San Francisco’s commercial real estate market all but glows red hot these days, and some of that energy seems to be radiating out to suburban communities in the North Bay.
Vacancy rates for Sonoma County office and industrial properties have declined markedly over the past three years. In particular, Petaluma businesses in recent years have leased hundreds of thousands of square feet of space that became vacant after a legion of telecom workers vacated the city. Also, the county’s industrial space is considered by some to be in tight supply.
What’s happening now has happened before, Sonoma State University economics professor Robert Eyler said. As real estate rates soar around San Francisco and Silicon Valley, more companies start to look for new space around the South Bay, East Bay and, to lesser extents, Marin and Sonoma counties.
“We are going through another classic wave” of expansion, Eyler said. “The demand sort of ripples out from the Bay Area.”
The county’s vacancy rate for office space declined this summer to 16.2 percent, down from 18.3 percent a year earlier, according to Santa Rosa commercial brokerage Keegan & Coppin/Oncor International. In the last recession, the office vacancy rate peaked at 24.8 percent at the end of 2009 and was still at 22.2 percent in the third quarter of 2012.
The market for industrial space is even tighter. Only 6.4 percent of industrial space in Sonoma County was vacant this summer, down from 8.5 percent a year earlier, according to Keegan & Coppin. Three years ago, the rate stood at 13.3 percent.
Best market in years
Landlords and real estate brokers said the progress in leasing space has been noteworthy.
“It’s definitely the strongest market that we’ve seen in seven or eight years,” said Brad Baker, chairman and CEO of Codding Enterprises. “I think it’s going to grow stronger, and I think that bodes well for the economy.”
While there was broad agreement that vacancy rates are going down, there was less consensus on whether landlords have seen much improvement in rents, a piece of data that isn’t readily available.
Some experts suggested the leasing rates are at least approaching their pre-recession levels. But both SSU’s Eyler and Joan Woodard, president/CEO at Simons & Woodard, said landlords have yet to see significant increases in rents.
Woodard said her company has increased occupancy rates at its two Stony Point Road office buildings to between 88 and 92 percent. But rents there remain at about $1.70 to $1.75 a square foot per month, compared to more than $2 a square foot before the downturn.
“To be honest with you, I don’t believe we have improved in the office sector,” said Woodard, whose company owns or manages 800,000 square feet of space. She still hasn’t seen good growth in office sector jobs for much of the county and “certainly not in Santa Rosa.”
Among the signs of change around the county:
Santa Rosa’s Museum on the Square development is slated in December to have its first tenants occupy office space overlooking Old Courthouse Square. The renovated telecommunication equipment building will have two of its five floors occupied by Luther Burbank Savings, one floor by TLCD Architecture, which designed the project, and on the ground floor, restaurants and food outlets.