flexing on Hou
Houston real estate report reflects growth in flex space
Flex office space is finding favor with businesses in Houston.
While the Houston area’s office vacancy rate climbed as high as 25 percent last year, the region recently added more flex office space than any other U.S. office market on a percentage basis. From the fourth quarter of 2020 through the third quarter of 2021, the Houston market gained a little over 5 percent more flex space compared with the previous 12-month period, according to a data analysis by Dallas-based commercial real estate services provider CBRE.
Dallas-based Common Desk, a provider of flex office space being acquired by coworking giant WeWork, accounted for 84 percent of the Houston market’s net expansion of flex office space during the 12-month span analyzed by CBRE. Of the 152,977-square-foot net expansion during that time, Common Desk represented 129,000 square feet, CBRE says.
Common Desk has six open or soon-to-open spaces in the Houston area: five locations in Houston and one location in Spring. Aside from Common Desk, flex space operators in the Houston market include Houston-based Boxer Property Management and Austin-based Firmspace, as well as New York City-based companies Industrious, Serendipity Labs, and WeWork.
As of the third quarter of 2021, Houston’s inventory of flex office space stood at 3.1 million square feet. That was the seventh largest inventory among the 49 North American markets examined by CBRE. Flex space made up 1.4 percent of overall office space in Houston.
Flex office space appeals to a variety of tenants, such as startups looking to cut costs, businesses needing short-term space, and companies navigating the pandemic-driven rise in hybrid work arrangements.
“During the pandemic, flexible space has become a more important office amenity in Houston as companies respond to employee desires for flexibility in how they work,” Rich Pancioli, executive vice president in the Houston office of CBRE, says in a news release. “As companies seek to optimize their office portfolios, many are using flexible space as a key tool to test new strategies in a fast-changing environment.”
At one time, CBRE clients heavily emphasized amenities like food services, fitness centers, and health care facilities during their office searches, Pancioli says. Now, many clients are placing a greater priority on flex space or coworking space.
As demand goes up, developers such as Toronto-based Brookfield Asset Management and Houston-based Hines (whose offering is known as The Square) have dipped their toes into the flex office pool. Hines has two flex office spaces in Houston and one space in Salt Lake City. When Hines rolled out The Square in 2019, it identified Atlanta, Boston, Denver, New York City, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Washington, D.C., as potential expansion markets.
While Houston’s availability of flex office space increased during the period studied by CBRE, flex space providers in North America collectively trimmed their portfolios by 9 percent. That led to a decline in the sector’s share of the overall office market from about 2 percent to about 1.75 percent. However, a CBRE survey of 185 U.S.-based companies finds a growing appetite for flex space.
“Flex space has become a skeleton key that companies can use to address their changing office needs,” says Julie Whelan, CBRE’s global head of occupier research.
“They can use it to adjust their office portfolio as they figure out how hybrid work will affect their employees’ office use patterns. They can use flex space to quickly secure a foothold in new markets to tap a different base of talent,” she adds. “Some will use flexible office space to offer employees more choice like access to physical space closer to their homes. In short, flex space allows companies to be more nimble.”