Ventura County's vacancy rate for office space has declined from 26.2% to 19.3% in the past year as prices have dropped and virtually no new buildings have been added to the county's stock, real estate brokers say.
The commercial real estate market is beginning to recover, say brokers who are optimistic that the rate will continue to fall.
"It's a good sign," said Timothy E. Grant, broker at CB Commercial in Ventura, which compiled the statistics. "This has been real tough the past two years."
Brokers say they had to lower prices in the past year because companies with a wait-and-see attitude after the Persian Gulf War were not buying or leasing space.
"Companies were just sitting tight, waiting to see what would happen with the economy," said Steve Doll, sales and leasing agent for Told Partners Inc. of Ventura.
Because of the all-time high vacancy rate in 1991, no developers have wanted to construct new buildings, brokers say.
But lately, they say, companies are again showing interest in buying or leasing office space, although financing roadblocks are keeping them from doing more deals.
"There are signs that there's more movement, and by the end of the year, things should be a lot stronger," Doll said.
In 1990, the vacancy rate in Ventura County rose to 17.5% from the all-time low rate of 13.5% measured in 1989, Grant said. The 1991 rate surged to nearly double the figure for 1989.
"It went up real fast," Grant said. "It's going to come down much slower than that."
Ventura County's office vacancy rate ranks just under the national average for suburban areas, which is 19.7%. It also is lower than the 21.8% rate for Orange County and the 23.7% rate for San Diego County.
In an attempt to lower the vacancy rate in Ventura County, landlords cut prices within the past year by about 15%. Last year the average price was $1.15 to $1.80 per square foot, contrasted with $1 to $1.65 this year, Doll said.
As a result, brokers say businesses are starting to talk of expanding.
The State Compensation Insurance Fund, for example, broke ground two weeks ago on a 115,000-square-foot building off Ventura Road in Oxnard, 60% of which the company plans to use starting in the spring of 1993. It plans to lease the other 40% of the space, District Manager Larry Middleton said.
The insurance fund, now located in a 37,500-square-foot building in Ventura, wants to expand and grow over the next 20 years, Middleton said.
"I think everyone has to take into consideration what the vacancy rates are," he said. "Our primary consideration . . . is to build a facility for our needs and for our expansion, and leasing is an opportunity to get a return on an investment while we're waiting to grow into our facility."
Oxnard has seen more new construction of office space in the past five years than anyplace else in the west county. Grant attributed this primarily to Ventura's water restrictions, which are being loosened.
Within the past five years, 730,000 square feet of office space was built in Oxnard, contrasted with 193,000 square feet in Ventura, Grant said to explain the 28.6% vacancy rate in Oxnard.
Ventura's 19.1% rate stems from the fact that so little new space has been built there recently, Grant said. He predicted that the demand for more modern offices will grow in the next few years and that more buildings will be constructed.
Since the recent rioting in Los Angeles, the number of companies wanting to relocate from Los Angeles to Ventura County has increased, said Mike Crocker, office manager of Don L. Carlton Realtors of Ventura.
"Our lifestyle has always been superior to theirs," Crocker said. "I think that's probably what's going to help us up here."
In the past, Los Angeles companies have usually chosen to buy, lease or build in the east county because it is closer for employees who live in Los Angeles, Grant said.
Vacancy Rates for Ventura County Office Space
City 1991 1992 Camarillo 24.8% 23.6% Moorpark 34.3% 34.3% Newbury Park 0.0% 7.3% Oxnard/Port Hueneme 34.0% 28.6% Simi Valley 28.1% 16.4% Thousand Oaks 11.8% 20.1% Ventura 20.7% 19.1% Westlake 27.9% 14.3% County total 26.2% 19.3%
Source: CB Commercial