Photographer: Martin Leissl/Bloomberg

Warehouses Are Now Worth More Than Offices, Thanks to Amazon

  • Demand for ‘big box’ properties surges in age of e-commerce
  • Even for urban office space, values are neck and neck

While China slams the brakes on buying trophy properties and the retail apocalypse draws nigh, something less sexy but striking is going on in real estate.

Warehouses are now worth more than office buildings.

Giant, high-tech warehouses, to be precise. These “big box” affairs are defined as having at least 200,000 square feet (18,600 square meters) and 28-foot (8.5-meter) ceilings, in a report by Colliers International Group Inc. that calls out the surge in their value.

Colliers looked at 14 North American markets (all but one, Toronto, in the U.S.) and found that such warehouses sold last year at an average capitalization rate of 5.8 percent. That’s comfortably lower than the 6.7 percent cap rate for U.S. office space, including suburban and rural properties, and neck and neck with offices in central business districts, at 5.7 percent. Cap rates, which measure yield, fall as asset values rise.

Box Boom

Capitalization rates for office space (black for central business district, red for all) and big-box industrial real estate. The declining blue line reflects rising demand for big-box space.

Source: Colliers International Group

Note: Big box is at least 200,000 square feet and 28 feet high. Lower cap rates reflect greater value. Markets for office and industrial real estate differ.

These are not the sleepy warehouses of old. Distribution centers today are hives of activity. As e-commerce companies race to get that Original EggMazing Easter Egg Decorator Kit to your doorstep ever faster, they need sophisticated equipment to assemble orders and a swelling workforce to manage it all.

The report itself didn’t look at office properties, and markets dominated by offices aren’t always the same as major industrial markets. Still, the rise of the warehouse’s value is unmistakable nationwide, said Pete Quinn, national director of industrial services for the U.S. at Colliers. Vacancy rates are at “historic lows,” Quinn said, and despite a lot of construction, warehouses are being leased as soon as the cranes come down. Indianapolis, Phoenix and California’s Inland Empire are among the hot markets.

Investing in this demand are Blackstone Group LP, Gramercy Property Trust, Exeter Property Group and Clarion Partners, he said, adding that KKR & Co. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. have also gotten involved.

Amazon.com Inc., naturally, is the top occupier of industrial space in the U.S., with 102 million square feet spread over 258 facilities and plans to add 37.8 million more square feet by the end of the year, Quinn said. Amazon’s competitors, including those that started out with traditional physical stores, such as Kohl’s Corp., are modernizing their own supply chains to keep up, he said, adding to the demand.

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