2021 California Office Sales Report: Bay Area Sales Activity on a Roll, LA & San Francisco Slowly Returning

Key Takeaways: 

  • Office sales top $22 billion, up 47% Y-o-Y across California markets
  • 373 office deals closed in California in 2021, 38% more than in 2020
  • 8 of the 10 largest 2021 California office transactions closed in the Bay Area
  • 48.6 million square feet of office space changed hands in 2021, a 45% increase compared to 2020
  • Average sale prices per square foot surpassed 2019 numbers in Bay Area, Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Diego
  • San Francisco welcomed 6 of the 10 largest office completions of the year

2021 California Office Sales Overview: Bay Area Activity Spikes, OC Stabilizes & Sacramento Slows 

Office sales in California jumped more than 47% year-over-year (Y-o-Y), topping $22 billion across the nine markets we analyzed. This represents a big step toward nearing pre-pandemic activity ($29 billion in total volume in 2019).  

Specifically, the Bay Area saw the most investment activity overall and was followed by San Francisco. But, what’s striking was the volatility within each market, as well as between them: Coming to the tail end of the pandemic, some markets increased activity, while others saw cooling.

For instance, the Bay Area was the hottest of the markets analyzed, closing more than $9.3 billion in office transactions — up 118% Y-o-Y. Prices here rose 21% Y-o-Y to $505 per square foot. Conversely, the San Francisco office market was more volatile, with quarterly average prices per square foot ranging as high as $1,373 in Q1 to as low as $546 per square foot in Q4.

At the same time, sales activity in San Diego picked up steam in 2021, rising 48% Y-o-Y to reach $2.1 billion. Likewise, the average price per square foot of office space here increased 20% Y-o-Y to $393.

Meanwhile, the average price for office space in Orange County dropped 23% to $313 per square foot. Even so, sales volume and the amount of square footage that changed hands here increased significantly, rising 69% and 100%, respectively.

At the same time, the comparatively smaller office markets of Sacramento and Inland Empire had entirely different experiences in 2021: the Sacramento office market recorded decreases in all three metrics analyzed, and closed $606 million in office transactions in 2021 — a decline of 29% Y-o-Y — whereas the office market in Inland Empire recorded more than $263 million in transactions during the same period, representing an increase of 29% Y-o-Y.

Check out the numbers in the interactive chart below and read on for the top office deals of the year, as well as more details on how each California office market fared in 2021.

Top 10 California Office Deals in 2021: KKR Takes Top Deals in San Francisco & Bay Area

KKR closed the biggest commercial real estate deal in California last year when it purchased The Exchange on 16th in San Francisco for $1.08 billion. The 13-story, 750,000 square-foot tower in the Potrero Hill submarket is anchored by file-hosting tech giant Dropbox, which leased the entire building in 2017. The sale closed in March of last year. 

Hines Interests closed the second-largest California office sale of 2021 when it purchased the PG&E headquarters at 245 Market St., also in San Francisco. The 1.39-million-square-foot building’s first phase was completed in 1923, with the fourth and final phase finished in 1996. PG&E remains the only tenant. 

Notably, increased sales volume activity in the Bay Area also produced many of the largest deals in California for 2021. More precisely, eight of the top 10 deals in the state were in this market, including the $780 million purchase of Yahoo-leased Coleman Highline, by AGC Equity Partners in December — which turned out to be the third-largest California office sale of the year — and Brookfield Partners’ acquisition of the 456,760-square-foot Village at San Antonio Center I & II for $630 million from Merlone Greier Partners in March — the fourth-biggest 2021 office sale in the state.

Additionally, five months after it purchased The Exchange on 16th, KKR purchased HQ@First in San Jose for $535 million — the fifth-largest California office sale of the year. The three-building, 591,000-square-foot, Class A office property was completed in 2010. 

Check out the full list of the top 10 California office sales of 2021 below, and read on for the full picture of 2021 office investment in each market:

Blowout Sales Activity Surpasses Pre-Pandemic Figures, Places Bay Area at #1 in 2021 

The Bay Area office market topped the rest of California in nearly every metric we analyzed in 2021, including sales volume, deal flow and total square footage traded. Specifically, the market saw sales volume surpass $9.3 billion, which was more than double compared to 2020 and even surpassed the $8.87 billion total of office sales recorded here in 2019. The average sale price in 2021 also moved up, increasing 21% Y-o-Y to $505 per square foot.

Moreover, nearly 17 million square feet of Bay Area office space traded hands in 2021 — an increase of 78% Y-o-Y that nears the pre-COVID figure of 18.4 million in 2019. 

Price Per Square Foot Falls in San Francisco, Volume Remains Consistent 

The San Francisco office sales total in 2021 was roughly on par with the previous year at $3.9 billion, an increase of less than 1%. But, while approximately the same amount of money traded hands, the amount of square footage sold increased nearly 64% over the previous year to more than 5.9 million square feet. In all, 29 properties changed hands in 2021, versus just 18 in 2020.

Furthermore, the average price per square foot of office space in San Francisco fell from $929 per square foot in 2020 to $754 per square foot in 2021 — a decrease of 19%.

Granted, San Francisco has a longer way to go to return to its pre-pandemic levels than other markets: Here, 2021 sales activity is still 52% below the highs of 2019, which saw more than $8 billion in office transactions, as well as nearly 11 million square feet of office space change hands.

