The Irish property investment market registered a market turnover of €3bn in 2020 despite the global pandemic, according to new figures released today by Lisney, Ireland’s largest independently-owned multi-disciplinary property advisory company. While this was half the previous years’ record-breaking €6bn, supply was more limited from April onwards as several potential sales processes were put on hold.
Office space was the most active in the investment sector, at 39% of total turnover due to some very substantial buildings sold. That said, the Private Rented Sector also registered a very strong performance in 2020 with €1.2bn in turnover, equating to 38% of all investment spend and all of which was in Dublin. The larger schemes generally comprised forward purchases with 60% of all deals done off-market, a trend that will continue in the medium-term. With several billion, consisting of a mix of domestic and overseas money, now chasing PRS opportunities, this sector is set to continue performing well.
International travel restrictions did have an impact on overseas investors seeking opportunities in 2020, and will continue to for at least the first three months of this year, if not the first six. That said, 80% of turnover related to international investors in 2020 as many of the Irish institutions were absent from the market following closure of their open-ended funds earlier in the year.
In other sectors, Lisney reports that Industrial property was the most resilient sector of the commercial property market, with domestic and international demand in the sector very strong. While ‘the future of the office’ remains a hot topic of debate, the vaccine roll-out should see a partial return to pre-Covid occupancy rates – although ‘the office’ will evolve, the social and collaboration aspect cannot be underestimated.
A breakdown of the key sectors is outlined below, with full in-depth details contained in the Lisney Outlook 2020 report, which can be accessed here https://lisney.com/research-report/lisney-outlook-2021/
2020 started well with steady levels of activity experienced in the first three months; 2,660 second-hand properties sold, a similar level to 2019. However, in mid to late March, when COVID-19 became much more serious in Ireland and the first lockdown occurred, uncertainty crept in. The market stalled as potential purchasers could not physically view properties and were relying on virtual viewings. 50% fewer homes were sold in April and May compared to the same period of 2019. Certain sellers were nervous and accepted reductions, keen to conclude sales. Generally, any revisions to prices were between 5% and 10% less.
Once restrictions eased in June and physical viewing could recommence, there was a definite change in many buyers’ requirements and properties close to the coast or those with a large garden were highly sought after. As was the case last year, properties in turnkey condition will be most sought after and are likely to have several potential purchasers bidding on them, while properties requiring work will need to be priced accordingly to attract interest.
For 2021, the first and second half of the year will be different. In the short-term, supply will remain the key issue, and combined with pent-up demand and good market sentiment, prices will likely hold firm. As the year progresses and a vaccine is hopefully rolled out in stages, vendors will become more confident. Those holding off selling will move to put their properties on the market, but it will take time for stock levels to build up.
Purchasers will remain sensitive to asking prices throughout 2021. For vendors, properties quoting realistic asking prices from the start of the sales process will garner the greatest attention. Likewise, damage will be done to purchaser interest in homes quoting over-priced figures. Any change in Dublin residential prices in 2021, positive or negative, will be linked to the economy, employment and consumer confidence.
There will be continued demand from expats, mainly returning from London, the Middle East and China. For these, the pandemic has prompted a lifestyle change, particularly if they have parents and family in Ireland, and if they have children of school-going age. While a return was always on the agenda for most, COVID-19 has accelerated the decision. In the second half of 2020, we found that demand from this cohort was focused on the upper-end of the market and not reliant on mortgage finance. This trend will continue, particularly those returning from the UK due to Brexit.
The office market had been earmarked to have another good year in 2020 and with strong demand, it started well with almost 90,000 sqm of accommodation transacted in Q1. This included some very large deals in the tech and financial sectors. However, the effects of COVID-19 took their toll, and with only about 52,000 sqm of transactions completed in the remaining nine months of the year, the market was in somewhat of a hibernation.
One of the biggest talking points in the sector was, and continues to be, the future of the ‘the office’. Flexibility was already creeping into the working week prior to the pandemic, but it has now been accelerated. Whatever the path chosen by businesses, it seems likely that some staff in certain sectors will work remotely one to two days a week. On the surface, this might imply that 20% to 30% less space will be required by businesses as hotdesking on days in the office becomes the norm.
However, there is a possible counter to this reduction. People have become accustomed to greater personal space in the last nine months and in open plan offices, desk space sizes and distances from colleagues may grow due to personal preferences. We anticipate continued demand in 2021 as there are already some notable requirements in the market. Big tech companies will continue to power market demand. The roll-out of the Covid 10 vaccine should see a return to busier office occupancy rates – however, it will be towards the end of the year and into 2022 before activity reverts to healthier levels.
Industrial property was the most resilient sector of the commercial property market, with domestic and international demand in the sector very strong. 330,000 sqm of industrial accommodation was transacted last year in the Dublin market. The further shift towards e-commerce over 2020 has intensified logistics space requirements and this domestic and global trend will continue this year.
Brexit will remain a feature of the market this year. It will be prudent for UK companies who supply to Ireland to hold extra stock and there will be additional space requirements to ensure supply chains are not disrupted, including bonded warehouses.
PRIVATE RENTED SECTOR (PRS):
The investment market was dominated by PRS in 2020 with €1.2bn in turnover, 38% of all investment spend and all of which was in Dublin. The larger schemes generally comprised forward purchases and 60% of all deals were done off-market, a trend that will continue in the medium-term. We estimate that there is several billion chasing PRS opportunities, which is a mix of domestic and overseas money.
