Cushman & Wakefield: The Coworking Industry Could Withstand A Downturn

Cushman & Wakefield predict the sector will triple in size in the foreseeable future.
  • Key findings from Cushman & Wakefield’s latest report (August 2018) into the US coworking market.
  • In the first half of 2018, coworking space accounted for over 10% of all new leasing deals in Washington DC, San Francisco, and Manhattan.
  • The majority of locations are managed by large and well-capitalized providers, which C&W says reduces risks to the industry as a whole.

Cushman & Wakefield (C&W) recently published the report “Coworking and Flexible Office Space: Additive or Disruptive to the Office Market?”, which examines the coworking sector and what we can expect for its future.

As has been extensively documented, the coworking industry is booming. The flexible workspace market is the fastest growing industry in Manhattan; in Asia and Australia the industry is growing at an incredible pace; large corporates have started to embrace coworking, and coworking, in general, has become the new normal. Moreover, the industry has taken up more than 5 million square feet of new space in each of the past three years.

Yet, even with over 15 million square feet of recently added space, flexible workspaces currently account for only 1% of total office inventory (across 87 markets).

“Approximately half of all coworking inventory (in the US) is in the six gateway markets: Manhattan, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Washington DC Metro, and Boston.

In the first half of 2018, leases for coworking space accounted for over 10% of all new leasing deals in three of the six gateway markets: Washington DC Metro (14%), San Francisco (10.8%) and Manhattan (10.5%).”

However, the industry will continue to gain momentum and C&W predict the sector will triple in size in the foreseeable future, reaching the point when it could represent between 5% to 10% of office inventory in various markets.

Even though the US and UK markets are mostly comprised of small operators, the industry as a whole, according to C&W, is dominated by a small number of large players. These large, leading players “are conservative with their proformas, have raised significant venture capital that offer cash reserves, and are diversifying their service offerings in ways that will provide continued income even during a downturn.”

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Among these new services is the already ongoing trend of management agreements. Property owners are either opening up their own coworking spaces, or partnering with existing operators; “11% of all coworking locations globally are joint ventures between a coworking provider and the landlord.” Another potential strategy is that operators will become landlords themselves, “reducing cycle risk across their portfolios and attempting to create additional value for the property.”

This diversifying of services is one of the main reasons why C&W believes the industry is “well-positioned to withstand an economic downturn.” Nonetheless, the industry could experience a 6% decline in a downturn. In this scenario, small coworking providers are likely to close and the growth trajectory of large companies will flatten out.

The good news, however, is that “since the majority of locations and two-thirds of coworking square footage are managed by the two largest and best capitalized providers, the risks to the industry as a whole are small.”

FASB and Corporate Occupiers

Coworking has already started to become a staple for corporate occupiers. New lease accounting standards, set to come into effect in January of 2019, are likely to boost flexible workspace demand from this segment.

These new standards will require “a lessee to recognize as a liability and right-of-use asset on its balance sheet any operating lease where there is an identified asset that the lessee has the right to control for a time period longer than one year.”

Management contracts between an operator and a company, like that of WeWork with IBM, will need to be considered as long-term leases under the new rules.

However, leases shorter than 12 months are exempted from this, which is why coworking and flexible workspaces offer an option that will help corporate occupiers keep a healthy balance sheet. While large companies are not likely to move their entire teams into flexible, short-term space, they are likely to move certain teams and remote workers into them, especially in cities with vast coworking options.

Additional Findings

  • The market is comfortable with 15%-30% of a building/asset to be made up of coworking or flexible space.
  • Investors have been giving a cap rate premium for buildings with a cowork space provider occupying a third or less of the building.
  • Mergers and acquisitions are likely to increase as the market matures. The same goes for bankruptcies.