buildings that do suffer from high vacancy rates could either be located in areas with low demand or could potentially have specific issues that refrain occupiers from taking office space,” says Williamson.

Conservative approach

Dubai offers a wide range of quality and sizes, from as small as 30 sq m to a full floor of around 5,000 sq m. The biggest demand, however, is for small to medium-sized units of around 500 sq m, says Williamson. “The desire to operate more effectively does create some movement in the market, where companies are open to considering less-expensive properties and less-expensive areas.

“The consideration to move areas does not only apply to companies moving from central, higher-cost areas to more peripheral areas, but it also applies to many companies that have moved to more upscale areas where they have achieved similar rental rates compared to secondary areas. We currently live in a time and market where a conservative approach to company spending prevails, so it is unlikely for an occupier to be prepared to pay more for their premises on a per square metre or a headcount basis.”