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"CRE Matters" Columnists

Synthia Kloot Senior Vice President, Operations, Colliers International
Oliver Tighe Executive Managing Director, Commercial Appraisal Group, Colliers
Tanya Nicholson Director, Marketing, Landlord and Investment Sales, Colliers International
Madeleine Nicholls Managing Director, GTA, Colliers
David Bowden Vice Chairman, Head of Strategy and Consulting, Colliers Canada
Scott Bowden Head of Valuation & Advisory Services, Colliers Canada
Sarah Bramley and Amy Vuong Colliers International
Brendan Neeson Executive Director of Property Tax Services, Alberta, Colliers International
Lex Perry Vice President, Marketing, Communications and Research, Colliers Canada
Colliers National Multifamily Team, East, Colliers Colliers National Multifamily Team, East
Karl Innannen Managing Director, Broker, Colliers, Kitchener
Shiri Rosenberg Director of Asset Strategy, Innovation and Community Spaces, Colliers
Colin Alves & Jean-Marc Dube Colliers Toronto & Montreal
Janina Franceschutti Executive V-P, National Investment Services, Colliers Canada
Eric Horvath, CCIM Senior Vice President & Partner, Colliers
Adam Grisack Director, Valuation & Advisory Services, Colliers Canada
Eliezer Timolien Senior Research Analyst, Colliers
Robyn Baxter Senior Vice President & Co-Managing Director, Workplace Advisory, Colliers Canada
Arnold Fox Senior Vice President, Real Estate Broker, Montreal, Colliers
Alam Pirani Executive Managing Director, Colliers Hotels
Sarah Bramley Associate Vice President, Workplace Strategy & Innovation, Colliers
Bill Hennessey Managing Director, Moncton Brokerage, Colliers
Greg Taylor Managing Director, Halifax Brokerage, Colliers
Dayma Itamunoala Associate Vice President, Sales Representative, Toronto Brokerage, Colliers
Grant Evans Senior Vice President, Victoria Brokerage, Colliers
Lilian Kan Director, Development Management, Colliers Strategy & Consulting, Vancouver
Bonita Craig & Robyn Baxter Colliers Canada
Daniel Holmes President, Brokerage Services | Canada, Colliers
Sehaj Gill Associate Director, Property Tax Services, Colliers
Jane Domenico Senior Vice-President & National Lead, Retail Services
Robin McLuskie Managing Director, Canadian Hotel Brokerage, Colliers
Douglas Pulver Executive Managing Director, Colliers Vancouver
Tonya Lagrasta Head of ESG, Colliers Real Estate Management Services Canada
Pat Phillips Senior Vice President, Colliers Vancouver Brokerage
Rob Newman Senior Director of Property Tax Services, Colliers
Adam Jacobs Senior National Director, Research, Colliers Canada
Darrell Hurst Darrell Hurst, Senior Managing Director, Brokerage, Colliers
Jean-Marc Dubé and Arnold Fox Colliers Montreal
Robert Brazzell Managing Director, Ontario Property Tax Services, Colliers Canada
Damian Bernacik Director, Legal Services, Property Tax Services
Susan Thompson Associate Director of Research, Colliers Vancouver
Peter Garrigan, SIOR Executive Managing Director, Greater Toronto Area | Colliers Brokerage
Rob Purdy Executive Director, Colliers Canada’s Valuation and Advisory Services
Ryan McIver Senior Vice-President and Broker, Colliers Toronto


Navigating CRE in Vancouver: Resilience, growth and anticipation of a ‘downturn buster’

Throughout my experience in the commercial real estate industry, I have witnessed several downturns in the Metro Vancouver market. While there are often similarities among these cycles, there are also distinct differences.

One notable characteristic of the current market is that it follows a rare and unprecedented pandemic, which prompted the federal government to implement extraordinary financial support measures. These actions eventually led to the Bank of Canada (BoC) taking steps to curb runaway inflation.

The BoC has since maintained elevated interest rates to achieve its target inflation rate, but the repercussions are still evident across various commercial property asset classes.

The economic landscape surrounding this bear market in commercial real estate has unique aspects. Presently, B.C.s Lower Mainland benefits from significant population growth, primarily driven by economic immigration as well as a more diversified regional economy. Importantly, we have not observed a significant surge in commercial bankruptcies thus far during this downturn. 

Overall, there are reasons for optimism and positive developments in each segment of the local commercial real estate market. We anticipate that an announcement signalling a recovery from this downturn is on the horizon, paving the way for a return to full strength.

There are challenges and there are bright sides

The pandemic has had a profound impact on how and where we work, and these changes are still ongoing. Remote work has posed a significant challenge to the office market, resulting in a downtown office vacancy rate of over 10 per cent for the first time in roughly two decades.

