It was a good year for people selling big-time real estate in Boston, though that may eventually mean higher rents for the people who live and run businesses here.
Several transactions in 2015 marked local sales records for buildings and land. The biggest was Oxford Properties’ purchase of the office buildings at 500 Boylston and 222 Berkeley streets in the Back Bay for a combined $1.29 billion, or just over $1,000 per square foot for the two-building complex.
Several other office buildings in Boston and Cambridge sold at or above the $600 to $700-per-foot benchmark that typically has defined the ceiling of Boston’s office market. Hotel deals have set records, too.
“Buyers are as aggressive as they’ve ever been,” said Chris Skeffington, senior vice president for capital markets at Transwestern RBJ. “They’ve blown through the peak pricing of 2006 and 2007.”
All told, according to Transwestern data, 71 sales of office buildings, apartment buildings, and hotels for $10 million or more closed this year in Boston and Cambridge, ahead of the waning days of December, for a total of $6.3 billion.
That doesn’t count deals that are agreed to but not yet closed, such as the sales of the new Converse headquarters on Lovejoy Wharf by a German investment fund for a reported $150 million.
Nor does it count just land deals, such as the $359 million purchase of 12 acres of Seaport Square in October by WS Development, which smashed a record price for land that had been set just in August, when DivcoWest paid $291 million for 42 acres at NorthPoint in east Cambridge.
Those record prices, real estate brokers said, reflect strong confidence in the Boston market. Global buyers are bidding high to own top-quality assets here. But those buyers will also want a strong return, which means the high price they paid will be baked into rents for years to come.
“When people are paying the high numbers they’re paying, they’re [planning on] rents that support those valuations,” said Michael Smith, managing director of the Boston office of commercial real estate firm Avison Young. “We’ll see, perhaps, aggressive rent growth.”
Already, rents have been rising steadily. Class A space in downtown Boston now averages more $60 per square foot, according to a report issued Thursday by the real estate firm JLL. The cost of space in cheaper Class B has surged to $45. Across the entire Greater Boston market, rents are up 7.1 percent in the last 12 months, and have climbed steadily for four years.
Those rising costs may prompt some tenants facing lease renewals to think hard about where they want to be. “They’ll say: ‘We can rent space in Boston for X, or in Waltham for X minus Y,’ ” Smith said. “It all comes down to what type of industry they’re in and what their workforce needs are.”
But the same trends that are drawing investors to downtown business districts are drawing many companies there, too: Access to talented young workers who want to be in the city or near transit. That does give landlords leverage, Smith said.
That leverage could fade if the economy slows and job growth stalls, though economists tracked by JLL predict that the unemployment rate here will stay below 5 percent for the next few years. And many of the city’s new big landlords appear poised to ride out any bumps in the economy.
Some of the biggest buyers in Boston in the last two years have been global investors with long-term plans.
Oxford has built a big portfolio here on behalf of the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System. A Norwegian sovereign wealth fund owns several prominent downtown buildings. Chinese institutional investors are taking a growing stake in the Seaport District.
Those operations are aiming to buy and hold — unlike some of the bargain hunters who bought buildings cheap during the downturn and have sold as the market revived — and will accept a lower return in exchange for long-term stability.
“They have a lower cost of capital and a longer time horizon,” Smith said. “That has the potential to soften the blow in the form of rent hikes.”
Those longer time horizons also mean there probably will be fewer big-ticket deals in the next two years than there have been in the last two. So many trophy buildings have sold that there just aren’t that many left out there for the taking.
“It’s hard to imagine the values we’ve seen in the last 24 months can be replicated in next 24 months,” Skeffington said. “Actually, it’s pretty much impossible.”
An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the price of a Seaport Square land deal. In that deal, WS Development purchased 12 acres for $359 million.