Research article

Visitor Space

With living space at a premium in cities, living and working in the same place is becoming less affordable.

There is no better indicator of the success of a city than the numbers of people who want to visit, live and work there. But this success creates demand for space, which is increasingly hard to come by in an increasing number of world cities. This is especially the case on constrained land and historic sites, where expansion potential is limited. The consequent inability to keep pace with demand creates cost pressures, which is why rising rents are a common feature of our world cities.

The average accommodation cost per person in the Savills Executive Unit (SEU) and their household* (see definition below) in the 12 cities featured in this report is now $74,945 (see fig. 7), compared to $68,538 in December 2008. So despite the recession of 2008-10, when average live/ work accommodation costs fell by 5%, rents are rising faster than city GDP growth in most jurisdictions.

The biggest rent rises have taken place in cities where supply is at its scarcest. A good example of this can be seen in San Francisco, where live/work costs have risen by nearly 60% since 2008. Demand has been driven by businesses that want to be based in the top, high-performing, creative digital city, alongside households preferring urban living to suburban sprawl.

High live/work rental growth has also been seen in other Anglophone cities since 2008; New York, Los Angeles, London and Sydney have all seen rents spike between 18% and 28% during this time. Meanwhile, cities with more availability, such as Singapore and Dubai, have seen rents fall, so live/work accommodation rents in these cities are now 14% to 17% lower than they were in 2008. Dubai rents are now growing, while Singapore’s were still falling in the first half of this year by 3.7%, along with Paris (down 2.4%).

While cheaper rents may be seen as a competitive advantage for some, and rising rents a sign of city success for others, the popular narrative in an increasing number of cities betrays a different concern. The availability and affordability of accommodation is a well-aired topic in the media of most of our world cities as more people clamour to be in the urban centres. Is the economic growth of these cities able to keep pace with rising rents?

Our analysis of GDP to SEU live/work ratios suggests that large amounts of city production are diverted into real estate in most of our world cities. While our measure of accommodation costs to city GDP per head is not an absolute one (our SEU will have a higher economic output per head than the city average), it is indicative of which cities may be less fully rented than others.

It shows that world city governors will have to continue to look at ways to sustainably develop and densify their cities, and extend their reach, or a combination of the two. This means construction and transport infrastructure are likely to remain high on the list of priorities for some time to come.

Figure 7

FIGURE 7Live/work accommodation costs

Not all city populations are housed in the international standard housing that we measure in this report and neither is their economic productivity as high as the SEU. Consequently, the measured accommodation costs are a higher multiple of GDP per head in cities like Shanghai and Mumbai than they are elsewhere.

Source: Savills World Research, Oxford Economics

Demand for visitor space

Often lost in the debate regarding the expansion of living and working space in world cities is the question of how to accommodate visitors. Nine of our 12 cities are in the top 20 worldwide for international overnight visitors and, for five of them, these visitors constitute a nightly population of more than 100,000 people (see fig. 8). In London, this number is close to 300,000 – nearly the same size as the population of its two most central residential boroughs.

Cities that limit overseas residence owners (Sydney, for example) still have to consider how to accommodate visitors. International business people, if they continue to invest in a city, will want to spend time there. The quality, availability and convenience of accommodation – owned or rented – is an important component of city investability and economic success.

Figure 8

FIGURE 8City visitor overnight populations

Source: MasterCard / Savills World Research

Cities are having to think of new ways to accommodate growing numbers

*In order truly to compare the cost of residential and commercial real estate across different global cities, we use the Savills Executive Unit (SEU), which measures the cost of housing an identical group of people living and working in different countries.

The people who make up our SEU include one middle-aged expat CEO, one senior expat director, a locally employed director and four locally employed administrative staff. They each live in different types of household and each member of the group chooses different types of locations and different types of property in which to live.

To measure office costs, we place the same seven people in an office of a small financial services firm and again in a creative start-up – each located in the most appropriate district for their industry type.

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