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The view from London: The market is a complex place but not without optimism

Written by Andrew Thomas, head of International Capital Markets at Colliers International

Real estate investment has weathered many storms but nothing quite like this. The truly global impact and the lack of financial cause has left the market in a sense of shock. However the good news is that we expect a quicker bounce back than we have seen from other market cycles and when we can return to spending money, increase our travel and get back to business as usual once the crisis has abated.

In pockets of Asia some markets that are beginning to return to some sense of normality and are showing signs that investors are eager to invest. One of the biggest attractions is the volatility in Sterling that has led to recent falls in excess of 15% against the US Dollar. Despite there being plenty to attract overseas investors, travel does remain an obstacle. Previously we had seen reluctance from domestic investors to visit Asia, however the tide has turned and Europe has become a no fly zone.

Fundamentally, the real estate sector is emotive, and a business built on people. The ban on travel impacts a whole host of our normal procedures, primarily inspections and viewings meaning transactions have reached a stalemate. London’s strength is in the fact that many investors value the prestige that a London asset can bring. This has stood the capital in good stead before and it isn’t something we expect to change.

The initial knee jerk reaction of deals failing has levelled off and we find ourselves into the period of ‘deals freezing.’ We are seeing a familiar set of situations where landlord and buyer, or indeed, tenant and purchaser look to do anything but confront each other; the former to keep the deal on track, the latter to use this as an option to review the deal when stabilisation happens – which I’m sure it will.

One of the most interesting developments will be to analyse who is selling. Investors are reviewing their portfolios, contemplating the weighting of real estate, and within that defensive real estate. As a result we expect there to be a flurry of sales a little further down the line, however this won’t be the only motivation for assets being brought to the market. Before this crisis, many firms were working up sales as part of their business plan and I don’t expect there will be much to stop them from continuing with their sales.

So what about distress? It would be natural to assume a flurry of distressed sales but I can’t see this being the case just yet. Measures to relieve pressure continue to be rolled out through the FCA and the Treasury. One shift we will see is the change in supply dynamic and how people will bring assets to the market.

The looming issue is that nobody knows exactly when we will return to ‘normal’. This means that the market continues to face challenges; initially it was asset values as public markets collapsed but with quarter day having just passed, all eyes are on rent; the main driver of value.

This March we saw quarter day fall at a time when few can occupy their offices, shop or restaurant and generate their own income to pay the rent. Tenants may be able to cover one quarter’s rent from reserves but the next quarter day in June may be too great a challenge for some without the Government’s assistance. The importance of landlords and tenants working together to get through this period cannot be overstated.

This is a crucial period for landlords but also for banks, exposed both to tenant overdraft and loans to landlords. During the Global Financial Crisis we saw banks closing down, however this time they have been more measured in their approach to the crisis and are doing so with more optimism than in 2008.

There’s still a lot to love about London, and with time I expect normality to return to the market. Communities will band together, stabilisation will eventually return and an appetite for core locations will put the UK’s capital firmly back on the radar for many.

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Andrew Thomas

Head of International Capital Markets

London - West End

Andrew works in the London Capital Markets Team where he is responsible for international capital moving towards London and the rest of the UK and Europe. He advises a number of investors on sales, acquisitions, asset management and development funding. Andrew is an established member of the London Market and has 26 years of experience.

Andrew graduated from Magdalene College, Cambridge University and joined Cushman & Wakefield in September 1989 where he became one of the founding members of the Central London team. Andrew recently moved to Colliers International where he continuing to service his clients. 

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