Recent life sciences real estate reports paint a picture of overwhelming demand and a great opportunity for new developers. The rise of life sciences real estate reports show a record $26B of venture capital funding poured into the sector in the first six months of 2021, according to Newmark, setting loose scores of well-capitalized startups seeking lab space. CBRE found that the 15.6M SF of speculative lab construction underway nationwide is nearly 30% leased, signaling developers can’t keep up. The overall vacancy rate for the top 12 biotech clusters, per CBRE, is just 5.6%.
But the reality is a select few developers have been able to cash in. In addition to difficulties finding talent, and the special requirements and expertise required to build lab spaces, the cost of such projects is prohibitive and the risk of failure is much higher than traditional office buildings.
As other smaller firms seek to expand or break into life sciences, they may run into similar problems. Newmark Associate Director of Capital Markets Research Daniel Littman said costs are a key barrier: Even office-to-lab conversions often come in at $100-$150 per SF for base building costs, and then $250-$300 per SF for a tenant retrofit. And that’s if you can acquire assets; especially in top markets, available assets are few and far between, and there is a lot of money chasing the space.
Harborth underscored that in addition to the difficulty finding talent, getting expertise in different markets is another hurdle. Real estate is such a local business, and even for firms seeking more national exposure, there’s a need to know local players. Transplant talent can’t instantly operate at the same level in a new market.
Carly Glova, president of commercial real estate talent firm Building Careers, said that the drive for talent has led some firms to bend their criteria, prioritizing life sciences experience over someone who is a perfect fit for a particular role, and sweetening employment offers, allowing staff to work remotely, increasing compensation packages or allowing for equity opportunities.
Due to the rise of life sciences real estate, there’s also a shortage of experienced architects and designers in the field.