Office and retail rental market: The competition between old and new

GSH PLazaIn the commercial property market, the effects of demand and supply is more strongly felt that ever as many new developments enter the market in line with the government’s efforts to grow and restructure the country’s commercial sector.

The positive outlook and sentiments in the private property market here does not seem to have rubbed off in the commercial sector as office rents fell 3.4 per cent in Q1 and retail rents fell 2.9 per cent – its 9th consecutive quarter of price declines. Prices of office spaces also fell 4 per cent in the first quarter of the year, following the 0.6 per cent fall from last year’s Q4. The numbers do not reflect the 2.5 per cent expansion of Singapore’s economy in the first quarter of the year, largely boosted by manufacturing and other trade-dependent sectors.

MarinaOneOfficeOther than Marina One which found tenants quickly, landlords of older commercial establishments are finding it increasingly difficult to compete with the newer offerings and have found themselves having to drop their prices in order to source for more tenants, even as more companies are relocating into cheaper and newer buildings outside of the core central region. Some companies are also exploring co-working options, which decreases the demand for commercial real estate on a permanent basis. New commercial buildings such as GSH Plaza and Guoco Tower will also increase the supply of prime office spaces in the Central Business District (CBD) and as these landlords are already raising their asking rents for Grade A office spaces, property analysts are expecting the country’s economic growth to fuel the commercial property market as the year moves on.

Commercial properties – Promising future?

As the noose tightens around the residential property market, investors may consider shifting their focus onto commercial properties, in particular office spaces. Q3 figures have shown that selling prices and rental of office spaces have been growing at a record pace.

In land-scarce Singapore, the growing number of businesses means the demand for office space will continue to rise. And as space decreases, prices increase. In Q3 alone, office space rental prices rose by 1.6 per cent. Part of the reason could be that major buildings such as the NOL Building and Havelock II have been undergoing renovation and thus the office space crunch has led to businesses having to look for alternative spaces within a short time period.

Havelock 2 OfficeDespite luxury properties in the downtown and CBD areas faring poorly of late, Grade A office rents in these areas have been travelling the opposite direction – upwards. Office spaces in the central region have been more in demand than rentals in other regions despite the higher rental prices. Central districts office rentals have risen 2.8 per cent while those at the fringe of the city have risen 1.9 per cent.

Retail space however, is another creature altogether. As most retail space income comes also from the tenant’s sales and margins have been narrow due to higher operating and labour costs. And with the introduction of many more mixed-use developments come 2016, supply may overtake demand and reduce the rarity of these spaces. Especially as online shopping takes off in a big way locally, retail spaces, unless in high traffic areas or exclusive trendy enclaves, may find themselves fighting for the same audience.