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The Re-emerging Uk Real Estate Market

By Expert Author: Chris Westerman

By Chris Westerman

Investors from emerging markets are increasingly turning to UK real estate as a reliable, long-term investment target. As the market grows crowded, however, they are taking a more granular approach to it, seeking low-leverage opportunities in supply-constrained sectors. The residential sector in particular is garnering investor attention, as demographic trends and government policies point to strong fundamentals in the short and long term. Of the many facets of the residential sector, the provision of consented land to the house-building industry offers perhaps the best opportunity.

After the fallout of 2008- 2009, UK real estate quickly became a target for emerging market investors, especially from Asia: in recent years the market has solidified its standing as a top destination for global investors in property funds and land funds in particular.

According to the recent Global Investor Appetite Survey, published by Navarro, a UK-based global real estate law firm, 73% of the 600 investors interviewed were likely to increase their allocations into UK real estate in the next two years.

Investment is coming from all parts of the globe, but Asian investors have taken the lead since the last financial crisis. A recent feature in the Financial Times highlighted the emergence of these investors, and the surprising role of Malaysia in particular. Malaysia has emerged as a significant investor into UK real estate in recent months. The size of Malaysia’s pension funds, relative to their domestic stock and bond markets, has encouraged them to look overseas and the UK has been a primary beneficiary.

They are being joined by Brazilian pension funds, which are looking increasingly at alternative investment asset asset classes abroad in response to low domestic fixed-income rates. Offshore-orientated Chinese insurance funds bolstered by government policy changes, abundant liquidity and local currency appreciation are also increasingly looking offshore.

These investors are attracted to transparent‘re-emerging’ or developed markets such as the UK and in today’s global market place, wherever an investor is based, a sound investment proposition anywhere in the world is something that will be considered.

There are unique political and demographic circumstances that are driving the market in England. The UK’s population is expected to grow from 61.4 million in 2008 to 71.6 million in 2033, an increase of nearly 17%. At the same time, household density is set to fall from 2.3 to 2.15 persons per household between 2013 and 2033.

To meet this projected household growth, figures from the UK Government’s Department of Communities and Local Government suggest that 5.8 million housing completions are needed in England in the 25-year period between 2008 and 2033.

An increase of 61% over the current level of housing completions will be needed every year in that 25-year period in order to meet that additional demand. To meet this demand, several stimulus measures have been introduced including the Help To Buy Mortgage Guarantee scheme, the Help To Buy Equity Loans scheme and the Build To Let scheme. The results are already apparent, with home mortgage approvals having increased dramatically over recent months. Asset prices are also up, with house prices nationally rising 8%in the year to February 2014, and the consensus is that this trend is gaining momentum, particularly for newly built homes.

According to the Construction Register, newly built homes in the UK are more popular than ever before, while a recent survey by Halifax on house prices shows that new builds are outperforming the rest of the UK housing market, with an average value 9% above the norm.

But even as these policy measures stimulate demand, supply is nowhere close to meeting it. There is no way anytime soon that the sector will be overburdened by an oversupply of housing. All political parties in the UK appreciate the gravity of the situation. The housing shortage in the UK is so acute that there is absolute cross-party political support for the need to increase housing supply and this is unlikely to change before the end of the next Parliament in 2020.

A key problem facing the sector is a shortage of consented land for the development of new homes. This shortage remains the single biggest constraint to increasing housing supply. It is also the provider of a compelling investment opportunity. The delivery of land with planning consent provides the largest value uplift anywhere within the real estate value chain. This opportunity has not gone unnoticed by international investors. After the fallout of 2008-2009, UK real estate quickly became a target for emerging market investors, especially from Asia. They are now increasingly recognising the specific opportunity of delivering land with planning consent.

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