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Monday, August 14, 2017

The State of the Houston Office Market

By Rand Stephens (Houston)

During my 30 years in the Houston commercial real estate industry, I have experienced several major economic downturns. Surprisingly, the latest slowdown (I say slowdown because Houston never experienced negative job growth) has not packed the punch of the economic implosion during the 80’s. Although Houston’s economy seems to be on the upswing, as it has developed a vibrant, diversified economy beyond oil and gas exploration, I remain cautiously optimistic. The slowdown began in Q3 2014, and ended Q2 2016. During that time, oil prices declined from $100/bbl to $35/bbl. Since last year, Houston’s job growth is back on track with 56,000 new jobs reported for the trailing 12 months.

During the slowdown, the housing, retail, and industrial markets remained very strong, but the office and multi-family markets took a hit because of overdevelopment. Multi-family now seems poised for a recovery, due to very little new construction over the last few years combined with sustained population growth and improved job growth.

The office market is the one sector where a recovery will take longer. Although, we’re seeing small signs of improvement, there is still a lot of vacancy. And, with 11 million square feet of sublease space available, as these leases expire, this shadow inventory may have the effect of pouring gasoline onto the fire.

The Energy Corridor (west Houston) and the Greenspoint submarkets have been hit hardest. The office inventory in west Houston increased dramatically from 2010-14. Fortunately, the new construction was responsibly financed with significant investor equity and pre-leasing with credit-worthy companies to give owners “staying power”. However, it looks like many of the energy companies leased a lot of space for future growth. So, not only do these companies not need the future expansion space, but much of the existing space they were occupying is also unnecessary.

From 2010 to 2014, offshore exploration drove much of the office development. Therefore, without a rebound in this part of the industry, it’s hard to see any quick turnaround in the office market, particularly in west Houston. Fortunately, the overall Houston economy is solid and will help to whittle away at the significant surplus of office space.

Click here for a full update on the Houston office market.

(Rand Stephens is a Principal of Avison Young and Managing Director of the company’s Houston office.)

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