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CBRE Outlook: Foreign Investors Will Help Drive Canadian Commercial Real Estate Investment Volumes Up to $52 Billion in 2024

February 27, 2024

A low-angle view of Toronto's financial district, with the CN Tower in the background.

Canada is more appealing in a volatile world and investment volumes are forecast to increase 5%.

Real estate investor sentiment is expected to turn positive in anticipation of interest rate cuts coming later in 2024. CBRE’s new Canada Real Estate Market Outlook forecasts that after declining more than 15% last year versus a year earlier, commercial real estate investment activity will recover in 2024 as credit conditions return to normal and investors get better access to capital.

Mid-sized investment deals are expected to lead the rebound and drive transaction activity in 2024. Overall Canadian real estate investment volumes are forecast to rise modestly in 2024, to $52 billion, up 5% over 2023’s total, with merger and acquisition activity potentially adding to the forecast total.

“One of the enduring trends from 2023 is the appeal of Canada to global capital,” says CBRE Chairman Paul Morassutti. “We’re coming off a year of record foreign investment and we expect this trend to continue, which should enhance liquidity overall. The message from these foreign buyers is consistent: in an increasingly volatile world, Canada looks good.”

Here is a sector-by-sector breakdown of commercial real estate trends that CBRE will be watching for this year.

Office

  • Downtown office markets across Canada will continue to experience bifurcation between quality and commodity space in 2024. Flight-to-quality will sustain demand for space in well-amenitized trophy buildings, meanwhile tenants will continue to shun older buildings, leaving those assets with limited backfill options. Many landlords will look to capital improvements to support the long-term appeal of their assets. But in many cases a more comprehensive re-think may be required.
  • Conversions will continue to be a topic for discussion within the landlord community as they grapple with high vacancy in challenged buildings. A total 4.2 million sq. ft. of office product has come out of inventory for conversion over the last three years, over 60% of which took place in 2023. Ultimately this type of activity will play a role in aiding but not solving the office market recovery in Canada.
  • Landlords will need to increase their amenity offerings to remain competitive. Amenities will prove the most influential factor determining whether a building is considered by businesses for tours and leasing.  

Industrial

  • While industrial construction has tapered off, 36.1 million sq. ft. of new space is still forecast for completion in 2024.
  • Weaker economic conditions will moderate industrial leasing demand. The net amount of industrial space to be leased is forecast to remain muted at 14.0 million sq. ft. in 2024. This is below the 30-year average pace of 19.0 million sq. ft. per year but will be an improvement over last year’s 14-year low.
  • The national industrial availability rate is forecast to rise to 4.2% in 2024 after multiple years in which the Canadian industrial market benefited from ecommerce expansion, expanding supply chain networks and rising retailer inventory levels. Those trends have now mostly been realized and future industrial demand will be more closely aligned with overall economic performance.

Multifamily

  • Housing starts are forecast to remain at the current pace of ~240,000 units in 2024. Sustained inflation of labour and material costs poses a barrier for developers in an already tight borrowing environment. Construction workers are also scarce and approval timelines for new housing developments remain lengthy, with the cities in most need of new development often seeing the longest turnaround times.
  • Steps towards incentivizing additional housing construction are being taken by governments. As an example, 2024 will mark the first year in which GST rebates on the construction of new purpose-built rentals will be applied across the country, which is expected to boost development activity.
  • Record demand driven by unprecedented population growth pushed the overall multifamily vacancy rate in Canada down to a 22-year low of 1.6% in 2023. With 1.45 million new residents expected over the coming years, multifamily vacancy is expected to contract further in 2024, albeit at a slower rate due to already tight market conditions.

Retail

  • Inflation and elevated interest rates have reduced spending and led to a gradual consumer pullback in 2023. This rebalancing period is expected to continue in 2024. Consumers will try to save in 2024 by trading down to value channels and products, especially for grocery items where inflation has been felt most acutely. Capturing and maintaining consumer attention will be a primary objective for most brands.
  • Part of the competitive edge that companies will be seeking in the year ahead involves implementing technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), especially as it aids in improving the customer experience though personalized recommendations and product discovery. AI technologies and solutions will drive innovation, improve the shopper journey, deepen loyalty, and elevate brands.
  • Retailer expansion and innovation will be greatest among those brands facing headwinds or those that are carving out a niche for themselves within the Canadian marketplace.

“2024 will not be an easy year, and there are challenges ahead. Liquidity is still a mixed bag and it is too early to call for a dramatic real estate recovery,” says Morassutti. “But the conditions for a recovery are in place, particularly within the capital markets. Don’t give in to the naysayers.”

Download the 2024 CBRE Canada Real Estate Market Outlook

About CBRE Group, Inc.
CBRE Group, Inc. (NYSE:CBRE), a Fortune 500 and S&P 500 company headquartered in Dallas, is the world’s largest commercial real estate services and investment firm (based on 2021 revenue). The company has more than 105,000 employees (excluding Turner & Townsend employees) serving clients in more than 100 countries. CBRE serves a diverse range of clients with an integrated suite of services, including facilities, transaction and project management; property management; investment management; appraisal and valuation; property leasing; strategic consulting; property sales; mortgage services and development services. Please visit our website at www.cbre.com.

In Canada, CBRE Limited employs 2,200 people in 22 locations from coast to coast. Please visit our website at www.cbre.ca.