However, Vancouver's office vacancy rate remains one of the lowest in North America, and the shifting market means that tenants now have a greater opportunity to expand or upgrade their office space

Certain organizations will need to cater to the growing demand for work flexibility, particularly for specialized roles that require talent from outside the local area. Successful organizations will prioritize purposeful, amenity-rich office spaces that foster collaboration, teamwork and a strong corporate culture. These spaces should also be conveniently located near transit hubs, facilitating easy access for employees.

On the other hand, the industrial property sector is experiencing strong demand while facing a scarcity of land for development.

Vancouver boasts one of the busiest ports in North America and will remain a critical supplier to many eastern and northern regions, adding further pressure to an already tight industrial market. As a result, we are witnessing the emergence of innovative and environmentally friendly industrial developments, including multi-level projects closer to the urban core and transit hubs.

While the vacancy rate remains low, we anticipate this economic downturn will alleviate some of the space constraints in the industrial sector, bringing the market closer to a state of equilibrium. This shift will create opportunities for new occupiers who are looking to relocate or expand their presence in this market.

E-commerce has been a key industrial driver

One of the driving forces behind the demand for industrial space is the rise of e-commerce, which poses challenges for traditional brick-and-mortar retail.

However, in-person retail is not experiencing a catastrophic decline. According to a survey conducted by Colliers, 87 per cent of retailers reported that in-store purchasing remains the most profitable form of shopping. In fact, brick-and-mortar sales reached $693 billion in 2022, representing a nine per cent increase compared to 2021, as stated in the Colliers Tenant Survey Report 2023.

While online sales in Canada saw a significant surge in 2020, reaching nearly 12 per cent, they have since normalized to pre-pandemic levels, currently accounting for approximately six per cent of total sales.

The in-person retail shopping experience generates a unique energy and presents proven opportunities to expand omni-channel sales. Robust retail activity continues to thrive in transit-oriented, mixed-use developments, while convenience-based retail anchored by grocery stores attracts substantial consumer traffic for essential products.

Additionally, the return of tourists is a positive sign, as the World Health Organization declared the end of the global health emergency caused by COVID-19 in May.

Vancouver is preparing to welcome 331 cruise ships by October 24, bringing in a record-breaking 1.3 million visitors to the city. Each ship's visit is projected to contribute an average of almost $3 million to the local economy, with these predominantly international guests arriving at Waterfront, the gateway to Vancouver's downtown area and a short walk from Gastown, Chinatown and luxury shopping destinations.

Furthermore, there is an increase in hotel room demand in Vancouver thus far in 2023, and the number of restaurant openings has surpassed closures by a net total of 12 businesses since 2021, as reported in the State of Downtown 2023 report.

These factors, along with others, provide reasons for optimism regarding the region's commercial markets.

Commercial failings remain muted

The commercial real estate sector has shown resilience amidst the current economic challenges.

Surprisingly, the number of commercial bankruptcies or overall job cuts has not yet reached the expected levels despite the significant increase in borrowing rates, elevated inflation and overall economic slowdown. This suggests developers, landowners and occupiers have generally managed to navigate the market challenges and maintained stability aside from a few unfortunate business closures.

It appears the depth of this downturn is not as severe as previous ones, and the Bank of Canada’s efforts to ease inflation seem to be working, with inflation decelerating in May to 3.4 per cent.

Economists generally are expecting flat growth or a slight decline in GDP, with interest rates potentially reducing in 2024 as the economy stabilizes. 

Growing population due to economic immigration

One of the positive factors driving the national commercial real estate market is the growing population due to economic immigration.

Canada's population just reached 40 million, and increased in 2022 alone by over a million people, positioning it as the fastest-growing G7 nation. A significant portion of this growth, 96 per cent, can be attributed to international immigration, particularly in the economic immigration category. 

Many of these newcomers will choose Metro Vancouver as their settling place, fuelling the already strong housing market and maintaining low vacancy rates in purpose-built apartment buildings.

This robust immigration trend will have a positive ripple effect on other forms of commercial investment across various asset classes.

Vancouver isn’t a one-trick economy anymore

Vancouver has successfully diversified its economy, moving away from reliance solely on the natural resources industry and associated professional services.

Today, the city's economy is driven by a range of sectors including the film industry, professional services, technology, tourism, advanced education, biomedical research, port-related activities and natural resources, which still hold a significant influence. 

This economic diversity positions Vancouver favourably and it has attracted global companies such as Amazon, Microsoft, Salesforce, and Finning International, which have established a deeper presence in the local market.

A ‘downturn buster’ is coming, eventually

While we currently face a downturn, history has shown there is always a turning point that sparks a resurgence in the market.

This "downturn buster" typically comes in the form of a major announcement or deal that brings new energy and breakthroughs to the local economy. 

It’s just a matter of time. 

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