Will CRE Stakeholders Push Coworking Operators Out Of Prime Markets?

In the intensifying race for space, CRE is shifting the flexible workspace playing field.
  • In the intensifying race for space, CRE is shifting the flexible workspace playing field.
  • Over the past 2-3 years a raft of CRE firms have bought or partnered with flexible workspace operators, while others have set up their own coworking brands.
  • This presents both opportunities and challenges for flexible workspace operators, and many are now implementing alternative strategies to meet the changing demands of the market.

The flexible workspace and CRE industries continue to mingle and intertwine. Since late 2017, property companies have turned a keener eye towards the industry.

Among the top examples, more than three property companies have pursued International Workplace Group (IWG), though all deals have fallen through; CBRE launched its own coworking brand Hana; Blackstone acquired a 75% majority stake in The Office Group; and British Land launched its coworking brand Story. There are many more examples.

The entrance of CRE stakeholders into the industry should not go without notice, especially considering that in the early days of coworking, many landlords were skeptical about leasing their properties to coworking operators. More importantly, however, having CRE actively participating in the industry could have significant consequences, especially for small independent operators — keep in mind that both the US and UK markets are made up mostly of small operators.


The Need and Race for Space

All flexible workspace operators, regardless of size, need real estate. Without real estate, there’s no space, let alone “flexible space”. Property owners realize the potential value of coworking, not only can it be a profitable business venture, but it can also help increase a building’s value. It makes sense for them, then, to invest in their own flexible workspace brands.

For the industry, this is great news. For operators, not as much.

Property companies that launch their own flexible workspace brand will therefore have no need nor interest in leasing out building space to third-party operators. Which means coworking operators will have a harder time finding space to grow, especially in prime markets and tier 1 cities.

If this is true, then the race for space will intensify, as operators will need to fight harder with one another to close deals with landlords. Some will even have to fight with these property companies if their leases are up for renewal and their landlord has either partnered with a different operator or launched its own coworking brand.

Then there’s also the fact that if coworking increases a building’s value, then rent prices are likely to go up. All of the above can put immense pressure on all flexible workspace operators, but especially on small independent operators. This might drive them out of business or out of prime markets.

The Numbers

  • Tishman Speyer recently rolled out its coworking brand, Studio. The property’s portfolio is made up of 167 million square feet across 29 different markets — including New York, São Paulo, Berlin, and Shanghai, all of which are hot coworking markets.
  • CBRE is one of the world’s largest commercial real estate services and investment company. It is the largest commercial property developer in the US and it has over $107 billion of assets under management. In 2018, CBRE launched Hana, its own coworking brand.
  • London-based British Land was among the first property companies to launch its own coworking brand, Storey. British Land has 6.5 million square feet of office space, most of it concentrated in London.
  • Dexus is an Australian Real Estate Investment Trust that has launched two different flexible workspace concepts, SuiteX and Dexus Place. Dexus manages around 18.3 million  square feet of office space across Australia’s top markets, including Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, and Canberra.
  • Landsec is among the UK’s largest commercial property development companies. Earlier this year (2019), it announced the launch of its flexible workspace brand Myo. It boasts a property portfolio (office and retail) of over 13 million square feet.
  • Last year (2018), CapitaLand, a Singapore-based property developer company, acquired a 50% stake in coworking brand The Work Project. The company currently manages approximately 177,000 square feet of flexible space alone in Singapore and Hong Kong. The company plans to add over 500,000 square feet of flexible space in its properties by 2021.
  • Blackstone Group is a New York based real estate private equity firm that has $140 billion of assets under management. Its portfolio is made up of properties in North America, Europe, Asia, and Latin America. In 2017, Blackstone Group was among the first property companies to enter the flexible workspace industry by acquiring a 75% majority stake in UK-based The Office Group.

A New Playing Field

Property companies, by launching their own coworking brands and by partnering with existing coworking operators, are changing the playing field of flexible workspace. Competition will continue to intensify, both between existing operators and new entrants powered by property companies.

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Though this may make it harder for smaller operators to stay afloat and negotiate lease deals as there will be a limited availability to get space, it could potentially help expand the industry’s reach and footprint into suburban areas and tier I and tier II markets.

There’s also another alternative, for coworking operators to purchase the buildings they operate in. Several operators have been doing this for over 20 years: Novel Coworking, Premier Workspaces, The Office Group (which is one of the reasons why it was able to negotiate a high selling price with Blackstone), and Office Space in Town, among others. Most recently, WeWork announced its plans to launch a $2.9 billion property management venture.

Suggested Reading: “Buy or Lease? Why Workspace Operators Should Also be Landlords

The industry is shifting as the market demands larger space requirements. As competition increases, coworking operators are implementing alternative strategies to stay afloat and meet the changing demands of the market. International Workplace Group, Knotel, and WeWork have all launched a service to manage office space for companies outside of their locations. Common Grounds has tapped into the coffee shop popularity and launched its own, though separate, cafe business within its locations. Some operators have turned to franchising in order to maintain a strong foothold within their markets.

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