Commercial property specialists CBRE today released their final bimonthly report for 2021, commenting on trends and transactions in all sectors of Ireland’s commercial property market as the year starts to draw to a close. According to the property consultants, the ability of investors and occupiers to travel to undertake property inspections since restrictions were lifted in the Summer has been transformative for the Irish commercial property market. The market has stabilised and there has been a significant uptick in transactional activity underway in all sectors, both on and off market, since the Summer, with the volume of activity in the second half of 2021 in marked contrast to H1. In fact, Q3 was stronger than the two previous quarters combined in most sectors of the market. The property consultants say that the months of September and October have been phenomenally busy, although they express frustration at the fact that negotiations are proving overly protracted in many sectors with transactions taking several months to complete in some cases. They therefore claim that the extent of activity underway is therefore not fully appreciated due to the length of time it is taking to translate into completed transactions.
According to Marie Hunt, Head of Research at CBRE Ireland, “The Irish economy is now firmly in the midst of a robust recovery with a very strong 2022 in prospect, despite current concerns about energy costs, inflation, and supply chain delays, all of which will hopefully alleviate in time. A recovering economy bodes well for the Irish commercial property market, which is now firmly in growth mode, having achieved a positive annual total return of +2.6% in the year to the end of September, according to the latest MSCI Irish Property Index. For now, the focus is firmly on translating the many transactions that are in various stages of legals into completed deals and bringing the second half of what has been a year of two distinct halves for the commercial property market to a strong close”.
THE OFFICE MARKET
- Q3 saw a resurgence in activity with take-up in Dublin in the quarter reaching close to 40,000m2 – almost double the volume of leasing activity achieved in the first two quarters of the year combined. Q3 also saw a further decline in the overall level of vacancy in the capital.
- As occupiers reignite searches for office accommodation and announce new requirements, demand has increased significantly. Requirements for more than 407,000m2 were active at the end of Q3 with a number of large technology and professional services company requirements initiated recently.
- As an increasing proportion of office workers return to the office, occupiers are testing new ways of working and this in turn is fuelling demand for flexible leasing solutions.
- Prime office rents in Dublin have now firmly stabilised, with the next movement likely to be upwards as new evidence materialises in due course. The gap between rents for prime and secondary buildings is continuing to increase however, as both occupiers and investors increasingly favour more modern and sustainable buildings over secondary alternatives. ESG has become increasingly important.
THE HOTEL MARKET
- Several hotel transactions have completed both on and off market in recent months. Indeed, according to CBRE, a total of 12 hotel sales totalling more than €330 million completed in Ireland during the first nine months of 2021 – more than double the volume of hotel sales completed in the entire year in 2020. While wholly dependent on the sales that close this side of Christmas, the outturn for 2021 is likely to be in excess of €400 million.
- Despite the extent to which the pandemic impacted on 2020 performance, CBRE say that pricing is holding up well with most purchasers basing their underwrite on the anticipated stabilised performance or 2019 comparators. A recent CBRE survey of 70 hotel sales in gateway cities in Europe showed that 75% of winning bids were in line with, or above, the guide price, which clearly demonstrates a reversion to pre-Covid pricing as this sector recovers.
THE INDUSTRIAL & LOGISTICS MARKET
- Appetite for prime industrial & logistics accommodation has continued unabated in all European markets, throughout the Autumn. Record volumes of both leasing and sales activity have been achieved from an occupier perspective while investment volumes have reached all-time highs in many countries due to the weight of investor appetite to deploy into this particular sector.
- With several large industrial investment transactions ongoing at present, a strong Q4 is anticipated, which will make 2021 the strongest year on record for industrial investment in Ireland. Astute investors are undertaking considerable due diligence to underwrite these investment decisions. CBRE expect this momentum to continue into 2022, which will no doubt encourage some holders of industrial and logistics properties and land to capitalise on the weight of capital looking to deploy into this sector.
