Refurbished stock accounts for 75% of office transactions in Northern Ireland

Throughout the third quarter of 2018, refurbished stock has accounted for 75% of all transactions within Northern Ireland’s office market, according to research completed by leading commercial property agents Lisney.

All of the deals recorded in the three months to the end of September 2018, totalling 105.337 sq. ft., have occurred following the refurbishment of existing buildings with no ‘new’ Grade A stock available for occupation this side of 2019.

Headline findings from the Report revealed that:

  • Investment volumes surpassed £70m in Q3 2018 with office investment dominating the market. This included the £15.2m sale of Obel 68 to Belfast Harbour and the sale of The Metro Building to a private family trust for £21.8m, in what is the biggest deal of the year so far
  • Further high-profile sales across office, retail and industrial could see investment volumes hit £200m by the end of the year
  • 634k sq. ft. of office space taken up by end of September 2018 with continued demand from technology and digital sectors, c. 35%
  • Q3 office take up (105,337 sq. ft.) is less than Q1 and 2 2018 but the volume of deals represents a fourfold uplift compared to Q3 2017
  • Prime retail vacancy in Belfast has risen to 10.2% in 2018 compared to 9% in 2017
  • 385k sq. ft. of industrial transactions have completed so far in 2018. A lack of supply of assets has led to the majority of these transactions being lettings as opposed to owner occupiers purchasing properties, which has been the trend of late

Declan Flynn, Managing Director of Lisney Northern Ireland, which specialises in office, retail, leisure and industrial property acquisition, disposal and investment, commented:

“Within the office market, the range of needs that require satisfying are vast. This has ranged from 2,000 sq. ft. right up to 30,000 sq. ft., with the range of specifications available also broad. The challenge therefore for owners, landlords and developers will be to ensure office space evolves to meet changing occupier demands.

“City centre office stock levels remain low at 475,000 sq. ft., but demand levels have remained steady which has created upward pressure on rental levels with the best new build stock achieving headline rents of £21 per sq. ft. This is compared to just less than £17 in 2016.

“Supply will however be bolstered in 2019 with the arrival of refurbished stock at Chichester House and Merchant Square collectively bringing approximately 248,000 sq. ft. to the market. A planning decision is also expected for the proposed redevelopment of the former Belfast Telegraph building which would provide 230,000 sq. ft. of very welcome Grade A stock.

“The office sector has fuelled investments in 2018 with many transactions resulting in competitive bidding with a positive depth of local, national and international interest. This diversity of the investor base looking at and considering opportunities in Belfast is encouraging.

“With regards to local investors, we are seeing demand for bankable assets at a lower lot size continue. However, finding these ‘low maintenance’ assets with 10 years+ income, particularly at a lower lot size, remains a challenge and pricing in the space is a reflection of this.”

Lisney’s research presents an optimistic outlook for the high street, shopping centres and retail parks with vacancy levels remaining on a par with those of 2017, despite the recent spate of administrations and CVAs.

Mr Flynn noted:

“Whilst headlines from the retail sector have largely been dominated by the catastrophic disruption caused by the Bank Buildings blaze in Belfast, there is still activity in the market with Victoria Square welcoming Nespresso, Vans and Inglot, and Castlecourt announcing DV8, Matalan and Bestseller taking occupancy.

“The ongoing effects of the fire could however see further voids in the city and the subsequent supply and demand dynamics are likely to have an effect on rents.

“Outside of Belfast, the Boulevard, Marlborough Retail Park, Rushmere, Crescent Link and Waterloo Place in Derry/Londonderry have seen positive letting momentum announcing deals with companies such as Kurt Geiger, Radley, Jack Wills, Five Guys and Skechers.”

On the industrial front, Lisney has noted that levels of demand are continuing at normal levels despite Brexit uncertainty.

Mr Flynn continued:

“Out of the six most notable industrial transactions in Q3, only one has been a sale. This was a 57,683 sq. ft. portfolio sale at Newry / Camlough comprising warehousing and land. The most notable letting was of course 112,000 sq. ft. at Summerisland Road in Portadown to a local storage / distribution company.

“On the whole, we are noticing that in the eyes of investors, the fundamentals of the local market still remain robust, presenting an opportunity for Northern Ireland. That said, if we are to maintain the momentum gained so far in 2018, clarity regarding ‘the deal’ and indeed Stormont is required.”

Lisney’s latest report on the Northern Ireland commercial property market can be viewed in full here: https://www.lisney.com/research/publications-ni/

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