Top 10 Markets for Office Transactions in 2020

7 min read

These markets accounted for more than 80 percent of the nation’s sales volume for office assets last year.

Office investment transactions in the U.S. amounted to nearly $44 billion in 2020, with sales volume continuing to lose steam throughout the year and decreasing by 30 percent from 2019, according to CommercialEdge data. The pandemic has taken a toll on the office sector, further accelerating the decline in investment propelled by the 2018 trade war. As uncertainty still looms over the office market, slow employment growth, lockdowns and work-from-home policies will continue to change sector dynamics and fundamentals in the coming quarters.

While gateway and stabilized office markets haven’t lost their shine, sales activity picked up in previously overlooked markets such as New Jersey. The metros in this ranking account for more than 80 percent of the national sales volume for 2020 and represent the top-performing markets for office transactions, based on CommercialEdge data.

READ ALSO: Top 5 Markets for Office Transactions in 2019

Rank Market Name Transaction Volume Total Properties Sold
1 Boston $5,780,384,890 75
2 Manhattan $5,266,988,599 23
3 San Francisco $3,917,039,000 26
4 Bay Area – South Bay $3,902,946,773 92
5 Washington D.C. $3,767,357,425 87
6 Seattle $3,376,616,958 38
7 Los Angeles $3,337,621,500 63
8 New Jersey $2,263,470,643 79
9 Chicago $1,924,442,000 57
10 Dallas $1,779,351,210 80

10. Dallas

Investment volume in Dallas totaled close to $1.8 billion last year, 40 percent less than the $3 billion recorded in 2019. In February 2020, Piedmont Realty Trust acquired Galleria Office Towers, a three-building premier asset in Dallas, from CBRE Global Investors. In one of the largest office transactions in the metro, the buyer paid $396 million for the portfolio, bringing its Dallas footprint to a total of 3.6 million square feet and making the metro its second-largest market.

Despite the economic volatility, Texas’ business-friendly climate and diverse economy continues to attract small and large companies alike, prompting companies such as to boost their presence across the entire state.

9. Chicago

A total of 57 office buildings changed hands in Chicago for $1.9 billion in 2020. Following a COVID-19-fueled nationwide pattern, investment in the market last year was 16 percent lower than in 2019, when a total of $2.3 billion worth of office assets changed hands. Most of the sales were concentrated in the suburbs, which had been experiencing a strong revival even before the pandemic hit.

Normandy Partners’ $412.5 million acquisition of McDonald’s Corporate Headquarters in Chicago was the largest office deal recorded in the metro in 2020. Sterling Bay sold the 596,000-square-foot property two years after completing it. The second-largest office deal in 2020 consisted of another headquarters building sale—SHVO purchased the CNA Headquarters building for $376 million from The John Buck Co.

8. New Jersey

New Jersey saw more than $2.3 billion in closed office deals throughout 2020, with investment sales exceeding the $2 billion recorded in 2019. Since the onset of the pandemic, the predominantly suburban market has been experiencing population gains, mostly due to commercial office users’ shift to the suburbs and the area’s proximity to New York City.

Meanwhile, the New Jersey Economic Recovery Act of 2020—passed last December—will contribute to the improvement of market conditions as we advance in 2021, increasing the opportunity for the state to attract and retain businesses.

7. Los Angeles

Transaction activity in 2020 totaled a little over $3.3 billion in Los Angeles, a 33 percent drop from the $5 billion in office sales recorded in 2019. Although office development was strong throughout the year, a slowdown in demographic growth, combined with the outbound migration of companies, led to a decrease in office investment.

The biggest single-asset transaction in the market was Silverstein Properties’ purchase of the iconic U.S. Bank Tower. Last November, Singapore-based Overseas Union Enterprise sold the downtown Los Angeles asset for a record-breaking $430 million. Additionally, the sale marked Silverstein’s first acquisition in Los Angeles.

6. Seattle

Seattle. Image via Pixabay

Transaction volume in Seattle amounted to more than $3.3 billion in 2020. Sales activity was significantly lower than the $10 billion closed in 2019. The difference accounts for a dramatic 66 percent drop, making it the steepest on our list.

