Adam Stark would like to say that he has seen the future of the office market, but he freely admits the view is anything but crystal clear.
“It’s definitely a situation where things are developing and changing on a day-to-day basis,” said Stark, president of the White Plains-headquartered Stark Office Suites.
“When people ask me questions about the future right now, I tend to tell them that my crystal ball’s gotten a little bit foggy — because I think anybody who tells you that they know the answers is really overestimating their sense of where things are going to be.”
In a recent interview on Westfair Business Buzz, the weekly podcast produced by the Business Journal, Stark said that he can forecast certain trends that will play a major role in reshaping this sector in the coming year.
“We think that folks are going to be looking more and more for a certain level of privacy and protection when they go to their offices,” he said. “There had been a big trend towards a lot of open spaces and a lot more removal of walls, but my sense is that at least for the short- to medium-term, some of those trends are going to change.”
Stark noted that the return to the office environment after months of a mostly remote white-collar workforce is not guaranteed.
“At this point in time, it’s a very personal thing for people,” he said. “There are people who feel very comfortable coming out every day to their offices, and there are others that perhaps need a little bit more time.”
And then there are some people who are not only lacking enthusiasm about returning to their office, but trying prematurely to terminate their contractual obligations on paying rent for the office.
“You’re seeing a lot of people just running away from commitments and leases,” Stark said, adding that his company was in discussion with tenants who want to honor their contractual obligations.
“We’re looking at the idea of maintaining flexibility and having shorter-term commitments, at least for now, because it seems to be something that’s very appealing to people. At least we’ve been seeing this with the people we’ve been talking to there — we haven’t seen them running away from obligations, but there is a concern about entering into new long-term obligations.”
Stark noted that the Stamford office market, which carried a surplus amount of vacancies prior to the pandemic, has become “one of the highest call volume places” for his company.
He predicted the Westchester and Fairfield County office markets have the potential for generating “a pretty strong demand impact over the coming months” while suburban markets as a whole will benefit from the problems faced in Manhattan and other urban centers.
“Real estate is always very case specific to individual buildings, individual location spots and such,” he said. “But when you look at the overall suburban market, a year or two years from now, we’re pretty bullish on that. You will find a lot of opportunities on the other side of this mountain.”