Published July 7, 2009

Prime office rents fall 19% in Q2

DTZ notes decline rate eased slightly after Q1's plunge


OFFICE rents in Raffles Place fell 19 per cent in the second quarter of this year, after sinking 25 per cent in Q1, according to a new report from DTZ.

The average monthly gross rent for prime office space in Raffles Place slipped to $9.70 per sq ft per month (psf pm) in Q2. The figure has now fallen close to the level at end-2006 - and is 49 per cent below the Q3 2008 peak.

However, DTZ notes that the rate of decline eased slightly in Q2 2009, after a deep plunge in Q1.

Research from CB Richard Ellis (CBRE) shows the same trend. Prime office rents averaged $8.60 psf pm in Q2 - an 18.2 per cent quarter-on-quarter fall. This was a slight moderation from the 18.6 per cent drop in Q1.

'While office rents fell for the third consecutive quarter, the rate of decline showed signs of easing as sentiment improved and the economy stabilised,' CBRE said.

But DTZ says that office rents on the CBD fringe and in decentralised areas fell faster in Q2 than in Q1. The firm's data shows rents in Beach Road/North Bridge Road slid 20 per cent to $6.20 psf pm in Q2, after a 13 per cent fall in Q1.

Along the Alexandra belt, competition from converted state property and hi-tech industrial property also led to a bigger decline in office rents in Q2 than in Q1. Rents there fell 23 per cent to $5 psf pm, after dropping 13 per cent in Q1.

With CBD office rents falling, the rental gap between office space in the CBD and outside it has narrowed.

In Q2, office rents in Marina Centre were 12 per cent lower than those for prime offices in Raffles Place, compared with an 18 per cent gap during the peak in Q3 2008.

In the Harbourfront area, the gap closed even more - from 47 per cent in Q3 2008 to 35 per cent in Q2 2009. As the gap in rents between CBD and CBD fringe narrows, some companies driven to relocate outside the CBD during the boom years are likely to return, DTZ reckons.

Occupancies were hit further in Q2, although at a slower rate than in Q1. DTZ says the island-wide average office occupancy rate eased 0.9 of a percentage point to 92.8 per cent, lower than the 1.9 percentage point contraction in Q1. Average occupancy in Raffles Place fell 1.1 percentage points to 91.8 per cent in Q2, lower than the 2.7 per cent drop in Q1. Among the micro markets, offices in Orchard Road saw the biggest drop in occupancy. The rate slid 2.8 percentage points to 91.5 per cent as more shadow space became available there.

But CBRE and DTZ say leasing enquiries are starting to pick up. 'It is likely to be a busy H2 for the office leasing market,' said CBRE's executive director for office services Moray Armstrong.

'New lease transaction volumes will be higher, but the focus is likely to remain on lower-cost and better-value options. The best occupier deals may well emerge in the next six to 12 months before market recovery is at hand.'

But take-up is likely to remain in negative territory for the rest of 2009 and occupancies are expected to dip further, according to CBRE and DTZ. The office market is expected to stay soft until 2011, says Chua Chor Hoon, head of DTZ's Southeast Asia research.

'A large supply of space overhangs the office market over the next few years, which will delay the recovery of the sector even though the economy is expected to recover by 2010,' she said.