The market’s robust tech-driven economy is expected to power through this time as well, as both homegrown giants such as Microsoft and Amazon, alongside big players such as Apple, Google and Facebook continue to expand despite crisis-induced caution. Last September, Hana Financial Group paid $704 million for Qualtrics Tower—a recently completed office building developed by Skanska in Seattle’s central business district. The building is anchored by Qualtrics, another major tech company, and houses Dropbox and SAP, among others.

5. Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C. Image by 12019 via

More than $3.8 billion in office deals closed in Washington, D.C., in 2020, with nearly half of the transactions completed in the first quarter. The amount equals a 56 percent decrease from 2019 when some $8.6 billion worth of office assets changed hands. Despite the drop in deal velocity, Washington, D.C., hasn’t been as affected by the pandemic as other metros on the list, thanks to its robust government employment sector.

Boyd Watterson Asset Management emerged as the biggest buyer in the metro. The company expanded its footprint by a total of 885,000 square feet. Its largest acquisition was Patriots Park in Reston, Va., a 706,000-square-foot, $325 million office park leased to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The seller was South Korea’s Hyundai Group.

4. Bay Area – South Bay

A total of 92 office deals closed throughout 2020 in the Bay Area – South Bay market. These amounted to $3.9 billion, the bulk of which were Class A properties, signaling heightened interest in premier office product despite falling rates and increased vacancies.

The market’s highly qualified employment pool, a variety of Fortune 500 companies, high-paying jobs and a diverse tenant base contributed to its resilience during the health crisis. However, as California was one of the first states to impose a shelter-in-place order, economic growth slowed, with the market sliding one position in the 2020 ranking.

3. San Francisco

Image courtesy of Frank Schulenburg via Wikimedia Commons
San Francisco. Image courtesy of Frank Schulenburg via Wikimedia Commons

The metro’s solid fundamentals and high-paying office-using jobs helped San Francisco stay on steady ground. A total of 26 properties changed hands for $3.9 billion in 2020, with total transaction volume decreasing by 45 percent from last year’s $7.1 billion. The bulk of last year’s deals consisted of single-asset transactions evenly distributed across all location classes, with the majority of transactions closing toward year-end.

Ventas was the largest investor in the metro. The REIT expanded its footprint by a total of 738,000 square feet, paying $1 billion for Genesis South San Francisco, a trophy life sciences campus in South San Francisco, which encompasses the tallest life science building in the nation. The seller was a joint venture of Bain Capital Real Estate and Phase 3 Real Estate Partners. One month later, Ventas teamed up with Singaporean sovereign wealth fund GIC to develop life sciences projects amounting to $930 million. 

2. Manhattan

Manhattan. Image by Bruce Emmerling via

A total of 23 office deals totaling some $5.3 billion closed in 2020 in Manhattan. Transaction volume declined 46 percent compared to $9.7 billion in 2019 when the market topped our list for office transactions. The shelter-in-place orders have affected the market’s key metrics, including investment velocity. However, despite New York being one of the hardest-hit states during the pandemic, Manhattan still attracted big-name tenants such as Facebook, AIG and TikTok, with some of these large players more than doubling their footprint.

The largest office deal to close in the borough in 2020 was SL Green Realty’s sale of 410 10th Avenue, a 636,000-square-foot office redevelopment in the Hudson Yards area. The 601W Cos. paid $952.5 million for the property, which will house tenants such as Amazon and First Republic Bank.

1. Boston

Boston. Image by Skeezy via

The pandemic sparked a shift in office property investment, placing Boston at the top of our list. A total of 75 office properties traded in 2020, with transaction volume amounting to close to $5.8 billion. Office sales in the metro were nearly on par with the $5.9 billion recorded the previous year, making Boston an exception from the rest of our entries. The race to find a COVID-19 vaccine led to soaring demand for lab space, especially in well-known hubs such as Cambridge and the Seaport District.

The metro’s largest office deal closed in downtown Boston during the second quarter of 2020. Fidelity Investments repurchased the 867,000-square-foot 245 Summer St. for $728.5 million. The seller—Benderson Development—acquired it from the buyer back in 2004 for $289.5 million. Meanwhile, Healthpeak Properties emerged as the metro’s most active buyer, purchasing three properties—including the Cambridge Discovery Park two-building portfolio from The Bulfinch Cos.—for $930 million, further highlighting the life science sector’s strength.

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