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What is Absorption in Commercial Real Estate?

Absorption Rate

Absorption, or absorption rate, is a measurement used in Commercial Real Estate (CRE) to indicate the difference between the amount of space vacated by companies or tenants in a certain time period and the commercial space they or other tenants have moved into within the same locality or time frame.

To put it simply, absorption is the rate at which commercial space is “absorbed” (sold or leased) over a specific period of time in a given market, described as positive or negative.


There are two (2) metrics that go hand-in-hand and have a huge impact on CRE. One is the absorption rate, and the other one is vacancy. Vacancy is defined as the units or square feet available in a commercial property, expressed in percentage or number of available units. Vacancy has a direct effect on the net operating income (NOI) of a commercial property – low vacancy means more rental income being generated. Both absorption and vacancy rates are used by real estate investors as determining factors whether to hold, buy, or sell commercial properties.



Gross Absorption and Net Absorption

When real estate investors talk about absorption rate, it can only be one of the two - Gross Absorption or Net Absorption. In a leasing context, here are the differences between both:

Gross Absorption refers to the total amount of space that a tenant physically moved into in a specific time frame in a given market.

Whereas Net Absorption refers to the total amount of space that a tenant physically moved into minus the amount of space they vacated during the same time period, described as positive or negative. Thus, net absorption is a very important metric used by real estate investors in analyzing the commercial market’s supply and demand trends.



Net Absorption further explained

Since net absorption rate is the metric being used by commercial real estate investors most of the time, this article will focus more on understanding net absorption.

Typically, you can gauge the market’s supply and demand dynamics by knowing the net absorption rate, which can be described as either positive or negative.

Absorption Rate

If the market indicates a positive absorption rate, it means that more space is being leased or occupied than vacated. There is basically a decrease in the supply of commercial space in a given market resulting in a rent increase. If the market indicates a negative absorption rate, it means that more space is vacated than occupied. This means there is an increase in supply for occupancy resulting to rent rates being lowered to attract commercial tenants. With that being said, knowing the absorption rate in a specific area in a given time frame helps real estate investors forecast cash flow in their investments.



How to calculate Net Absorption rate and Vacancy rate

Since absorption rate goes hand-in-hand with vacancy rate, here is an example of how to calculate net absorption rate in relation to vacancy levels.

Let’s say the commercial property has 24,500 square feet of leasable space and 2,250 square feet is available from 5 individual spaces. To calculate the vacancy rate, divide the amount of available square feet by the amount of total leasable space in square feet.

2,250 SF (vacant) / 24,500 SF (total leasable space) = 9.2% (vacancy rate)


To calculate the net absorption rate, let’s assume there is a 2,250 SF of available space throughout this year, a new tenant moves in and leased 1,200 SF of space. It means that the vacancy rate has decreased to 4.3%.

2,250 SF (vacant) – 1,200 SF (new tenant occupies this amount of available space) / 24,500 SF (total leasable space) = 4.3% (new vacancy rate)

With the new tenant “absorbing” a 1,200 SF of space, it leaves an available space of 1,050 SF vacant from the total vacant space of 2,250 SF throughout the year. It creates an annual net absorption rate of 53.3% (1,200 SF absorbed out of 2,250 SF of space available in a year). Thus, it indicates that there is a positive net absorption rate for the commercial property in a period of one (1) year.



Factors that influence Net Absorption

A lot of factors can impact the net absorption rate of a commercial property. As an investor, you should consider these factors so that you could plan the next steps to take for your investments to be successful based on the market’s current status. Here are three (3) major factors that greatly influence the market:


  1. Availability
  • Consider analyzing and taking into account the commercial availability in your area. Businesses that just opened up will quickly occupy spaces that were vacated for them to operate in areas with little availability. This means there is a high net absorption rate in that certain area. While in areas with high availability, commercial properties are experiencing low net absorption rates due to competition of occupancy with other properties. Therefore, evaluating the overall availability in your geographical area will help you in your decision-making about your investments based on the commercial market’s current conditions.


  1. Pricing
  • Rent rates relative to leasable space can greatly influence the net absorption of a commercial property. Businesses or tenants will look for spaces that not only fit the needs and day-to-day operations of their business but also spaces having low rent rates. If you are a landlord or an investor, knowing what price to set for your commercial property can prevent high vacancy and negative absorption rates.


  1. Economic Conditions
  • One of the factors that have a strong impact on net absorption is the change in economic conditions. Take for example the time when COVID-19 hit us and many people and businesses have suffered globally. During this time of economic struggle and crisis, many businesses decided to close and those that planned to expand or open up a new business chose to hold it off because of uncertainties and risks of losing their investments.


In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic shifted the business processes and operations of companies to remote work. It led to commercial properties being vacated and a decrease in occupancy. Other businesses tend to lease smaller spaces to cut overall costs since employees are now working from home. With this new setup, the net absorption rates of commercial properties are greatly affected.



The bottom lineAbsorption Rate

Commercial real estate is highly competitive, and there are a lot of factors, including net absorption that impact the market. Gathering data, taking advantage of these elements, and analyzing the market’s current trend can be a game-changer in handling your investments.


Even after outlining all this information above, investing in CRE can still seem daunting. Please feel free to contact us anytime with your questions and concerns. The Leveraged CRE Investment Team at Commercial Properties, Inc. is here to help you achieve your investment and business goals. Contact us at (480) 330-8897 or send us an email at request@leveragedcre.com.


Need help on how to get started investing in commercial real estate? We got you covered! We prepared a free e-book that will serve as your guide to achieve your long-term business goals or obtain that property you’ve always been dreaming of!


Phill Tomlinson is a commercial real estate broker with Commercial Properties, Inc. (CPI) in Scottsdale, Arizona, and owner of the Leveraged CRE Investment Team specializing in investment sales and tenant/landlord representation in the Phoenix and Scottsdale submarkets. Phill applies over 21 years of experience in the Real Estate industry helping investors and owners maximize their returns.


Bookmark www.leveragedcre.com to learn more about the Commercial Real Estate market and keep informed of relevant real estate strategies designed to maximize your income property investment results. Connect and follow Phill on Social Media at sm.leveragedcre.com/smplatform. #LeveragedCRE