Plop: the first general election leaflet hit the doormat last Saturday. A tightly targeted anti-development screed from Helen Grant, MP for Maidstone and The Weald. The loyalist successor to batty Ann Widdecombe is clearly not a deux with the Conservative target of building 300,000 homes a year.
Grant attacks plans to pack flats up to 15 storeys high on two sites near the River Medway, close to the town centre. The CGIs admittedly look dire. Even so, I’d like to put forward one, the 2.9-acre Broadway Shopping Centre purchase by Legal & General in 2013, for Property Week’s deal of the decade.
The 80,000 sq ft of space and two-deck car park for 384 vehicles is occupied by Lidl and Matalan, whose leases expire in 2020. L&G paid £9.45m, reflecting a 7.7% yield. Six years ago, I queried the sense of buying this tertiary shopping centre. Criticism withdrawn. We can leave profit calculations on 281 (almost certainly PRS) flats two minutes’ walk from a station that will get you to St Pancras in under an hour to L&G.
Meanwhile, right across the land, anti-development leaflets from Conservative and ‘wicked landlord’ diatribes from Labour will be plopping on to doormats. Every party wants 300,000 new homes. But guess where voters don’t want them built? Especially by wicked landlords.
Not ready for take-off
Good to see PW rustling up the best deals of the past decade. My candidate does not quite meet the criteria, having been executed in 2009 by the wily Patrick Vaughan and the late Raymond Mould, right at the very pit of the recession.
The pair paid £74m for the 170,000 sq ft One Fleet Place in the City, reflecting a 7.75% yield. L&G had been asking for £100m. But so spooked was the market that nobody else dared make an offer. In September 2013, the Japanese Takenaka Corporation bought the offices of law firm Dentons for £112m. Why is it the best deal of the decade? Because nobody else had the courage to deal at the time.
A skim through my old Evening Standard columns looking for candidates from the first half of this decade found a few good deals. But it was jolting to see how little progress had been made on the really big development sites across London. The ‘concept masterplan’ for the 77-acre Earls Court site was produced by Capco in late 2010. A year later, Westfield was limbering up to build a new centre in Croydon. In January 2012, plans to fill the 70 acres of Silvertown were unveiled. Very little beyond the expenditure of millions on planning applications has happened. As for Old Oak Common this decade… groan.
This week’s announcement by housing minister Esther McVey that she was setting up a “PropTech Dragon’s forum” is up there with John Major’s Cones Hotline as one of the most misbegotten wastes of public time and money. Why on earth is a Tory government intervening in what should be a Darwinian evolution? Last week I read PropTech 101: Turning Chaos into Cash Through Real Estate Innovation. Most start-ups will die.
PropTech 101 is by Aaron Block and Zach Aarons, co-founders of US proptech venture capital firm MetaProp. The pair do know what they are talking about; Block used to work for Cushman & Wakefield. But the content has little relevance to commercial property. MetaProp invests in start-ups that spot guns on CCTV cameras, or radiators that can be controlled by wifi, or whizz-bang apps for insurers and mortgage companies. Yawn.
The idea that commercial property is gripped in a proptech revolution is excitable bunkum. What’s happening is opportunities to make information easier to agglomerate, interpret and exploit are being created. Fine. Those that have value will be adopted and assimilated. The barmy will wither and die. The rise of ‘proptech’ is not like the earthquake created by the web. It’s a small revolution. Keep an eye on it, but don’t believe the hype.
PS: At Mipim UK last month I did come across some room rental software called Badi, which now has 100,000 users in London. Badi screens those seeking rooms and makes them post a mug shot. The service is free to seekers of space. The plan is to charge those with space to spare. The Spanish firm has raised $45m in VC capital. Early next year it will expand the offer to private and build-to-rent landlords. It looks good. See, I’m not totally cynical.
Peter Bill is a journalist and author of Planet Property