Los Angeles Recovers from Slow Q1 Sales to Close Out the Year at #3

Nearly 9 million square feet of Los Angeles office space changed hands last year, which was 9% more than in 2020. Moreover, the sales volume grew 17% to $3.6 billion with an average price per square foot of $428 — an increase of 14% Y-o-Y. Office transactions in L.A. also ramped up through the last three quarters of 2021: Q4 sales volume more than doubled that of Q2, closing nearly $1.5 billion in office deals at an average of $508 per square foot — significantly raising the average to close out the year.

Deal flow here surpassed pre-pandemic levels with 101 properties trading hands last year, compared to 95 properties in 2019. Even so, sales volume still lags pre-pandemic levels as 12.8 million square feet of office space traded for $5.26 billion in 2019.

San Diego Sales Climb 48% to Break $2 Billion Threshold 

While the number of properties that traded hands in the San Diego office market decreased last year compared to 2020, sales volume, price per square foot and total square footage all increased. Specifically, the total amount of office space in San Diego to change hands last year increased 23% Y-o-Y to more than 4.6 million square feet.

At the same time, sales volume climbed more than 48% Y-o-Y, reaching $2.1 billion — although it still has a ways to go to reach the pre-pandemic figure of $3 billion. What’s more, the average price per square foot also increased 20% over the same figure the previous year to reach $393 per square foot. Notably, 11 high-value properties traded hands in Q4, which significantly increased the price per square foot, trading at an average of $531 per square foot for a total volume of just more than $840 million.

Sales Activity Accelerates in Orange County as Prices Drop

Twice as much office space traded in the Orange County office market in 2021 as in the year prior. However, this coincided with a 23% Y-o-Y decrease in the average price per square foot, which closed 2021 at $313. This decline in prices for office space in Orange County likely aided in making assets more attractive, thereby increasing the total sales volume by 69% Y-o-Y to roughly $1.92 billion — which is just below the pre-pandemic high of $1.95 billion. 

Sacramento Office Sales Activity Sees Cooling Across All Metrics Analyzed

The Sacramento office market continued cooling in 2021 — the only market to do so across all metrics analyzed. More precisely, sales volume declined nearly 30% Y-o-Y to $606 million — 43% below pre-pandemic levels, when it surpassed the $1 billion mark. Moreover, the total square footage included in those transactions also declined 21% — slightly more than 3.2 million square feet of Sacramento office space changed hands last year, compared to roughly 4 million square feet in 2020. Meanwhile, the California state capital also experienced a decrease in the average price per square foot of office space, declining 7% to finish out 2021 at $200.

Inland Empire Fluctuates, but Ends 2021 on a High Note 

The Inland Empire is not just one of the most important industrial markets in the country, but a robust office market, as well. Office sales volume here rose 29% Y-o-Y to $263 million, with the amount of office space traded climbing 43% Y-o-Y to 1.52 million square feet and nearing the 2019 level of 1.8 million square feet. At the same time, the average price per square foot for Inland Empire office space declined 20% Y-o-Y, falling below the $200 mark and closing the year at $163 per square foot.

Tech Titans Maintain Dominance in Largest Completions of 2021

Although the Sacramento office market wasn’t as hot as others last year, it was home to the largest office building developed in the state: 715 P St. was completed in September 2021 and consists of 21 floors totaling 838,000 square feet of premium downtown Sacramento office space. The LEED Platinum-Certified P Street Building serves as the new Natural Resources headquarters for the State of California Department of General Services. 

The next-largest completion across California’s office markets was the Microsoft Silicon Valley Campus in Mountain View. The five-building, 643,000 square-foot campus is completely occupied by Microsoft and was completed in June of last year. 

Notably, six of the top 10 office completions in California were in the San Francisco market, with all of them located between San Francisco proper and the South San Francisco submarket. But, while completions were more concentrated in 2021, projected completions for this year are more spread out: The top 10 expected deliveries for 2022 are split between the Bay Area, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, with the largest being 801 Broadway in Los Angeles. The 14-story, 969,500 square-foot, mixed-use property is scheduled for completion this month. 

Methodology 

For this report, we relied on CommercialEdge data to analyze all office transactions that closed in the Bay Area, Inland Empire, Los Angeles, Orange County, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, Central Valley, and Central Coast office markets. We selected only transactions with price tags equal to or larger than $5 million each. Our research — based on sales data recorded from January 1, 2019, through December 31, 2021 — includes completed office buildings that are equal to or larger than 25,000 square feet. Regarding mixed-use assets, only properties including more than 50% office space were considered.

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. Distressed sales were excluded altogether. To ensure that the trends and comparisons presented in our report were valid, we also excluded “ownership stake,” “ground lease,” “controlling interest,” “portfolio” and “undisclosed” deals from our calculation of the average price per square foot. We did, however, include them in our calculations of sales volume and total square footage traded.

Although we have made every effort to ensure the accuracy, timeliness and completeness of the information included in this report, the data is provided “as is” and neither PropertyShark nor CommercialEdge can guarantee that the information provided herein is exhaustive.

Patrick McGregor

Patrick McGregor

Patrick McGregor is a senior writer covering the real estate industry and overall economic trends in the United States for several Yardi product publications. He also holds an MBA from Thunderbird School of Global Management. Patrick was previously a commercial real estate analyst at Yardi Matrix for five years. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Bisnow, GlobeSt, The Real Deal, Business Insider, The Denver Post, The Motley Fool, and more.