The report is in German and available at this link.Demand for German real estate will remain high through 2017, led by the search for good office space in Berlin, Stuttgart, Hamburg and Munich – while in the residential sector, Frankfurt will see the strongest demand, according to the latest Real Estate Trend Barometer published at the beginning of the year by EY Real Estate.
However, the EY researchers add the proviso that much of this is dependent on the political climate, both in an election-filled year in Europe, and in the United States after the advent of Trump.
For one thing, interest rates in the US are expected to rise faster than in Europe making the US more attractive – important for Germany, given that 43% of all commercial real estate transactions last year were made by foreign investors. The EY consultants are recommending to their clients to boost their liquidity reserves, in case interest rates rise faster than expected, resources are withdrawn from the market, or tenants experience problems.
The Brexit effect is most clearly to be seen in Frankfurt, where the residential market shows little sign of cooling down. Schulz-Wulkow comments in the report that this has to do with the narrowness of the market, with the office market not quite as sensitive, given both available vacancy and the attraction of alternative centers such as Paris or Dublin.
Co-author of the study Paul von Drygalski comments that despite the danger of overheating in certain segments, the German market has lost little of its attraction for international investors. If anything, Germany is still seen as economically and politically stable, with real estate benefiting from the low interest-rate environment, which 98% of respondents viewed as unlikely to change noticeably in 2017.
Another factor causing optimism among German investors is the likely smaller transactional size expected in 2017. Here, 91% of respondents agreed this could be an advantage for German investors, as the big Asian competitors tended to focus on very large transactions – for example, the purchase of the Commerzbank Tower in Frankfurt by Samsung in 2016 for €660 million and the takeover of the BGP residential portfolio from the biggest Chinese sovereign fund CIC for €1.118 million.
Leading the drive among investors are the insurance companies and pension funds, among whom the survey found that 96% rated the German market 'attractive' or 'very attractive'. However, high demand is being met with constrained supply, meaning deal size is getting smaller. The most sought after assets are parking houses, healthcare properties, student apartments and micro apartments, in addition to the classical hotels, retail properties, offices and residential apartments. Offices and residential in the better locations are expected to get even more expensive particularly in cities like Berlin, which is still benefiting from the dynamism of its startup sector.
Germany's recent real estate boom reached its zenith in 2015, when real estate volume of €79 billion was transacted. This compares with the €13.4 billion transacted in 2009, after the onset of the financial crisis, and the €65.7 billion transacted in 2016, where the figures were flattered slightly by giant takeovers such as Blackstone's taeover of OfficeFirst and Vonovia's takeover of Convert.
The EY survey shows that 90% of respondents view project developers to be the likely main winners from the current market situation. Likewise, 90% believe that investors are increasingly likely in the future to secure properties via forward deals – in contrast to three or four years ago, where German institutional investors such as insurance companies shunned any involvement with project developments. Now, given the shortage of available product, investors are prepared to take on higher risk and to expand into other geographical territories that offer higher yields.
When questioned which investor groups were most likely to be on the selling side in 2017 respondents were of the majority opinion that opportunity and private equity funds along with other international funds would be among the most active sellers. They are selling for profit-taking and for portfolio optimization. According to Schulz-Wulkow, "it is now a market for exiting, with many opportunity funds having already sold."
However, with 1/3 of all respondents saying they plan no exit this year, even from individual assets, supply is likely to remain very tight for primarily insurance companies and pension funds as well as open-ended funds and family offices most looking to buy.
Adding to the shortage of supply, unrealistic price expectations and the reassessment of risk exposure are acting as brakes on transactions. EY cite the example of asbestos, which in the past would have led to the immediate break-off of discussions, but now it might be accepted at an appropriate discount. A further example of how sellers at the moment have the upper hand, the report suggests.
Respondents expect retail properties to show a sideways price tendency at best, even in fairly prime locations. 62% of respondents believe that office property will be the hottest segment and the preferred asset class, up from 49% believing that last year. Berlin property is particularly in demand, while overall residential is falling out of favor with investors, down to 28% from last year's 65%. The key reason for this is what is viewed as excessive political regulation, with 94% of respondents expecting even tighter rental constraints.
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