The current state of the UK commercial property sector

an unusual angle on commercial propertyThe UK’s commercial property sector covers everything from retail units to warehousing, office blocks to industrial units and it is no surprise that some sectors are performing better than others.

Across the commercial property sector, UK prime commercial property rental values increased 0.7% in Q2 2018, according to CBRE’s latest Prime Rent and Yield Monitor. It found that the Industrial sector was the top performer for the 7th quarter in a row with a 2.1% increase in prime rents. CBRE is the world’s largest commercial property services and investment company.

Clearly, a major concern for the commercial sector is the dramatic decline in demand for retail space in the light of the plethora of retail failures over the past two years. This has been attributed largely to the shift by consumers to online shopping, but also to the 2017 business rate revaluation that some argued had a disproportionate impact on smaller retailers although I think it has affected all non-domestic rate payers.

The most recent quarterly survey by RICS (the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors) also reports: “results show the downturn across the retail sector intensifying, with stores in secondary locations displaying particularly negative rental and capital value projections.”

While the demand for renting retail shopping units may have plummeted, however, demand for warehousing has soared – attributed largely to this shift to online shopping but also to the surge in popularity of the discount supermarkets such as Aldi and Lidl.

Here, CBRE reports that there has been a “near doubling in demand for warehouse space over the past 10 years” from 130 million sq ft in the previous decade to 235 million sq ft today. This is a mixture of both leased and purchased space. This is not uniform across the UK, depending as it does on efficient road and rail infrastructure and the East Midlands counties of Northamptonshire, Leicestershire and Derbyshire have benefited the most.

The BBC reported recently that “construction is under way of 11 mammoth units at the East Midlands Gateway, which is poised to host names such as Amazon, Shop Direct and Nestlé, as well as creating 7,000 new jobs”.

When it comes to office properties, again there has been some regional variation albeit that overall office prime rents increased 0.6% in Q2, up from 0.4% in Q1 2018, again according to CBRE.

However, Central London Office prime rents decreased slightly in Q2 thanks to a fall of -0.1% in the West End. By contrast South East and Eastern rents increased 1.1% and 0.9% respectively. Suburban London Offices also reported a 1.2% increase.

One interesting development is that some specialist office commercial property companies have been capitalising on the trend for flexible offices on short-term, flexible leases, in one case earning a 48% net rent premium on its flexible leases when compared with traditional lease deals.

It is perhaps surprising in the aftermath of the Brexit vote that as mentioned earlier has been the demand for industrial premises, which RICS’ survey says “continues to attract solid demand from both occupiers and investors”.

CBRE, too, reports that Industrial property continues to outperform all other commercial sectors and, as with office space, there is a regional variation in demand with the strongest rental growth in this sector in the North West, where rental values in Q2 increased by 5.9%.

Clearly, therefore, anyone interested in investing in commercial property would be well advised to pick their sector carefully and keep an eye on the shifting trends as the UK gets closer to the date for leaving the EU in March next year.

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