I spent last Wednesday handing out ice creams, with the temperature hovering around 40°C outside. Not because I’ve had a dramatic change of profession, but because I was in Dubai.
While many of the CBRE Residential team were at Property Week’s successful RESI 2015 conference at Celtic Manor, I was part of another team on a trip - also taking in Abu Dhabi - to Qatar, which culminated in Dubai’s Cityscape Global event.
Our CBRE-branded tubs provided welcome relief for some of the 80,000 registered attendees at Cityscape, which many of London’s top residential developers also chose to attend.
Middle Eastern investors and developers were dominant, of course, with Nakheel, Damac and Emaar on prominent display and seeking Middle Eastern and overseas buyers. The Dubai market is challenged in the short term, but the momentum that will be generated by Expo 2020 offers hope for the future.
But it was also interesting that our investment team, led by Chris Lacey, saw strong interest among Middle Eastern buyers in the UK private rented sector. And the mood towards London developments at Cityscape? It can be summed up by an article in last Thursday’s Gulf News headed ‘Gulf investors can’t have enough of UK realty’ - it explained that, while Russian and Chinese interest in London has slowed, Middle Eastern buyers have stepped into the breach.
The collapse in the oil price has had a twin effect: first, it demonstrates to Middle Eastern investors that putting money into long-term, stable commodities such as property is a wise move. After all, if oil can fall so sharply in price why not invest in a strong, long-term performer like property?
And, second, it is igniting Middle Eastern interest once again in London’s ‘golden postcodes’, led by Mayfair.
I wrote in Property Week in June about how outer London’s boroughs were 2015’s success story - a point echoed by Redrow chairman Steve Morgan last week - but for Middle Eastern buyers there are two areas really catching their eye.
First, a younger generation of Middle Eastern buyers is being drawn towards new-build apartments in Fitzrovia, Covent Garden, the South Bank and Canary Wharf.
They are also keen on buying residential property in or near central business districts, like St George’s development in Wapping called London Dock.
With the oil price slump and uncertainty caused by the Chinese stock-market dip, more seasoned Middle Eastern buyers are returning in force to Mayfair.
How other global cities are faring was a big question on Cityscape delegates’ lips.
We helped to answer that when our residential research head Jennet Siebrits launched our Global Living Report: a City by City Guide, which explored in detail 31 of the world’s best-known residential locations. The top 10 highest-value places are: Hong Kong (average property price per sq ft: £908); London (£657); New York (£540); Paris (£524); Singapore (£519); Tokyo (£447); Los Angeles (£430); Milan (£349); Rome (£336); and Edinburgh (£328). We also examined what are likely to represent the world’s most significant residential growth prospects:
- Istanbul (average property price: £72/sq ft): enjoyed 15% house price growth last year with the rental market up 12%;
- Johannesburg (£78): the city produces 16% of South Africa’s GDP and boasts a strong residential sales market;
- Cape Town (£106): attracts 1.5 million tourists a year, and has strong GDP growth. Has a solid rental market;
- Lisbon (£124): foreign investors are driving a recovering property market and account for 22% of all sales, with the first rises in house price growth in five years;
- Toronto (£142): the city boasts 2,231 high-rise buildings - more than any other North American city bar New York. It is expected to see house price growth of 9.6% in 2015;
- Chicago (£150): the city has rebounded after the global financial crisis and is expected to see further growth of almost 2% in the year to 2016;
- Madrid (£157): while the wider Spanish market remains muted, Madrid rose last year, and transactions were up 28% compared with the city’s 10-year average;
- Barcelona (£159): prices have also increased in the past year;
- Sydney (£165): average house prices rose by 12.9% last year, and are 38% higher than the Australian average;
- Bangkok (£168): the luxury market is performing well, with a 30% increase in prices for off-plan condominiums.
So, what were my favourite Cityscape moments? UK-based Creative Connections’ ‘artwall’ for our stand; 3D visualisers for one top central London scheme, giving viewers a vivid idea of being at the top of a residential tower, even if it did disorientate some people; and the discomfort of one of our rival agents visiting us for a coffee on our stand and being forced to drink from a CBRE-branded cup.
Mark Collins is chairman of CBRE Residential UK