Spotlight: The Space Age

The Seattle/Bellevue office market is enjoying a historic boom.
You’d have to go all the way back to the heady days of the dot-com boom in 2000 to match the amount of new office space coming on to the Seattle/Bellevue market this year.
It’s been 17 years since this much office space has been set to be delivered, according to a Q4 2016 report from the Chicago-based real estate services firm Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL). About 5.9 million square feet of office space are under construction, of which 4.6 million square feet are expected to be delivered in 2017. Just over half of that space, 51.2 percent, has been preleased.
Last year marked the fourth consecutive year that the Seattle/Bellevue office market was able to absorb more than 2 million square feet of additional space, helping to push vacancy rates down to 9.2 percent from a peak of 17.6 percent in 2009 and to raise asking rents per square foot to $35, up 2.7 percent last year and more than 30 percent since 2011. 
Much of the current leasing activity comes from companies growing rather than relocating their offices, according to JLL research manager Alex Muir. That will soften the impact on vacancy rates. “You could see some second-generation space struggle,” Muir says, “but the bulk of the major deals is expansion.”
Tech companies have created much of the demand for space, accounting for roughly 60 percent of the leasing activity in 2016. The strong appetite for office space, Muir notes, “is coming from local companies growing and increasingly from Bay Area companies migrating to the region.”
The attraction: The Seattle area offers outsiders a robust cadre of tech workers and rents that are substantially cheaper than office rents in California. New office space in appealing downtown neighborhoods has proven itself a valuable recruiting tool for tech firms such as Amazon, Google and Facebook, which are going toe to toe for local tech workers.
Downtown Seattle and Bellevue office markets are roughly midway through a peaking real estate market cycle, the JLL report suggests. Daniel Seger, a JLL senior vice president, describes the market as “still incredibly strong” and he anticipates continued rent growth this year.
Continued demand for space is helping transform downtown Seattle and Bellevue. In Seattle, it’s revitalizing the area around City Hall, where two new office developments — The Mark, a $400 million, 528,000-square-foot office project by Seattle’s Daniels Real Estate, and Madison Centre, a $157 million mixed-use project with 746,000 square feet of office space and 8,000 square feet of retail space by Bellevue’s Schnitzer West LLC — will be completed this year.
Meanwhile, recent leasing activity has made Bellevue a more balanced market, says JLL Managing Director Chris Hughes. “Bellevue will be a little more broad marketplace with a better balance of tenants than in the last cycle,” Hughes explains. “That will be a benefit moving forward.”

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