Have you been looking to buy an industrial unit anywhere in Markham, Vaughan, Mississauga, Scarborough, or any other part of the GTA lately?
If you have you've likely either been so scared away by the prices that you've decided to put your search on hold, or you've decided to increase your budget higher than what you thought it would have to be. It's a bit of an understatement to say that the industrial real estate market for industrial properties for sale in the GTA is very hot right now. In fact, it has been a very strong market since the start of the pandemic in early 2020. It was actually starting to gather steam before the pandemic even began but there have been some pandemic related factors as well as other macro factors in the last few years that have just added fuel to the fire (rocket fuel to be more accurate).
I'll comment on these factors further down in this article, but for now I want to take a very unscientific look at a specific market and a specific product. Let's look at industrial properties for sale in Markham and let's look at units between 500 and 2000 square feet. This is one of the most popular products on the market and it's something that many clients reach out to me for. Markham is a great industrial real estate market with a good mix of supply, great access to transportation arteries, and proximity to a large labour pool of skilled workers. For this reason Markham is a popular choice for business owners and investors looking to buy small industrial units.
Let's just simply compare Q4 in 2020 versus Q4 in 2021 and we'll start to get a sense of how the market in Markham changed over that period of time for small industrial units. In Q4 of 2020 (October-December), only two industrial units between 500-2000 sq ft sold in Markham. These were:
280 Yorktech Dr, Unit 23
1229 sq ft
Listed for $549,800
Sold for $535,000
49 days on market
$435 per sq ft
2750 14th Ave, Unit G07
1735 sq ft
Listed for $639,900
Sold for $575,000
59 days on market
$331 per sq ft
The Yorktech unit was newer with some more favourable features such as an 18 ft clear height versus 14 ft for the 14th Ave unit, hence the difference in sale price per sq ft. Nevertheless this gives you some idea of where the market was at during this time even though this is a small sample set - somewhere in that $330 to $450 per sq ft price range you could say.
Let's fast forward to Q4 of 2021 and look at all of the industrial units that sold in Markham during that time that were 500 to 2000 sq ft. These were:
280 Yorktech Dr, Unit 2
1324 sq ft
Listed for $648,000
Sold for $788,888
2 days on market
$596 per sq ft
951 Denison St, Unit 5
1978 sq ft
Listed for $950,000
Sold for $1,050,000
71 days on market
$531 per sq ft
Some pretty interesting stuff there. Maybe most interesting is that another unit in the 280 Yorktech complex, an almost identical unit in fact, sold one year later for substantially more than the one in 2020, representing a 37% increase in the price per sq ft. That's mind boggling for only a year later.
But maybe weirdest of all is that it sold after only 2 days on the market and for $140k above the asking price. That is starting to sound like residential market territory - insane stuff. The crazy thing is I'm seeing this more and more these days - multiple offers, units selling over asking. I would not be shocked if brokers started holding offer dates on industrial units pretty soon.
The unit on Denison achieved a solid $531 per sq ft itself, and so - and again this is a very small sample size - we went from a broad range of $330 to $450ish per sq ft for small industrial units in Markham to more like $530 to $600 a foot. In only one year.
I can tell you based on what I'm seeing on the ground with my clients and in watching the market every day that things have continued to strengthen since Q4 of 2021, and $560 seems like the starting point now for industrial units in Markham with prices just going up from there.
There is one thing I'd like to point out that is common though between Q4 2020 and Q4 2021: only two units in that 500-2000 sq ft size range sold in both time periods in all of Markham. That points to one of the fundamental drivers for these price increases - low supply - and acts as a good segue to the last part of this article which will touch on the drivers.
Ecommerce Growth - Ecommerce sales as a portion of the sale of goods continues to rise drastically each year in Canada, and the pandemic truly accelerated this growth in the last few years. You might be asking how this relates to industrial real estate. Ecommerce relies heavily on supply chain logistics and warehouse storage, and as it becomes more and more of a component in Canadian's shopping habits, more and more industrial warehouse spaces will be required. Your most obvious example of this is Amazon and its massive start of the art warehouses, but there are a whole host of secondary examples that are occurring on a much smaller scale as well. Even more and more startups and mom and pop retailers are relying more heavily on online sales and those businesses need warehouse spaces too (or their fulfillment providers do). The demand for these spaces because of ecommerce has a knock on effect to anyone interested in industrial units for any purpose even if not for ecommerce - there is simply much more demand and competition in the market now.
Manufacturing Resurgence - There was a time when it was thought that manufacturing would no longer take place in North America at all - that it would all be done in cheaper oversees locations like China because of the drastically lower costs. But that narrative has started to change in the last few years. More and more businesses, including large scale ones like automakers, are seeing the value of restarting or developing new manufacturing capabilities in North America. One of the reasons for this is that the gap in cost between Chinese manufacturing and North American manufacturing has narrowed significantly. As China has boomed and labour rates have increased, their low cost competitive advantage has been reduced. The other factor is the supply chain risk. There is a positive case to be made for having your supply closer to home and less prone to supply-chain and transport disruptions. And lastly is the quality control aspect of it, which is much more manageable with manufacturing closer to home as opposed to in a far off location like China.
Low Supply - The industrial market in Canada was pretty stagnant for a long time, often seen as much less glamorous than office, retail, or multi-family for commercial real estate investors. For that reason, developers weren't scrambling to develop new industrial projects, and more often allocated capital toward new office, retail, and residential developments. For that reason, as the industrial demand has spiked over the last few years based on some of the reasons given above, there is not enough of a steady stream of new projects nearing completion to meet the incremental demand. That is starting to change as more and more developers are ramping up industrial projects, but there is still a definite lag between current demand and available supply. Another more persistent issue is the scarcity of remaining industrial zoned land in the more popular GTA industrial markets throughout York Region, Toronto, and Peel Region. There just isn't a lot of space left to build, and as a result more and more investors and developers are looking farther afoot to markets like Halton, Durham, Barrie, Hamilton, London, and others.
I don't think any of the issues stated above goes away any time soon. As a result I'm bullish on the industrial market for at least the next few years. I think people underestimate how much room there still is for ecommerce to grow, given it still only makes up a small percentage of retail sales as well as given how far Canada lags the US when it comes to ecommerce sales. This means Amazon and the other storage users aren't finished yet. And much of the industrial supply in the pipeline - even if it were enough to satisfy demand, which I don't think it is - is still a year or more behind the uptick in demand and will be constantly catching up, all while in a more land-constrained environment.
All this is not to discourage anyone from investing in industrial real estate at the moment, either to occupy for your own business or as an investor. In fact, it's the opposite - as crazy as things seem now, I think the fundamentals are strong for industrial real estate in all markets of the GTA like Markham, Vaughan, Toronto, Etobicoke, Mississauga, Brampton, etc, for years to come.