Looking South: What the Northern property market can learn from the South’s recent successes

Ireland’s largest independent firm of commercial property consultants has met with dignitaries from the Northern Ireland business community to discuss how the province could benefit from lessons learned from the more mature market in the south of Ireland.

Lisney, which has offices in Belfast, Dublin and Cork, presented to stakeholders including developers, banks and law firms to highlight how Northern Ireland could capitalise on the recent successes enjoyed by the southern market.

Declan Flynn, Managing Director at Lisney in Belfast was joined by Aoife Brennan, Head of Research at Lisney; Paul Hipwell, Director, Office Agency – Dublin; David McNellis, Director, Office Agency – Belfast; and Tony Morrissey, Director, Licensed and Leisure – Dublin, to discuss.

Declan said:

“Both the north and the south have an average of 40% overseas investors in the market. But the key difference between the markets is that investment in the north is in £ millions and investment in the south is in £ billions.

“However, the population in the south is only 2.5 times larger than that of the north, and we are not a million miles apart. We therefore wanted to showcase the expertise of the Ireland-wide Lisney team and demonstrate how there are certainly lessons to be learned from our counterparts south of the border.”

Traditionally investment activity in Northern Ireland has been dominated by retail whereas in the south this has been dominated by offices where rents are 2.5 times higher.

He continued:

“Google only entered the Irish market in 2003, yet currently occupies almost 2.6% of all modern office stock across Dublin. Facebook made its Irish debut in 2009 with two leases in Hanover Reach yet the social media giant now accounts for 1.7% of the city centre office stock.

“These are perfect examples of how rapidly international technological and digital companies are expanding and the large amount of space they require. The vast majority of these occupiers are growing so quickly they tend to only have 6-12 months’ visibility on occupational needs and therefore cannot wait for a building to be built.

“Interestingly, the average lot size taken by a technological or digital occupier is over one-third larger than the overall market average. The north has seen an increase in these occupiers, accounting for 70% of market take up in Q1 2018. This is compared to just over 40% in the south with the majority of occupiers originating from overseas.

“Once these technological or digital giants land, they bring a huge wave of additional support services which further bolster the market. This is exactly what we have seen in Dublin. As an all-Ireland agency, Lisney has the ability to look at the island as a whole and see the ways in which the south has prepared its assets in order to cater to the needs of these international organisations.

“Northern Ireland certainly has the skills so we really must place great emphasis on how we can take inspiration from the more developed market in the south to take the local market to the next stage whilst developing at very different paces.”

Aoife Brennan, Head of Research at Lisney, said:

“There is certainly a shift in the type of office accommodation required. Specifically, there is a new breed of serviced office providers emerging, which are very different to ‘serviced offices’ as we know them traditionally. Instead they provide areas for co-working to promote collaboration across the business, as well as hotdesking and break out areas.

“The volume of serviced office space in Dublin, currently 1.35m sq. ft., has almost doubled in the last two years with investors generally avoiding discounting office assets with serviced office providers as tenants.

“Whilst there is approximately 2.3m sq. ft. of office accommodation in the pipeline locally, it is likely that pre-lets will be required to kickstart occupation. In Dublin, there have been just 12 pre-lets since 2006 and although there may be a few more next year, it is still a small part of the market.

“We are seeing Private Rental Sector (PRS) opportunities forming a growing part of the commercial investment sector and expect that to continue as an ongoing trend in the market. In the south, residential has historically made up 13% of the investment market, but we have seen this soar to 33% the last two quarters. This is principally made up of PRS /buy to let blocks.

“Since 2016, purpose-built student accommodation has also really come to the fore. Current supply in the south, although at 35,000 bed spaces, falls well short of the 57,000 that are estimated to be required. There are currently 18,000 bed spaces at various stages of planning and construction and we would expect that over the next 12 months, over 4,500 bed spaces will be delivered in Dublin and between 500 and 750 in Cork.

“On the retail side, online shopping continues to disrupt the market. We should expect to see shopping centre landlords move to more flexible lease trends in order to allow for asset management as ‘brands of the moment’ continue to shift at pace.”

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