London office market heats up amid surge in interest by global buyers
Although Asian investors have emerged as the prominent source of foreign capital flowing into London offices since Brexit, industry experts say the financial hub is also drawing a wide base of buyers from all over the world, underscoring confidence that rental values will remain elevated.
“The market is not just attracting Hong Kong or Chinese investors,” said Stephen Down, head of Central London&international investment at Savills. “Recently we’ve also seen a very strong level of Middle East activity in the London market.”
Down noted that US private equity firm Blackstone Group sold Lacon House at 84 Theobalds Road in August to a Middle Eastern investor for £285 million.
Canadian and Australian pension funds, along with German institutional investors, were also among those actively looking for opportunities in London, Down said.
He noted that German real estate fund manager Deka Immobilien has invested about £800 million in London commercial property in the last six months.
Growing interests has been seen from South Korean and Japanese institutional investors, including Japan Post.
“Sterling weakness in the last 18 months, and the low interest rates are obviously encouraging more people to invest in UK,” said Paul Cockburn, director of Central London investment at Savills.
Savills said London yields, at around 3-4 per cent for good quality buildings, are still attractive compared to those in other European countries, regardless of gloomy predictions about the economic impact of Brexit.
If you want to buy in France or Germany, it’s hard to get access to that market, Cockburn said. He added that barriers relating to language and market access can also make it more difficult for foreign investors.
Still, the expected exodus of financial services jobs to Paris or Frankfurt in the wake of the UK’s vote on leaving the European Union could put a damper on London office occupancy rates.
Down said many of these fears are overblown, noting that tech giants such as Google, Apple and Amazon are expanding in London’s core areas.
“The landscape has changed, in the previous cycle the finance sector accounted for 20-25 per cent of total take-up in Canary Wharf, for example. Now it’s about 5-8 per cent,” he said.
Asian investors, led by Hong Kong and mainland Chinese investors, accounted for more than 50 per cent of total turnover in the City of London in the first half, and 38 per cent in West End, Savills said.
Among eye-catching deals, in March Hong Kong-listed mainland developer CC Land bought the Leadenhall Building known as the “Cheesegrater”, for £1.135 billion, marking the largest purchase of British real estate by a Chinese investor.
With rising interest among global buyers, the competition for towers in the London’s city core, especially the West End is increasingly fierce, Cockburn said.
“Buildings we marketed recently usually drew more than 10 interested parties,” he said.