Perfect Match. Investment opportunities stack up in Scotland.
A new app that matches a football team looking for a new player with a player looking for a new football team has just been launched following a significant 6 figure investment by a Manchester property investor.
Leaving aside for a moment the dire consequences this development might have for the humble football agent, what we have here is a simple reminder that in this age of ever advancing technology the role of any agent, broker or other middle man is becoming increasingly easy to automate.
Tinder is perhaps the best (and most successful?) example. Man seeks lady. Lady seeks man. Match the ages and interests and hey presto.
There's no obvious reason why this wouldn’t work equally well in football agency. Solid, old fashioned centre back seeks dynamic club to pay eye watering salary and win trophies. Ambitious club with recent foreign investment money seeks top class central defender to plug a leaky back four.
It's not difficult to see this working in any recruitment scenario.
Or, indeed, any supply and demand scenario. Wealthy Chinese businessman seeks London west end commercial property to complete real life monopoly board.
Except, according to Morgan Stanley, the Chinese have significantly reduced their investment in foreign properties during the first half of this year as a result of their government's desire to see more investment in its own infrastructure projects and less investment in "irrational" foreign property.
If this trend continues, then the effects will be felt globally, but particularly in the UK, especially London where Chinese money has, in recent years, accounted for a significant proportion of all commercial property investment acquisitions.
The impact may be felt to a lesser extent in Scotland, as the regions have proved to be less attractive to Chinese investors over recent years when compared to London and other world capitals.
Despite that, the commercial real estate market in Scotland continues to be relatively active. The recent trend over the last 12 months of private foreign money being invested in UK property deals continues to be a boost to the Scottish property sector. Whether this is due to the weak pound, whether it is because the institutional funds are not buying at the moment so there is less competition, whether it is due to a perception that values are down in the wake of the vote to leave the EU, it's difficult to tell. Probably a combination of all of these, and other factors too. In Scotland, we perhaps have the odd situation now where values are down that bit further because of the independence uncertainty, whereas for many investors that worry has moved significantly further down the line in light of the results in Scotland at the recent general election.
Whatever the drivers, it seems that Scotland is seen by many investors at the moment as not an unattractive location to invest in property.
Savills reported last month that investment volumes in the hotel sector in Scotland for the first half of the year had already almost surpassed investment in that sector for the whole of last year. According to Savills, foreign investment in hotels in Scotland this year is already 6 times the total amount of foreign money invested in the sector in 2016.
Student accommodation is another asset class that remains strong in Scotland, and we are seeing more and more development and investment in the recognised University towns and cities. Initial concerns over the impact of Brexit on this sector seem to have subsided, not least because many of these purpose built student accommodation (PBSA) projects are aimed at housing students from outside the EU. The issue this sector faces, in my view, relates to build cost. The highest demand and lowest supply for PBSAs is at the mid to lower end of the rental market (say £150 per week or lower), whereas there is an abundance of schemes at the higher end (£160 per week and above). But the construction costs are pretty much the same regardless of the rent being charged. Whether the answer is modular building or government / University subsidies (the latter seems unlikely) there is a big opportunity lurking here for whoever cracks that nut.
Of the other sectors in the market, private rented sector (PRS) schemes are happening in Scotland, but not at the same rate as in England, primarily because the banks / institutions need scale before they will lend on PRS, and the schemes in Scotland are currently a bit on the small side. We've also decided to call this sector build to rent (BTR) rather than PRS, for reasons which are well outwith the scope of even this rambling article.
Retail in Scotland is on the flat side, just like the rest of the UK. Industrial is still relatively popular.
The office market in Scotland is an interesting one because of the relative lack of supply, as compared with quite strong demand. There are a number of pretty chunky speculative developments on the go at the moment, particularly in Edinburgh, where it seems likely that we are going to see record rents set pretty soon. The one concern here (and this perhaps explains the relative lack of supply as compared to demand) must be what effect Brexit is going to have on the office market in the UK. The financial sector remains a big part of the Scottish economy, particularly in Edinburgh. Just how big a draw are the likes of Dublin and Frankfurt going to be to financial firms that seek to take advantage of the European passport rights?
Prime office rents in Dublin are north of 60 Euros a square foot, as compared to £30-ish per square foot in Edinburgh. That's a very big additional cost to layer on to any business. And then there's also the housing shortage in Dublin. Frankfurt may well turn out to be the more likely beneficiary if a number of financial firms do decide to move, but again there are obvious drawbacks to a relocation to Germany.
So, lots of things still up in the air at the moment, particularly in the office sector. But in spite of the uncertainty on so many levels, the Scottish property market remains active. For that, and for the fact that lawyers, surveyors and other property agents haven’t quite yet all been replaced by apps, we should be thankful.