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Property industry has a new spring in its step

The property sector has a renewed sense of optimism a year after the country was put into its first lockdown, with more than 75% of people reporting they feel more positive about the sector’s future than three months ago, the latest Property Week sentiment survey reveals.

Some 42.5% of respondents said they felt slightly more optimistic about the future of UK real estate, and 36.7% much more optimistic, than the previous quarterly survey in December. Some 14.2% felt the same and just 6.4% felt more pessimistic.

In the previous survey at the end of December, just 53% were more optimistic about the future, compared with 23% that were more pessimistic and 24% whose views had not changed since September.

More than half of respondents expected to return to offices ahead of the official projected end to working from home guidance on 21 June if they had not already. Some 26.7% said they were already fully or partly back in the office and a further 29.2% expect to return before the June date. While 33.3% said they expected to return after June this year, 10.8% said they did not expect to return to the office.

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Retail was resoundingly forecast as the sector that would be hardest hit by the pandemic in the long term, (62.5%) followed by restaurants and pubs (18.3%). But property experts are nevertheless optimistic about the sectors’ futures.

Sovereign Centros chief executive Chris Geaves said apart from areas overexposed to it, there remained a “very strong” future for bricks-and-mortar retail.

“We’ve got a very strong future for one simple reason: the UK is a nation of shoppers,” he said. “You can’t paint all retail with the same brush, you’ve got to look at every location differently.”

He added that the eight super regional shopping centres, which include the likes of Trafford, Metrocentre and Meadowhall, were “irreplaceable stock” and would only “expand and get bigger”.

Ted Schama, joint managing partner at leisure and hospitality agency Shelley Sandzer, told Property Week: “The market has been more active than we might have anticipated at the start to the middle of the pandemic. There are more experiential leisure opportunities than ever due to vacancies of retail space on the high street.”

Jonny Perkins, retail asset manager at LabTech, agreed there is a “positive sentiment in the air” for the leisure sector.

“It has undoubtedly been a difficult time for retail, leisure and restaurant occupiers in the current climate. However, with the positive sentiment in the air from the vaccine and a reduction in cases, we have experienced a noticeable increase in occupier enquiries and interest for the first part of 2021.”

He added: “Demand has appeared to be focused on the food and beverage and leisure sectors, with retail being more measured.”

Quintain chief executive James Saunders said the Wembley Park developer was optimistic that large hospitality venues would also be able to reopen this year as planned.

“We are cautiously confident that our major venues including the SSE Arena and Troubadour Theatre will adapt and find a way to welcome back audiences later this year,” he said.

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The hotel sector also has a positive outlook on the coming months. “There is a huge amount of pent-up demand and we are seeing real appetite for growth, as well as people being desperate to travel,” said IHG UK&I managing director Karen Khanna.

Some 15% of survey respondents thought offices would be the hardest hit sector coming out of the pandemic.

Martin Lay, head of central London offices at Cushman & Wakefield, said: “The start of lockdown in January was a backwards step coming off a strong Q4 in 2020, which dampened optimism.”

He added that international investors were circling the London market ahead of travel restrictions lifting, but that activity was “likely to be held back” by lower levels of available stock.

“While the breadth and depth of international capital focused on London remains strong, activity is more likely to be held back by the lack of available investment stock, with 2021 seeing a 40% reduction in new stock being launched to the market compared with last year,” he said, adding that “the ESG agenda is becoming an increasingly important driver to investors’ decision-making, which we expect to translate into a significant focus on assets that are best in class”.

Most respondents believed industrial would come out of the crisis the strongest in the long term (56.7%), followed by residential at 29.2%.

AXA Investment Managers head of residential and student accommodation Joe Persechino told Property Week that growth in the number of young professionals supported by a burgeoning student population and the gradual recovery of the labour market would drive “modest” demand for private rental housing in the coming years.

He added: “The weight of capital seeking stable income returns together with the relative lack of depth in institutional standing stock, is driving significant investment into development. Strong occupancy and collection rates are reinforcing investor conviction, and a relatively attractive spread to comparative opportunities elsewhere in Europe is supporting pricing at today’s yields.”

By Emma Shone, Jessica Newman

Source: Property Week

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What can the property industry expect from this week’s Budget?

In its 2019 election manifesto, the Conservative Party committed to a fundamental review of the business rates system.

With the party having gained a majority in government, we should expect more details of this review to be announced in the Budget. Any review will have to consider real alternatives to the current regime and a land value tax system has been rumoured as a possible replacement.

A move to a land value tax would certainly be a fundamental step and would raise several key questions for commercial real estate, including who would ultimately bear the cost. What would the implications be on commercial rents if rates were stripped from the occupancy cost and what might the impact be on property investment values? There would also have to be detailed consideration given to how a land value tax would be set and administered as a direct rates replacement and its interaction with agricultural land, which is currently exempt, and residential land, where council tax is currently applied.

Due to the complexities and challenges with such a significant move, any potential change would likely be seen in the long-term. As a result, some additional short-term rates relief measures are expected to be included in the Budget. These are likely to be aimed at ameliorating the high-street bloodbath and levelling the playing field upon which online and bricks-and-mortar retailers compete.

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With the UK’s housing crisis posing a problem for the government that won’t go away, we will no doubt see more measures announced on residential property. Successive governments have put headlines ahead of action when it comes to tackling our housing shortage and I fear the mooted increase in stamp duty land tax for non-residents falls firmly into that category.

The proposals for a surcharge on overseas buyers are especially jarring right now. Presenting the UK as an open economy that welcomes overseas investment should be high on the government’s agenda.

Demand-side measures, be they adjusting stamp duty land tax rates or Help to Buy, have created market distortions but haven’t tackled the issue at source. Building more new homes requires supply-side intervention by the government. This would include simplifying the planning process, incentivising town-centre repurposing and where necessary, local and national government coming together to take the lead on building new homes.

Beyond these topics, the industry will be hoping most for an uneventful Budget after successive years of change. In an uncertain world, the chancellor should give the industry breathing space.

By Russell Gardner

Source: Property Week

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Property industry worried about coronavirus

Industry figures are worried public concerns about coronavirus will have an adverse effect on business, after the number of reported cases reached 115 yesterday.

The market has had a busy start to the year, but there are fears the virus will put the breaks on activity.

Jonathan Sealey, Hope Capital’s chief executive, said: “Over the past few months it has felt as though we were experiencing a real sea change in the market as the political arena became less of a focus.

“We have definitely seen the busiest start to any year so far as people started looking forward to a more stable environment.

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“Unfortunately, that may well be up in the air again as nervousness surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak takes hold.”

And Richard Pike, Phoebus Software sales and marketing director, said: “We’ve started the year well but there is one black cloud that is hard to ignore, and it is one that is already having an effect on the world’s economy.

“How the coronavirus effect will translate down the line into the housing market is anyone’s guess, but it is unlikely to have no effect at all.”

One commentator speculated whether the virus fears could push the regulator towards loosening mortgage affordability rules.

Miles Robinson, head of mortgages at online mortgage broker Trussle, said: “While we’re yet to see the impact of uncertainty linked to coronavirus on the housing market, if lending continues to slow – the time might be coming for the regulator to consider a gentle easing of restrictions around affordability.”

Source: Property Wire