CBRE Outlook: Setting The Stage For a Real Estate Recovery in 2024

February 28, 2024 4 Minute Read

The sun setting over a city with skyscrapers.

The crazier the world gets, the better Canadian commercial real estate looks to investors.

CBRE Canada Chairman Paul Morassutti delivered his outlook for Canadian commercial real estate before an audience of more than 1,400 in Toronto on Feb. 27. Here's the video of his presentation.

CBRE’s just-released Canada Real Estate Market Outlook forecasts that commercial real estate investment activity will recover in 2024 as credit conditions return to normal and investors get better access to capital.  That follows a 15% decline in investment activity in 2023.

Mid-sized investment deals are expected to lead the rebound and drive transaction activity in 2024. Overall Canadian real estate investment volumes are forecast to rise modestly in 2024, to $52 billion, up 5% over 2023’s total, with merger and acquisition activity potentially adding to the forecast total.

“One of the enduring trends from 2023 is how appealing Canada is to global capital,” says Morassutti. “We’re coming off a year of record foreign investment and we expect this trend to continue, which should enhance liquidity overall.

“The message from these foreign buyers is consistent: in an increasingly volatile world, Canada looks good.”

Here is a sector-by-sector breakdown of commercial real estate trends that CBRE will be watching for this year.

CBRE Chairman Paul Morassutti says conditions for recovery are in place, particularly within capital markets.

Office Bifurcation Continues

Downtown office markets across Canada will continue to experience bifurcation between quality and commodity space in 2024. The office tenant flight-to-quality will sustain demand for office space in well-amenitized trophy buildings, meanwhile tenants will continue to shun older buildings, leaving those assets with limited backfill options.

Conversions will continue to be a topic for discussion within the landlord community as they grapple with high vacancy in challenged buildings. Ultimately, this type of activity will play a role in aiding, but not solving, the office market recovery in Canada.

Landlords will need to increase their amenity offerings to remain competitive. Amenities will prove to be the most influential factor in determining whether a building is considered by businesses for tours and leasing.  

Industrial Demand Moderates

While industrial construction has tapered off, 36.1 million sq. ft. of new space is still forecast for completion in 2024.

Weaker economic conditions will moderate industrial leasing demand. The net amount of industrial space to be leased is forecast to remain muted at 14.0 million sq. ft. in 2024. This is below the 30-year average pace of 19.0 million sq. ft. per year but will be an improvement over last year’s 14-year low.

The national industrial availability rate is forecast to rise to 4.2% in 2024 after multiple years in which the Canadian industrial market benefited from ecommerce expansion, expanding supply chain networks and rising retailer inventory levels. Those trends have now mostly been realized and future industrial demand will be more closely aligned with overall economic performance.

Multifamily Vacancy Contracts

Housing starts are forecast to remain at the current pace of ~240,000 units in 2024. Sustained inflation of labour and material costs pose a challenge for developers in an already tight borrowing environment. Construction workers are also scarce and approval timelines for new housing developments remain lengthy, with the cities in most need of new development often seeing the longest turnaround times.

Steps towards incentivizing additional housing construction are being taken by governments. As an example, 2024 will mark the first year in which GST rebates on the construction of new purpose-built rentals will be applied across the country, which is expected to boost development activity.

Multifamily vacancy in Canada dropped to a 22-year low of 1.6% in 2023. With 1.45 million new residents expected over the coming years, multifamily vacancy is expected to contract further in 2024, albeit at a slower rate due to already tight market conditions.

Retail Rebalances

Inflation and elevated interest rates have reduced spending and led to a gradual consumer pullback in 2023. This rebalancing period is expected to continue in 2024.

Consumers will try to save in 2024 by trading down to value channels and products, especially for grocery items where inflation has been felt most acutely. Capturing and maintaining consumer attention will be a primary objective for most brands.

Part of the competitive edge that companies will be seeking in the year ahead involves implementing technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), especially as it aids in improving the customer experience though personalized recommendations and product discovery.

“2024 will not be an easy year, and there are challenges ahead. Liquidity is still a mixed and it is too early to call for a dramatic real estate recovery,” says Morassutti. “But the conditions for a recovery are in place, particularly within the capital markets. Don’t give in to the naysayers.”

2024 Real estate market outlook download

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