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Fresh rumors about a possible bankruptcy of WeWork sent shockwaves around the commercial real estate market last week, leaving office landlords around the world trembling with fear at the prospect of losing one of their largest tenants. Especially in prime markets such as New York City, San Francisco, London and Paris, WeWork played an outsized role in the office rental market, occupying large swaths of premium office space.
The reports of WeWork’s imminent demise come at the worst possible time for landlords, who are already struggling to find tenants, as many companies are reducing their office footprint to reduce costs and adapt to the post-pandemic world of hybrid work. According to real estate specialist Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL), office vacancy rates are higher than ever, reaching 21 percent in the U.S. and Canada in Q3 2023 and 16 percent globally, i.e. in the 100+ markets analyzed by JLL Research. In both cases, that’s an increase of 60 percent compared to pre-pandemic vacancy rates, which stood at 13 and 10 percent in North America and globally in Q3 2019, respectively.
At the end of June, WeWork operated 906,000 workstations in 777 locations across 39 countries, with total (current and long-term) lease obligations amounting to $14.2 billion. While it’s unclear what will happen to these locations in case of bankruptcy, landlords look certain to lose out on a large chunk of their agreed-upon leases and to end up with even more excess supply of prime office space.
This chart shows office space vacancy rates in different regions in Q3 2019 and Q3 2023.
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