Rising vacancies, increased sublease space, softening rents, and a focus on life science sum up market conditions in Boston at the end of the year. The global pandemic has rapidly changed the office landscape, with vacancies up to 14.2% from 8.1% at this time last year, the largest increase since the tech bust. Meanwhile, the year’s 4.1 million SF of negative absorption is the most ever over a four-quarter period. Sublease space has been the main culprit driving this increase, as a total of 3.3 million SF is now on the market, a record high. Rents are beginning to soften. While headline rents (a blended Class A and B series) are off only marginally, taking rents are off significantly. With limited tenant activity, landlords are showing a willingness to adjust financials in order to get a deal done. Meanwhile, life science is very much in focus for landlords and developers.
The ongoing global pandemic has affected conditions less in Cambridge than in either Boston or the suburbs. This is thanks to Cambridge’s unique place within the larger life science ecosystem, a differentiating factor that other markets simply do not have. Vacancies increased in Cambridge in the fourth quarter, up to 5.7%, though rents continue to show strength. The recent completion of 314 Main helped to prop up the office market in the fourth quarter. Tenants still cannot find space for their growth, particularly on the lab side. Office is a slightly different story, because broader macroeconomic conditions are affecting occupancy. Groups such as HubSpot, and Boeing are reducing occupancy by putting space on the sublease market.
Fundamentals in Boston’s suburbs softened a bit at the end of the year. Vacancies moved up to 17.4%, a 1.2-percentage-point increase from this time last year. Sublease space remains a major contributor, as an additional 300,000 SF hit the market in the quarter, and for the year, it has increased by 1.1 million SF. A total negative absorption of 156,000 SF was registered in the fourth quarter and 1.2 million SF in 2020. Sluggish office leasing, slowed decision-making, and continued uncertainty have been key themes throughout this pandemic-induced market cycle. Life science remains a strong driver of the market.