Published August 5, 2009

Office leasing scene - musical chairs with extra seats

Some tenants factor in higher headcount as they move to new locations


(SINGAPORE) There's a buzz in the office leasing market. Many new leasings are at the expense of space being given up in existing locations as occupiers are drawn to better-value propositions in newer buildings. But a few are taking up more space in their new locations than what they are giving up in their existing premises to cater to future increases in headcount.

'It's not all musical chairs. There's also a smattering of improved headcount numbers, even as most occupiers chase lower cost, better value locations,' a seasoned office property consultant said.

Another office consultant, Knight Frank director of office leasing Agnes Tay, said: 'I don't expect net office demand to turn positive this quarter, but the negative demand will be smaller in the second half of this year. Companies in general are more optimistic now compared to the end of last year. More of them are now taking a position on headcount and real estate requirements and a few are even making plans for future growth.'

Much of the leasing activity has centred on new buildings - including Mapletree Anson and Straits Trading Building.

More than 80 per cent of Straits Trading Building is said to be let out, ahead of its completion later this year.

Tenants are said to include Rajah & Tann (which is understood to be taking up at least 80,000-90,000 sq ft), overseas law firm Conyers Dill & Pearman and serviced office operator Asia-Pacific Business Centre. Colliers International is said to have brokered these leasing deals.

Rajah & Tann is expected to move from its existing premises at Bank of China Building nearby; Conyers, which is leasing a floor at Straits Trading Building, will move from Singapore Land Tower.

Over in the Anson Road/Tanjong Pagar corner of the CBD, Mapletree Anson, which received Temporary Occupation Permit recently, is said to be 35 per cent let out, with more than 100,000 sq ft leased. Tenants include AON, QBE (both involved in the insurance and reinsurance business) and a Japanese MNC, understood to be Sumitomo.

AON is moving from Singapore Land Tower, QBE from OCBC Centre and Sumitomo from Equity Plaza. CB Richard Ellis is said to have brokered the three leasing deals in the project.

Tenants are said to have been drawn to Mapletree Anson's efficient floor plates, with column-free space of 20,000 sq ft per floor allowing more effective layout of workstations.

A stone's throw away, a La Salle Investment Management fund will be completing its 20 Anson Road project in a few months.

Both office buildings have attained Singapore's highest green building certification of Green Mark Platinum.

An office developer said: 'Most of the leasing deals in the past six to nine months involve relocations or consolidation from several buildings into a single location. In contrast, 12 to 24 months ago, leasing deals involved occupiers upsizing their space requirements.'

Jones Lang LaSalle's head of markets, Singapore, Chris Archibold said: '2009 will be a negative take-up year but in terms of market activity, leasing deals will be higher in the second half of this year. A lot of relocation is being driven by consolidation or downsizing rather than expansion. Hopefully, expansion will come back next year. There are tenants with passing rents below current market rents and who are therefore looking for cheaper alternatives like new buildings in peripheral CBD locations.'

Office consultants expect office rents to continue easing for the rest of this year - but at a slower pace. The demand is still weak but there is substantial supply coming on the market in the next few years.

According to government figures, the pipeline supply for the office sector stood at about 13.3 million sq ft gross floor area as at end-Q2 2009, of which about 12 million sq ft is slated for completion by 2012.

JLL's average monthly rental value for prime Grade A Raffles Place (small space) stood at $9.50 psf in Q2 2009, about half the peak figure of $18.40 psf in Q3 last year.