Despite a weakened European commercial property investment market in 2008, sales of property by occupiers remained an important source of activity last year, according to CB Richard Ellis.

In a report published this week it said that although there was a sharp fall-off in the amount of public sector real estate sold in 2008, owner-occupier sales maintained around a 19% share of the total investment market in 2008.

During 2008 Italian banks Intesa Sanpaolo and UniCredit each sold corporate real estate assets valued at more than €800m. This continued a trend of bank property sales set at the beginning of the year by Banco Santander’s disposal of its Madrid HQ to propinvest and Derek Quinlan.

In total there were around 600 transactions involving sales by owner-occupiers in 2008. The average deal size was around €33m, only slightly larger than the €28m average lot size for the market as a whole.

Transactions took place across the full range of property types, including offices, shops and industrial space. The geographic range was also wide, with deals recorded in 20 of the 26 European countries covered by the data.

CBRE said the credit crunch has had a significant impact on the ability of companies to raise money from other sources – bank loans or corporate bond issues – and on the cost of raising this capital. 'Therefore, even at the lower capital values currently achievable in the market, real estate sales can be the most cost-effective option,' it said.

John Wilson, head of CBRE’s corporate strategies group for EMEA, said: 'The corporate market now accepts sale and leasebacks as a sound and competitive source of capital. Growth is being driven by three factors: corporates bridging the current equity gap for specific business initiatives; the more significant corporates creating liquidity within their own balance sheet -- creating a "war-chest" to reduce reliability on banks to improve their own speed of action -- and investors increasingly recognising the opportunity for what are effectively strong-performing asset-backed bonds with quality covenants.'