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Canada's commercial property market is set for another blockbuster year

Canada’s commercial-property boom is expected to stretch into this year, helped by a tight supply and the lowest unemployment rate in at least four decades, according to brokerage Avison Young Canada Inc.

“We continue to feel very positive about opportunities in the real estate environment for the year ahead,” Chief Executive Officer Mark Rose said in a report Tuesday. “More capital is available to move into real estate debt and equity than at any other time. The next wave of investment is not a matter of if or when — it’s just a matter of price.”

Final figures for 2018 are expected to show that commercial-property investment in the country reached a record, beating the previous high of $36 billion (US$27 billion) in the year before, according to the Toronto-based brokerage. Here are highlights from the report:

Vacancies declined in almost every market, lowering the Canadian average to 11 per cent at the end of last year. Office space under construction nearly doubled in 2018 to more than 22 million square feet (2 million square metres), mainly in Toronto and Vancouver. The new supply is expected to push up the vacancy rate to 11.3 per cent this year. Limited space and rising rents in downtown markets across the country could push tenants out to the suburbs.

Vacancies nationwide fell to a record low of 2.9 per cent near the end of 2018 and are expected to drop further this year. Toronto and Vancouver had the lowest industrial vacancy rates in North America at 1.3 per cent and 1.5 per cent, respectively. The cities are projected to rank among the three tightest markets in the continent this year. Construction rose to more than 20 million square feet last year, up from about 14 million square feet in 2017.

Vacancies remain in flux due to closures of big chains and the rise of online shopping. Luxury and discount retailers are flourishing at the expense of the middle of the market. Growth in spending is slowing amid high consumer debt and rising interest rates. This year, landlords will direct investments to upgrading their assets. Properties with excess land may be redeveloped to add complementary mixed-use elements, such as housing and offices.