Apr 20, 2012

Forward looking statement

An interesting white paper published recently by Collier International went un-noticed, while I believe it deserve some attention and reading by anyone who is interested in the European office market.
The white paper is the third issue of a series called “Generation Y: Space planning and the future of workplace design”. Below this (un)inspiring title lies an interesting tentative calculation of the future demand for space in Europe (full document: http://aox.ag/Jyf8cg)
Collier equation is quite simple. They consider office workers population trend considering population growth, and remote working trends, as well as new workspace design trends, and add up the numbers.
The result of this analysis for an office hosting 200 employee in 2012 is summarized in the table below:

Colliers come to the conclusion that between now and 2030 it is likely that we will need 2% more office space than today. This is not an annual growth number; this is the total growth expected between now and 2030. The annualized growth rate would be around 0.07%. Let’s round it to ZERO.
The methodology used by Colliers can clearly be questioned. It is rather simplistic, and I am sure any academic can come up with a much more sophisticated econometric model in order to try to assess the need for office use in the future. However, the mere fact that it is simple does not means that it is pointing into the wrong direction.
In fact this analysis fit relatively well in the empirical evidence we have been gathering for years from the market. The existing building environment for commercial office space is sufficient in all the advanced economy. We do not need to build new space, but need to improve the existing one to fit better standards. Local government will have a significant responsibility as by granting building permits to build new office space. If in parallel they do not act to remove the same amount of space elsewhere, they are slowly but surely planting the seed for future vacancy. If in doubt you can have a look at the Nederland, or certain cities in Eastern Germany…
We have also argued in the past that this trend should not necessarily be considered as a bad trend for listed real estate company. Business models will surely need to adapt. Just being there is likely not to be enough anymore. None of the existing office property company anywhere in Europe has such a dominant market share, that it actually needs a growing market in order to pursue it own growth. It is however very likely that capital alone is not going to do the trick anymore. Emphasis is going to move slowly but surely from capital to operation. Listed companies are usually better prepared to face these challenges, than any other player in the market. They usually integrate the full real estate value change and can therefore identify change earlier than others and react faster.
The move is happening as we speak. As usual in our industry it is happening slowly. Don’t be mistaken by the lack of wave on the surface, this change is fundamental. I do not know whether or not Colliers is right in estimating the numbers of sqm of office space that will be needed in the future. However I do know that whoever will do my job in 2030, will be facing a completely different industry. With hopefully a number of more professional and bigger listed real estate companies.

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