There was little sign of the traditional summer lull this year. Indeed, £4.1bn worth of commercial property deals were sealed in August - 17% more than were recorded in July, according to Property Archive.
And judging by the latest news stories, it appears to be a case of back to school with a bang for the investment market.
Among the eye-catching deals this week, Frasers Property International announced the acquisition of four business parks from Oaktree Capital Management for £686m on Monday and on Tuesday we revealed that Warrington Borough Council had completed its purchase of Birchwood Park for £200m, also from Oaktree.
In the face of increasingly vocal calls for councils to curb their spending on commercial property, including from Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable, the Birchwood Park deal shows that local authorities aren’t afraid to attract the public scrutiny that comes with doing large property deals.
There also seems to be no let-up in the number of prime London office buildings hitting the market. As we revealed this week, AshbyCapital is the latest landlord to look to capitalise on the influx of Asian investors in the London market by putting 200 Aldersgate up for sale for about £320m. If it achieves a sale at the asking price, it would make a tidy profit given that it bought the building just four years ago for £225m.
The question now is: can the current momentum be maintained? The relentlessly negative European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker warned this week that the UK would “soon regret” leaving the EU. Will sentiment also change in the property market?
Fair priced markets
For now, with the weak pound continuing to attract foreign investors and persistently low interest rates still fuelling demand for property let on long leases, pricing in the investment market is pretty steady. However, some worrying data is starting to emerge on the occupier market.
According to CBRE, prime office rents in the West End have fallen for three consecutive quarters and rents have also been marked down in the City.
With rents already moving in the wrong direction in London, the investment market could be in for a bumpy ride, especially if Brexit negotiations continue to go as badly as they appear to have done so far. Furthermore, there is nothing to stop the Hong Kong buyers who have been propping up values in the London market looking elsewhere in Europe for prime assets to buy.
Analysis by Cushman & Wakefield published this week suggested they may be right to do so. It found the UK had the fewest underpriced markets in Europe - out of 28 UK property markets, Bristol offices was the only one that ranked as undervalued.
However, investors would have to be brave to take the plunge in the markets it judged to be most undervalued - namely Moscow offices and retail. In the UK one of the safest bets could turn out to be commercial real estate debt, which still offers a healthy income return and protection against the risk of a drop in property prices. Europa Capital’s decision to expand its property lending platform could turn out to be a shrewd one.
Investors may have to navigate some choppy waters over the next year or two, so avoiding undue risks today could pay off handsomely in the long run.