Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many office workers have continued to work from home.
Streetlights still shine at dawn in Portland's Monument Square on Nov. 8, 2021. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

It could take another two years before Greater Portland’s office market recovers from the effects of the pandemic, with a vacancy rate sitting at a six-year high due to lots of sublease space available, a Boulos report released Wednesday found.

At the height of the pandemic, many businesses sent employees to work at home. It still isn’t clear how many workers will return to the office and how much space businesses will need as they adjust to new requirements, Boulos broker Nate Stevens wrote in the report.

Still, the Portland-area’s vacancy rate for those directly leasing buildings is healthy and showing a decline, falling to 6.38 percent in 2022, down from the 6.97 percent rate during the start of the pandemic in 2020.

The sublease space on the market remained about the same over that period, possibly indicating stability for future direct vacancy rates, but that was still high enough to push the combined vacancy rate to 9.14 percent, the highest in six years, Boulos said.

“We do not believe we’ve seen the final impact of the pandemic on the market, and it could be another year or two before we’re out of the woods,” Stevens wrote.

The vacancy trends resemble past disruptions in the office market, including the 2007-2008 recession. Stevens said that over the next 12 months, the downtown market will remain relatively strong and the suburban market will experience above-average vacancy, including the Maine Mall area.

The vacancies are an opportunity for tenants to get good locations and prices this year, the report said.

Lori Valigra, investigative reporter for the environment, holds an M.S. in journalism from Boston University. She was a Knight journalism fellow at M.I.T. and has extensive international reporting experience...