Commercial property specialists CBRE Ireland today released their September bimonthly report, commenting on trends and transactions in all sectors of Ireland’s commercial property market as the Autumn selling season officially commences. According to the property consultants, the overall trajectory of the commercial real estate market is positive, but there is still disparity in performance between sectors, and in some cases sub-sectors, with clear differences between transaction volumes in the occupier and investment cohorts. CBRE say that investment in real estate across Europe has been increasing and there has been good transactional activity, both on and off market, in the Dublin market so far in 2021, boosted in recent months by the ability of investors, their funders and advisors to travel once again to inspect opportunities. Activity in the occupier markets by comparison has been more muted albeit there are a lot of deals in negotiations that will provide a boost to transactional activity in due course. As the new selling season commences, the property consultants are calling for certainty on policy.
According to Marie Hunt, Head of Research at CBRE Ireland, “Having lived with Covid-19 since March 2020, September hopefully marks a new beginning for the Irish economy and all sectors of the Irish property market. Similarly, we now need to draw a line in the sand and ensure consistency on policy to enable the investors, funders and developers that we are relying on to deliver much-needed supply of buildings including both public and private housing of all types and tenures, to deliver without fear of further regulatory changes or Government intervention”.
THE OFFICE MARKET
- Despite the comparatively low volume of take-up recorded during the first half of 2021, activity has increased discernibly since occupiers have been in a position to travel to inspect buildings, which points to an improvement in transactional activity as the many deals that are currently in legals, complete over the coming quarters.
- Although the increase in incidences of the Delta variant of Covid-19 has inevitably delayed some occupiers’ plans, the ‘return to the office’ trend will accelerate over the coming months. Most organisations are leaning towards some form of a mixed or hybrid work pattern although this will vary depending on the company and the business sector.
- One outcome of the pandemic is greater demand for flexible space solutions with many occupiers seeing a bigger role for flexible office accommodation in their portfolios going forward.
- Developers of office buildings that were opened up to facilitate floor-by floor lettings in recent months have been encouraged by the volume of demand for good quality accommodation. Indeed, the overall rate of vacancy continues to decrease. Much of the better quality ‘grey space’ that initially materialised at the onset of the pandemic is attracting good interest, with a number of transactions at agreed stage and in legals. There is a definite ‘flight to quality’ in evidence with occupiers favouring, and in some cases competing for, the most modern and sustainable office accommodation options.
THE HOTEL MARKET
- The total volume of hotel sales conducted in Ireland in the year-to-date is approximately €190 million. There has been continued activity off-market during the Summer months, which will see further hotel sales announced over the course of the Autumn. Indeed, there is at least another €200 million of trades in negotiations in various off-market processes at present excluding Irish properties within international hotel portfolios that may also change hands before year end.
- There has been good demand for various hotel development opportunities that have been offered for sale recently. Many of the hotel opportunities that are due to come to the market in the coming weeks and months are development projects as opposed to trading assets. Not all of these transactions will complete by year-end.
THE INDUSTRIAL & LOGISTICS MARKET
- Like many other sectors of the Irish property market, the industrial & logistics sector saw no let-up in transactional activity during the Summer months from either an occupier or investor perspective. This is in keeping with trends throughout Europe, with this sector on course to have its strongest year on record in 2021.
- In addition to the many outstanding requirements for modern logistics accommodation in the Irish market, Maersk Logistics recently instructed CBRE to acquire between 13,935m2 and 18,580m2 (150,000 – 200,000 sq ft) of accommodation in the Dublin market and will in due course have a second requirement for between 55,740m2 and 74,320m2 (600,000 – 800,000 sq ft).
- The most notable trend observed in the healthcare sector over recent months is an increase in appetite for development projects. Many of the operators that aspire to grow their nursing home bed count in the Irish market realise that they will have to become involved in the development of new facilities in addition to the acquisition of existing properties if they want to achieve scale. This focus on development sites is a relatively recent trend in this sector. We have seen a number of sizeable nursing home sites trading during the last two months. Indeed, sites with the benefit of planning permission for approximately 150 nursing home bedspaces were recently sold in Meath; Cavan; Louth and Leitrim and there have also been some transactions in Dublin.
THE RETAIL MARKET
- Although consumers have not yet returned to pre-pandemic shopping behaviours, as the economy slowly emerges from lockdown, there has been a welcome improvement in footfall, consumer confidence and retail sales expenditure. There has also been a corresponding improvement in activity in the retail property market which continued throughout the Summer albeit much of the recent activity will take a number of months to translate into completed transactions and the creation of new market evidence.
- In addition to the ability to travel to inspect premises, retail occupiers have been attracted by increased availability in some of the streets and schemes they are particularly interested in locating stores in as well as the ability to negotiate favourable terms in the current climate. It has been particularly encouraging to see several of the retail stores vacated over the last 18 months being relet and voids starting to be filled.
- CBRE expect to see further consolidation in the grocery and food & beverage sectors over the coming months with good demand from domestic occupiers in particular. Schemes such as the recently launched retail element of Google’s Bolands Mills development in Dublin’s south Docklands are certain to attract good interest, particularly now that office workers, tourists and students are starting to return to the city.
THE INVESTMENT MARKET
- CBRE expect global investment volumes in 2021 to increase by as much as 23% year-on-year. The Irish investment market also achieved a solid performance throughout the first half of 2021, which is remarkable considering the difficult trading backdrop and the inability of investors to travel to inspect opportunities until relatively recently.
- According to CBRE, as much as €2.7 billion has been invested in Irish commercial real estate in the first half of the year and the market is now firmly on target to achieve annual investment volumes in excess of €4 billion. A large number of international investors due to undertake tours and building inspections during September.
- With demand for industrial assets having gathered pace since the beginning of the year, prime office and prime industrial yields in Dublin and Cork have now converged – a new departure for the Irish market. Meanwhile, CBRE have witnessed some sharpening in both high street and supermarket yields in recent months.
THE MULTIFAMILY MARKET
- There is little correlation between the volume of stock at various stages of the planning process and what is actually capable of delivery in the short to medium term considering the various regulatory pressures and planning delays as well as viability and funding challenges impacting delivery of both public and private sector housing at present.
- With the Strategic Housing Development (SHD) fast-track planning process due to expire at year-end, we can expect to see a notable increase in the number of residential planning applications over the coming months. An increasing proportion of multifamily sale processes are being conducted in targeted off-market campaigns. Considerable due diligence is being undertaken to support these investment decisions.
- As students finally start to return to campuses over the coming months, we expect to see increased appetite for investment in purpose-built student accommodation.
THE DEVELOPMENT LAND MARKET
- To some degree, the slowdown in transactional activity in the development land sector of the market over the Summer is related to the difficulty in pricing unconsented sites in the absence of detail on future social and affordable allocation requirements and the myriad of other policy changes proposed in the Government’s long-promised housing plan.
- It remains to be seen what all of the various proposals in the ‘Housing for All’ plan will have for the market, albeit it will take some time for any of the policy changes to significantly boost housing delivery, which is the crux of the current housing crisis. It will take a considerable time before there is a meaningful increase in housing delivery, particularly if the majority of schemes are refused planning or repeatedly appealed in line with recent experience. This in turn will exert continued upward pressure on both house prices and rental values for the foreseeable future.