Usually, we property journos are scrabbling around for good stories at this time of the year and dark mutterings of “it’s a quiet week” can be heard echoing around the hallways of Property Week Towers.
Not this week though. Deep though we are into the summer holidays, an unprecedented number of big deals are still being done - and few come bigger than Greystar’s expected acquisition of Brandeaux’s Liberty Living fund for a cool £1.3bn.
The ‘i’s still need to be dotted and the ‘t’s crossed, but if Greystar has beaten off competition from fellow US investor Avenue Capital for the 17,000-room prize, it will be elevated to the biggest student accommodation group in the UK.
Not bad going for a company that only entered the UK market nine months ago.
However, biggest doesn’t necessarily mean best. The consensus among analysts and brokers is that the Liberty Living stock is rather unloved (compared with Unite’s anyway) and in need of some Greystar magic dust if it is to sparkle again.
Of course, if anyone can pull it off, the biggest private rental company in the US can, but it’s not going to be a quick fix.
There’s also the question of just how transferable the Greystar model is to the UK, and how desirable. In the US, it’s known for adding all sorts of bells and whistles to its schemes - such as outdoor heated floodlit swimming pools (a far cry from shared showers between rooms that passed as superior student amenities when I was at university).
It is adding similar swanky flourishes to its UK accommodation - bowling alleys and yoga rooms and the like - but they don’t come cheap. Will UK students be able to afford this sort of digs or will they be the preserve of well-heeled international students? Like so much new student rental property, the truth is probably the latter.
Then again, there’s huge scope to add to the pool of student accommodation across the pricingspectrum - including the upper end, as Unite will know only too well.
And if it is still feeling put out that it’s lost the top spot in student accommodation to Greystar, it can also console itself that size isn’t everything and that it still owns what some view as a higher quality portfolio of modern, well-managed stock.
Plus, lest we forget, it pulled out of the contest early doors, so it clearly took a view, one that it’s probably happy to stand by given the fund has gone for what’s thought to be £200m above the initial asking price.
It’s not the only deal that’s exceeded expectations on the price front this week. The Crown Estate and Norges didn’t sneeze at spending £381m on a 64.2% stake in the Pollen Estate (geddit?) — in the first major sale of a Mayfair estate for a generation.
In fact, acquisitions at above the original asking price seem to be a bit of a theme in this week’s news — and the money is being splashed out on every conceivable type of property, evidence that buyers are becoming more bullish about all facets of the market, not just flavour-of-the-moment investment sectors such as student accommodation.
A quiet week indeed!