Navigating the future: Houston office market embraces change

The Houston office market continues to undergo a period of recovery and adaptation in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. As businesses and employees explore new work models and redefine their office space requirements, the market landscape is experiencing shifts that reflect the changing needs and expectations of tenants. REDnews spoke with industry experts to gain insights into the current state of the Houston office market, emerging trends, the evolving amenities used to attract workers and predictions for the upcoming year.

According to Abby Alford, transaction management director for CBRE, Houston has felt the impact of the current economic conditions, but that does not imply a complete halt in activity.

“While leasing activity slowed overall this quarter, we’re seeing submarkets identified in drive time analysis studies to be a convenient location for employees, such as West Houston, strengthen,” Alford said.

In Q1 2023, Houston posted negative net absorption, but the overall average vacancy rate slightly decreased to 23.1%. It’s worth noting, however, that CBRE analysis found roughly 80% of that vacancy rate can be attributed to 10% of buildings.

Bob Cromwell, managing director of office services for Moody Rambin, noted that large users are contracting their office footprints, leading to negative absorption. However, the amenities-rich environment in areas like Memorial City/CityCentre have fared well with vacancy rates as low as 3%.

“There is no space,” added Cromwell. ”That amenity-rich environment is actually doing quite well.”

COVID-19 significantly reshaped the use and perception of office space. Cromwell emphasized that the dust has yet to settle, as businesses navigate the new normal. He observes that tenants are gravitating toward spec suites, highlighting the need for flexibility and ready-to-use spaces. Furthermore, tenant lounges and recreational areas, incorporating features such as golf simulators, are emerging as new trends.

Alford added that landlords are rethinking traditional amenities and exploring innovative ways to create collaborative environments. The emphasis is on fostering a comfortable and destination-like workspace that encourages employee interaction and engagement. Common areas, break rooms and huddle rooms are receiving increased attention to promote a dynamic and productive environment.

“The important thing for amenities is thinking outside the box and creating collaborative environments,” Alford stressed.

To entice workers back to the office, employers are embracing a live-work-play approach. Amber Carter, CEO and managing broker for Seven Fourteen Realty, highlighted the importance of a supportive atmosphere and company culture.

“Offering healthy snacks that are available throughout the day, fitness centers/ gym memberships, outdoor walking space or trails have been a few of the top amenities that employers have incorporated,” said Carter. “Offering space for childcare and pet care has also reflected positively in attracting workers back to the office. Most families are having to decide whether to have the expense of childcare or have a parent stay at home if a work from home option isn’t available.”

Carter predicts that the office space landscape will not return to pre-pandemic levels, but rather evolve into a new normal. She anticipates that property owners with larger buildings will explore repurposing options, combining housing, entertainment and office or co-working spaces to meet the changing demands.

As far as Houston office development, Cromwell believes it will slow down due to interest rates and how much space is currently available.

“You’re not going to see much in the way of speculative office development in the near term,” Cromwell said.

Looking ahead, experts in the Houston office market tell REDnews it will continue to evolve with property owners exploring creative repurposing options and emphasizing collaborative work environments. By embracing change and meeting the evolving demands of the workforce, Houston’s office market is well-positioned for a successful future.