- Even if some of the transactions that are currently in legals don’t complete by year-end and fall into next year, 2021 will still go down as one of the most active years on record for investment in Ireland’s healthcare sector. In addition to specialist investors continuing to consolidate their positions in the Irish market, new entrants continue to explore opportunities to deploy into this alternative investment sector. CBRE expect this to continue to be a theme in 2022. Many of the investors targetting healthcare opportunities in Ireland have an established presence in the UK market and are now looking further afield. As previously reported, in addition to demand for standing stock, CBRE are also increasingly seeing investors looking for opportunities to acquire sites in order to develop new nursing home stock on the basis that Ireland needs upwards of 2,000 new nursing home beds per annum to meet underlying demand. They also report increased appetite for opportunities to develop senior living.
- We are now weeks away from the 31st December 2021 deadline by which all nursing homes in the country are supposed to be fully compliant with 2016 National standards. CBRE say that it remains to be seen if the Government will extend the deadline. The reality is that many older establishments, including many of the 125 public nursing homes around the country, simply won’t be compliant with legislation if these regulations come into force as planned on January 1st next. Many smaller and non-purpose-built nursing home properties throughout the country may have no option but to close as the cost of compliance with the standards will be prohibitive.
- Regardless of what happens with this long-heralded regulation change, 2022 looks set to be very active and we will see continued consolidation in this specialist sector of the market. However, CBRE are urging a note of caution saying that as the number and type of investors looking for exposure to this sector increases, it is important to remember that the healthcare sector is highly specialised and the Irish market is considerably more nuanced than others. Investors need to proceed carefully, undertake proper due diligence and get specialist advice, particularly in relation to the negotiation of pricing and leasing structures.
THE RETAIL MARKET
- There has been robust volumes of activity in the retail property sector of late as potential occupiers conduct site visits and inspect available premises searching for the optimum store best suited to their specific requirements from a location and cost perspective. In recent months, several potential new entrants have conducted site visits intending to open their first Irish stores, which will see new brands emerging in due course.
- While rental values are stabilising and there is competitive tension for particular locations, determining a clear rental tone for specific streets and retail schemes remains challenging.
- The coming weeks are critical for retailers according to CBRE. Staffing problems, as well as global supply chain issues, will continue to frustrate. However, by all accounts, a busy Christmas trading period is in prospect, albeit with Covid-19 still impacting the market, CBRE believe there will be less emphasis on Black Friday and Cyber Monday than has been the case in recent years.
THE INVESTMENT MARKET
- According to CBRE research, a total of €793 million was invested in Irish real estate in Q3 2021, bringing total investment spend in the first nine months of the year to €3.48 billion. CBRE believe that this suggests that the outturn for 2021 will comfortably exceed €4.5 billion – a remarkable result considering the challenging backdrop in the first half of the year. The notable recovery is not unique to Ireland with European investment volumes totalling €77.3bn in Q3 2021, up 55% on the same period last year.
THE MULTIFAMILY MARKET
- According to CBRE Research, almost €58 billion of residential investment transactions were recorded in Europe in the first three quarters of 2021, of which only approximately 3% occurred in Ireland.
- In additional to demand for multifamily product, investors are also increasing their allocations to other living sectors including affordable housing, single family housing and purpose-built student accommodation.
- Despite the severe supply demand imbalance inherent in the Irish residential market and particularly in cities such as Dublin, Cork and Galway, investors remain very measured and pragmatic in their approach and are undertaking considerable due diligence to underwrite multifamily opportunities. Investors are also taking time to interpret the consequences of recent regulatory changes, including measures to link rental growth to inflation.
THE DEVELOPMENT LAND MARKET
- Despite all of the policy changes proposed in recent months, not least the myriad of proposals contained within the Government’s ‘Housing for All’ report and the recent Budget and Finance Bill, there has been continued strong momentum in the development land market throughout the Autumn season. The extension of the ‘Help to Buy’ scheme until 2023 and firm commitment from Government to support a higher volume of annual housing construction over the next decade have been well received.
- Several sites have been launched for sale both on and off market over recent months and by all accounts are generating good interest. Sites with the benefit of planning permission for a range of residential end-uses including build to sell housing, multifamily, student accommodation and nursing homes are in particular demand considering the significant supply demand imbalances in these sectors.