Warehouses now more valuable than office buildings, thanks to Amazon

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While China slams the brakes on buying trophy properties and the potential for a retail apocalypse grows, something less sexy but striking is going on in real estatewarehouses are now worth more than office buildings.

Giant, high-tech warehouses, to be precise. These “big box” affairs are defined as having at least 200,000 square feet and 28-foot ceilings, in a report by Colliers International Group Inc. that calls out the surge in their value.

Colliers looked at 14 North American markets (with all but one, Toronto, in the United States) and found that such warehouses sold last year at an average capitalization rate of 5.8 percent. That’s comfortably lower than the 6.7 percent cap rate for U.S. office space, including suburban and rural properties, and neck and neck with offices in central business districts, at 5.7 percent. Cap rates, which measure yield, fall as asset values rise.

These are not the sleepy warehouses of old. Distribution centers today are hives of activity. As e-commerce companies race to get that Original EggMazing Easter Egg Decorator Kit to your doorstep ever faster, they need sophisticated equipment to assemble orders and a swelling workforce to manage it all.

The report itself didn’t look at office properties, and markets dominated by offices aren’t always the same as major industrial markets. Still, the rise of the warehouse’s value is unmistakable nationwide, said Pete Quinn, USA national director of industrial services for Colliers International.

Vacancy rates are at “historic lows,” said Quinn, who is based in Indianapolis. And despite a lot of construction, warehouses are being leased as soon as the cranes come down.

Indianapolis, Phoenix and California’s Inland Empire are among the hot markets.

Investing in this demand are Blackstone Group LP, Gramercy Property Trust, Exeter Property Group and Clarion Partners, he said, adding that KKR & Co. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. have also gotten involved.

Amazon.com Inc., naturally, is the top occupier of industrial space in the U.S., with 102 million square feet spread over 258 facilities and plans to add 37.8 million more square feet by the end of the year, Quinn said. Amazon’s competitors, including those that started out with traditional physical stores, such as Kohl’s Corp., are modernizing their own supply chains to keep up, he said, adding to the demand.

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