For the first time since the financial crash, Manhattan slipped from its ranking as the top spot for foreign investment in American commercial real estate.
Seattle jumped to No. 1.
Investors from other countries spent about $2.5 billion on commercial real estate in Seattle over the last four quarters, according to the commercial real estate data firm Real Capital Analytics. (The ranking measures all major types of property and deals of at least $2.5 million.)
That was a decline of 11% from the year before in Seattle — but a higher volume than Manhattan’s roughly $2 billion in investment.
Maybe you can guess the reason why.
“Where Seattle stands out stronger than Manhattan is some of those safe assets … meaning office assets tied to tech tenants,” said Jim Costello, senior vice president at Real Capital Analytics.
Tech tenants offered “more safety” for investors than the financial sector, he said. As a potential investor in an office building, “I know Apple is good for their rent. I know if Microsoft is a tenant, they’re going to be there in the future,” Costello said.
Canada was the source of most of the cross-border investment in Seattle over the last year, followed by countries in Asia, then Europe.
From the second quarter of last year through the first quarter of this year, investors acquired about $1.9 billion in local office space compared to about $464 million in apartment buildings and nearly $78 million in industrial space, according to data from Real Capital Analytics.
The Seattle area has seen multiple high-dollar office tower sales in the last year, even as the office market has sagged amid uncertainty about whether office workers will return to their cubicles.
In December, a South Korean investment group bought a 95% stake in the 38-story 2+U building at Second Avenue and University Street downtown for $669 million.
A 36-story tower on Eighth Avenue near South Lake Union where Amazon leases office space sold in part to a Canadian pension plan board for about $589 million, according to county property records, and a Facebook-leased building in Bellevue’s Spring District sold for $365 million to a Canadian investment group.
Just this week, another Facebook-leased Spring District building, Block 24, sold for about $200 million to the Canadian firm Brookfield Asset Management, the sellers announced.
Still, 2020 took a toll.
“We had deals canceled, put on hold and delayed” and transaction volume dropped, ” said Holly Yang, senior vice president at Kidder Mathews who specializes in Asia-Pacific investment. “But it certainly has picked up now with COVID-19 rules relaxing and [the] economy rebounding.”
For investors, suburban land for housing developments and sites near transit are among the properties “top on their shopping list,” Yang said. Buyers are also interested in the Eastside, said Kidder Mathews Executive Vice President Dave Speers.
The last month has brought “a noticeable shift in investor sentiment to the positive,” said Gerry Rohm, senior managing director at JLL Capital Markets, citing employers who have recently announced plans to return to the office.
It will take time to rebound, and uncertainty remains. In the first three months of this year, Seattle-area office rents were basically flat and availability of office space is up about 6% compared to the same time last year, according to the commercial real estate firm Savills.
This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Kidder Mathews.