Wow, what a month, what a year… what a decade. I don’t know about you, but I’ll be glad to see the back of all three. It’s been exhausting.
Most think the industry dodged a bullet last Friday. They’re probably right. One source told me the day before the general election that he would have had to lay off half his workforce if Labour had won. Like many, he was hoping for a Conservative win to restore a semblance of certainty to the market and allow a resumption of business as usual. He wasn’t expecting Boris Johnson to annihilate the competition, though. No one was.
I thought people would default to their usual political positions and that for every older Labour supporter in the north who “lent” their vote to the Tories to “get Brexit done”, there would be a young, idealistic voter in the south who backed Jeremy Corbyn. But the youthquake never happened, not at the scale required, anyway. Cue the shock Tory landslide, sighs of relief across property and a “Boris bounce” that sent property share prices soaring.
Now, as we head into what is hopefully a slightly less uncertain future, it is important not to lull ourselves into a false sense of security. Getting Brexit done is easier said than done. The election didn’t mark the beginning of the end of the Brexit saga or even the end of the beginning – it just marked the beginning. But at least the industry can take comfort from the fact that whatever is thrown at it, it will come out fighting.
In this week’s issue, we take our customary end-of-year look at the events and people that shaped this year and, although it was a year of living dangerously, as the headline suggests, there were plenty of winners as well as losers. Nowhere is this more clearly illustrated than in the flexible workspace sector, which witnessed the once all-conquering WeWork flounder and its talismanic chief executive Adam Neumann exit stage left with a cool $1.7bn pay-off after its aborted attempt to float.
WeWork was far from the only flexible office operator to struggle as the sector became less free for all, more survival of the fittest. However, the likes of Knotel continued to pursue aggressive expansion strategies and several non-specialists piled in, including Landsec with Myo and Knight Frank with Yours, launched in partnership with Work.Life.
In retail, too, there were lots of casualties but also businesses that survived and even thrived. While intu took a hammering and was forced to try and offload assets, others like Rob Tincknell’s Areli Real Estate went shopping. Meanwhile, NewRiver somehow managed to end the year with a share price pretty much identical to the one it started 2019 with.
Saving the best until last
Even so, no one is disputing how challenging it has been to operate with the Brexit brakes on. The decade didn’t start well either. Yet it was in the first half that schemes like King’s Cross and The Shard came through and deals like Blackstone’s sale of its 50% stake in Broadgate were struck, which is probably why they stood out for you as among the best of the past 10 years. We hope you enjoy reading our Best of the Decade and Review of 2019 as much as we enjoyed compiling them. It just remains for me to say thank you for all your support this year, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. See you in 2020.