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Top 50 Office Deals of 2021: Life Science & Medical Offices Take Center Stage

Last year was a transitional year in many ways as people, companies and the entire economy had to find their feet in a changed landscape. In terms of commercial real estate, 2021 brought not only a continuation of the trend toward investment in vast warehousing solutions and data centers, but also a sustained move toward life sciences real estate in the office market.

With that in mind and using data from CommercialEdge, we reviewed all major transactions involving office buildings with at least 25,000 square feet, as well as mixed-use properties that were more than 50% office space (for further details, read our methodology). We also zoomed in to the regional level to highlight the major deals in the Northeast, Midwest, South, and West.

Key takeaways:

Check out the full list in the table below, and read on for more information on the top 50 U.S. office sales of 2021, as well as a roundup of the regional lists.

$3.4 Billion Portfolio Sale in Cambridge, Mass., Tops Office Ranking, Breaking Decade-Long Record

Office sales volume across the top 50 totaled $26.3 billion, with transactions in the Northeast contributing roughly $12 billion and deals for assets located in the West adding $9.31 billion.

More precisely, last year’s priciest office deal was the $3.4 billion sale of University Park at MIT in Cambridge, Mass. — a massive, 11-building deal totaling nearly 2.3 million square feet. That transaction broke the previous record held by the 2008 sale of the General Motors Building ($2.8 billion) — marking 2021 as an exceptional year in more ways than one.

For instance, only three transactions in New York City made the top 10, the highest of which was the $1 billion deal for Hudson Commons in fourth place. Otherwise, CalSTRS paid $860 million for the property at 1177 Avenue of the Americas in July to secure fifth place, while the $760 million sale of the CBS Building ranked 10th.

Besides University Park at MIT, three other entries also surpassed the $1 billion threshold in Boston, San Francisco and New York. This rebound in office market activity followed the cautious investment patterns of 2020 — when no office deals broke the $1 billion mark — and undoubtedly fulfilled a hope of many real estate professionals.

Deals in Cambridge, Boston & San Francisco Outrank NYC

Notably, 16 of the top 50 office transactions were located in the Northeast. Here, sales volume totaled approximately $12 billion, with New York City contributing roughly 36% of that number.

More precisely, seven Northeastern deals ranked within the top 10. Remarkably, Cambridge, Mass., and Boston not only managed to outshine New York City, but also dominated the entire top 10: In addition to occupying the first spot, Cambridge also landed two other entries — the $825 million sale of One Memorial in sixth place and the $775 million deal for the One & Two Charles Park in ninth.

Granted, investors had been diversifying their portfolios for a few years, making even bolder inroads into office markets outside of New York City. But, the effect of this trend has become increasingly visible in the makeup of the annual top 50.

For example, in 2018, New York City had no fewer than 19 office deals among the top 50. Then, just one year later, that number dropped to 11. And, although it ceded the first position to Google’s Sunnyvale portfolio purchase, most of its entries were in the top half of the ranking, with a strong presence in the top five. By 2020, the city had recaptured its leading position with the $900 million sale of 330 Madison Ave. But, in 2021, no deals in New York City cracked the top three.

Chicago’s 1K Fulton Only Midwestern Entry in Top 50

Only one Midwestern sale landed in the top 50 office deals of 2021: The RMR Group picked up 1K Fulton — a 562,792-square-foot property in Chicago — for roughly $355 million or $630 per square foot last June. Built in 1921 and converted into office space in 2015, the building was previously owned by American Realty Advisors, which bought the asset immediately after its conversion.

Charlotte Entries in Top 50 Total $1.25 Billion, Highest Sales Volume in the South

In the South, 13 deals made the list for a combined total volume of $4.66 billion. Of these, Charlotte, N.C., recorded the highest number of transactions across the region with four deals and a total sales volume of $1.25 billion. The priciest among these was the Ally Charlotte Center, which was sold by Crescent Communities in July for $390 million.

In the South, the largest sale was the $700 million paid for The Crescent — 1.3 million square feet of Dallas office space — that missed the nationwide top 10 by $60 million, landing in 11th place.

Meanwhile, the sale of Indeed Tower in Austin (which placed 14th in the top 50) ranked second in the South. The deal closed in June for $580 million, transferring ownership of the 708,438 square feet of Austin office space from Trammell Crow to Kilroy Realty.

Three Floridian office deals also made the list, the highest of which was the Boca Raton Innovation Campus, which changed hands for $320 million. Likewise, Citigroup Center in Miami fetched $300 million, and Phillips Point in West Palm Beach — a 460,000-square-foot office bought by Related Companies — traded for $282 million.

California Lands Highest Number of Portfolio Sales Within Top 50

Meanwhile, the West was home to the highest number of portfolio transactions in the top 50. Here, six portfolios were traded (all of them in California), with the priciest of these being the Village at San Antonio Center I & II in Mountain View — a 456,760-square-foot property for which Brookfield Properties paid $630 million in March.

However, the largest of the portfolio sales (in terms of total square footage) was the 700,365-square-foot, three-building portfolio on Crossman Avenue in Sunnyvale: Tishman Speyer spent $365 million in April to acquire a prime section of Silicon Valley real estate near Google’s 27.9-acre development site on Crossman Avenue.

Overall, top 50 entries from the West totaled $9.3 billion in sales volume across 20 deals, with The Exchange in San Francisco ranking the highest among them. Bought by KKR for $1.08 billion, the 750,000-square-foot, Class A office property was previously owned by Kilroy Realty.

Notably, San Francisco and the Bay Area dominated the regional ranking with 13 transactions for a total office sales volume of $6.6 billion. For comparison, only three deals from Southern California made the cut: The $326.5 million sale of Dreamworks Animation Studios in Glendale; the Lusk Business Park at 6640 & 6650 Lusk Blvd. in San Diego, which changed hands for $315 million; and the $282 million deal for the Sequence Technology Center in San Diego, which was purchased by Alexandria Real Estate.

Major Office Buyers Increase Focus on Life Science Facilities

Alexandria Real Estate also stood out as a major buyer of life science assets in the top 50, spending a total of roughly $2.2 billion on three deals. The largest of these was the $1.16 billion acquisition of 401 Park in Boston, the second-priciest office deal on the list. The Pasadena-based REIT took ownership of the 952,000-square-foot building in February and then promptly announced its plans to build it out as a life science hub. Its other two purchases involved portfolios in Cambridge and San Diego, both of which were life science and technology campuses.

Similarly, Beacon Capital, BioMed Realty, Brookfield Properties, Kilroy Realty, KKR and Monarch Alternative also had two transactions each within the top 50. In particular, Monarch Alternative — an investment firm that focuses on the debt of distressed and bankrupt companies — is an interesting new investor in the trophy asset landscape. With a view of capitalizing on the disruption in the office market, the company acquired the Citigroup Center office building located in downtown Miami, as well as One South at the Plaza in Charlotte, N.C.

Methodology

We based this analysis on CommercialEdge sales data extracted on February 14, 2022. Transactions included were those recorded through December 31, 2021. For this report, we considered office properties of at least 25,000 square feet.

CommercialEdge relies on recorded dates for its sale prices.

We counted portfolio deals as single transactions and only analyzed portfolio sales of buildings that were part of the same campus or property and that shared the same transaction terms.

Where the previous purchase was a partial stake deal, only the majority stakeholder is shown.

In the case of mixed-use assets, only properties with more than 50% office space were considered.

We excluded distressed sales.

Regional lists were compiled according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s map of regions and divisions of the United States.

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