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Why London is Leading European Real Estate Recovery

28 March 2024 By Falmouth Fairfax

​London's prominence as a global powerhouse isn't a novelty; it's a narrative that has endured through the ages. Last year London was not immune from the turbulence in the market, with rising interest rates, the cost of debt increasing and the role of the office being questioned, causing upheaval across the real estate sphere. However, as interest rates stabilise and office occupancy remains strong, we’re seeing the UK capital leading the charge in Europe’s recovery. But what sets London apart, making it the prime market leader in this resurgence?

Why is London in a position of strength?

Firstly, London's commercial real estate market is a mature and well-established institutionally traded sector. Decades of recognition as a traded market for capital have solidified its position, with UK pension funds playing a dominant role, setting standards for long leases and investment norms. Moreover with relatively low entry and transaction costs compared to other global cities, it is an attractive proposition for investors. Transparency is another key factor; investors benefit from clear and readily available data, allowing for informed decision-making and a sense of security, bolstered by the strong quality of advice available.

Following the recent period of market uncertainty, one of the reasons that London has stood out to investors is its swift repricing mechanism. Thanks to transparent pricing and valuation processes, the sector has managed to reprice itself faster than other markets in Europe and globally over the past 18 months. Investors find comfort in this rapid adjustment, feeling assured of London's market position, which in some cases has even overcompensated for the challenges faced. Contrastingly, Europe's markets remain somewhat opaque, with valuation complexities still posing challenges.

Importantly, London entered the recent downturn from a position of strength, with low vacancy rates despite the pandemic-induced disruptions. Unlike classic boom-and-bust scenarios of the past, the current challenges stem more from macro and geopolitical issues rather than a real estate crisis. Rising interest rates, for instance, have contributed to London's attractiveness as a stable investment destination. Furthermore, amidst this backdrop, rents are rising for the first time during a property recession, indicative of underlying resilience and attractiveness. 

Who is investing in central London?

In terms of investor demographics, London's appeal extends across the globe. Investors from Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and the US are actively participating in the market. Family wealth, particularly from Spain, Switzerland, and Germany, has been notably active in acquiring assets across central London. These investors are often equity-heavy, seeking opportunities in the adjusted pricing landscape without heavy reliance on debt. We have also seen interest from Australian pension funds and Japanese investors, further emphasising the market’s attractiveness.

Meanwhile, US private equity funds, although somewhat cautious, are closely monitoring opportunities particularly in value-add segments. However, hesitancy persists among limited partners (LPs) investing in fund platforms, necessitating an educational process to highlight London's robust performance.

In essence, London's leading role in the commercial real estate recovery stems from its institutional strength, transparent market dynamics, and resilience amidst macroeconomic challenges. As the market continues to evolve, London stands as a beacon of stability and opportunity in the global real estate landscape.

Source: Savills