Within operational PRS schemes, rent collection has remained strong with delinquency rates at about 3% to 5%. Renter demand also remained solid and rental levels in PRS schemes have been generally stable since the beginning of the pandemic, albeit with some slight falls towards the end of the year. Tenant’s rental affordability will remain in focus this year, and the divergence between new bespoke schemes and older ones will widen; those with high-quality facilities and amenities within the development will do better.
With COVID-19 accelerating a change in lifestyle of many, tenant requirements will evolve further. In the latter part of 2020, we already started to see a focus on apartment sizes with many requiring an additional room to use as an office when working from home. Linked to this is the requirement for exceptional broadband connection (many PRS schemes are seeking WireScored accreditation) and suburban locations, but with excellent transport links, are being sought by those who would have traditionally wanted a more central location.
LICENSED AND LEISURE
The licensed and leisure industry has been the hardest hit sector of the economy by the pandemic with the volume of trade within pubs down by 75% annually. Entering 2021, the impact has varied; many businesses have been shut for nearly ten months, while others have had to close and reopen on more than one occasion.
Certain government supports have assisted the industry and it is likely that more supports will come to assist the industry over the course of 2021.
Even in a year where the industry was effectively closed down, licensed premises sold. 11 Dublin pubs transacted in 2020 with a further seven sale agreed at the end of December. In spite of the many sectoral challenges and in some cases, casualties, the outlook for future activity levels appears to be positive. Deals will continue to occur off-market and the emergence of international investment in the sector will be particularly positive and could push the value of the market well ahead of previous years.
New shopping habits formed out of necessity in 2020 and have driven home to retailers the importance of having an omni channel presence. The proportion of online sales of the overall retail market went from 3% in February to 15% in April and while it did fall back once shops reopened, the level of activity online remains double what it was pre-Covid. As physical store retailers move online, the trend of online retailers taking stores is increasing and will continue to this year, mainly through pop-ups. This is particularly true where landlords can be flexible on lease terms.
When we emerged from the financial crisis in 2014, the world of retail had changed because of online shopping. Undoubtedly, as we emerge from this pandemic, once again there will be shift with AI (Artificial Intelligence) and AR (Augmented Reality) becoming a greater part of the shopping experience. This will bridge the gap between the physical store and the online store.
In Cork, activity levels in the office market were strong in the opening months of 2020 (Q1 take-up was 8,250 sqm) as three large lettings were completed in Penrose 1 and 2. The market quietened in Q2 during lockdown but did recover somewhat in the latter half of the year. 2020 take-up totalled about 16,000 sqm, similar to 2019. This year, demand for space and activity in the market will be closely linked to the recovery in the economy, along with evolving trends in agile working.
The industrial market was the least affected property sector by the pandemic, and benefited from both additional retailer demand (due to increased online sales) along with changing occupier requirements due to Brexit. Approximately 18,000 sqm of space transacted in 2020 the majority of which comprised lettings rather than sales. The dominance of lettings is a trend also witnessed in other markets and will continue this year.
Future development in Cork city centre and metropolitan area is very positive. There are ambitious plans for the City Docks (north and south), where the City Council and the Land Development Agency recently announced the establishment of the Cork Docklands Delivery Office to facilitate the mixed-use development programme. In addition, there are longer-term proposals for Tivoli Docks when the Port of Cork moves to Ringaskiddy. Following a high court review the M28 Cork / Ringaskiddy motorway is now likely to proceed, which will further enhance the development of Ringaskiddy into a key trading port with Europe.
David Byrne, Lisney Managing Director, says: “Resilience is a word that in my view best describes the property market in 2020. At the end of 2020 we finally saw a Brexit trade deal agreed at the 11th hour, and whilst the devil will be in the detail, we now ultimately know what we are dealing with. As we begin 2021 regrettably, we are in the midst of a third and seemingly more severe wave of this pandemic with case numbers rising exponentially. The key difference is that we know a vaccine is in place; the speed of rollout of which will be vital. Whilst the early part of 2021 will continue to see a degree of uncertainty prevail, it does feel as if a supressed optimism brims under surface knowing that a hopeful end to this pandemic is in sight.”
“At Lisney, 2020 marked a year where we decided to take the opportunity to truly look forward, to 2021 and beyond and on how to capitalise on the opportunities that will exist when we come through this crisis. We know that at our very core are the people who work with us, our talent and expertise that are best in class and are there for our clients in every aspect of the market. I am exceptionally pleased to say that at the end of the year we made a number of promotions reflecting the depth of the emerging talent we have within the firm ensuring its continued success into the future.”
Aoife Brennan, Lisney Research Director, says: “2020 was a strange and surprising year in the property market. Across all sectors, it started strongly but as COVID-19 became much more serious in Ireland and the first lockdown occurred, the various sectors performed in different ways. Most thought residential prices would fall but with significant supply shortages, prices remained stable, and as it will take time for available stock to build-up, prices will continue to hold up in the coming months. The industrial market also performed well and will continue to be buoyed by the increase in e-commerce and demand from retailers and logistics operators. The construction of new premises will be to the fore of the industrial sector this year.
“In a market driven by sentiment and international investors, the investment sector remains active with demand fixed on prime PRS, industrial and office assets, where significant capital is chasing opportunities. Long-term lettings to local authorities and demand from approved housing bodies will be strong in the PRS sector in 2021. The retail and licensed premises sectors have been the hardest hit by the pandemic with pro-longed periods of restricted trading. For retailers, an omni channel presence is vital to survival and when we emerge from this pandemic, there will be a shift towards greater use of technology with artificial intelligence and augmented reality becoming part of the shopping experience.”