The Prime Office
Market in 2023:
A Year in Review
The Prime Office Market in 2023: A Year in Review
2023 began on a challenging note, with economic uncertainties and rising interest rates casting shadows over the real estate horizon. Yet for investors and REITs with cash, it has been a year of strategic investment opportunity when those without liquidity divested portfolios. Looking at the market as a whole, as we approach the close of the year, there are signs of improvement, offering a glimpse of a market gradually returning to pre-pandemic normalcy in 2024.
The Tough Year:
In 2023, the prime office market was shaped by the complex dynamics of the global economic landscape, which, in turn, were influenced significantly by inflationary pressures.
As the global economy grappled with inflationary forces, central banks have pivoted to a hawkish stance, departing from the accommodative monetary policies of the early stages of recovery. ABRDN’s UK economic outlook, Q4 2023, highlighted that “The hawkish stance adopted by central banks is a strategic response to rising inflation. By tightening monetary policy and raising interest rates, central banks aim to mitigate inflationary pressures and curtail the risks associated with unchecked borrowing and spending.” This departure from the earlier approach reflects a nuanced understanding of the economic landscape, where preemptive measures are deemed essential to maintain stability and counter potential inflationary challenges.
The relentless rise in interest rates has been a defining feature of 2023, posing challenges for investors and developers who rely on funding through borrowing from banks.. This challenging financing landscape has hugely impacted the prime office market. These Developers found it more difficult to secure favourable financing terms, and investors faced heightened uncertainty regarding the returns on their investments. The increased cost of borrowing not only constrained the ability to initiate new projects but also placed existing projects under scrutiny, with financial feasibility and profitability becoming more intricate considerations for those who rely on external financing.
A Year of Opportunity for Unica Capital:
Knight Frank’s London November residential review notes, “Last month’s pause by the Bank of England added to a sense that we have gone through the eye of the storm.” This is backed up by a 14% increase in the number of exchanges in the prime London sales market in Q3 2023 compared with a 5 year average. This temporary reprieve, marked by the halt in interest rate hikes, provides a moment of respite. While the lending landscape remains formidable, individuals and entities with significant liquidity, such as Unica Capital, find themselves in an unparalleled position. As the report states, “Great time for those with liquidity (i.e., Unica Capital) – Can use position to negotiate.” This underscores the pivotal role of liquidity as a potent negotiating tool, enabling strategic players to capitalise on their financial robustness within a market ripe with opportunities.
Office Market Dynamics:
The prime office market is showing signs of recovery, with office occupancy gradually returning to a semblance of normalcy. The industry is at a crossroads, defining its new normal post-pandemic. Demand for central London properties has proven resilient, outpacing the US and Europe, making it an attractive hub for REITs investment.
Continued demand for Central london:
Amidst the challenges and uncertainties of 2023, one notable trend stood out in the prime office market – the demand for central London properties. Positively, the demand in the heart of the UK’s capital remained notably higher than in the United States and Europe. Despite the global economic shifts in investment patterns, central London retained its allure for investors, positioning itself as a resilient and attractive market.
The sustained demand for central London properties can be attributed to several factors. Firstly, the city’s historical significance, cultural richness, and robust infrastructure continue to make it a prime location for businesses and investors. The city’s diverse talent pool, coupled with its status as a global financial hub, has contributed to its enduring attractiveness in the face of broader economic uncertainties.
Throughout 2023 central London has proven to be a stable investment choice for REITs, drawing property investments that contribute to its ongoing prominence in the global real estate landscape. The Central London office rental market, especially in Q3, has exhibited encouraging signs, with data from Cushman & Wakefield reporting a 41% uptick in leasing activity compared to Q2.
In contrast to the fluctuations experienced in the United States and Europe, central London’s sustained demand underscores its status as a haven for property investors navigating the complexities of the current economic climate.
Grade A Driving the Market:
Navigating the complex terrain of the 2023 real estate market, Grade A properties have emerged as the driving force, with rental returns reaching unprecedented heights—a testament to the enduring demand for these premium spaces. In Q3 Grade A spaces have accounted for 70% of the total volume of office leasing. Industry expert Tom Bill, Head of UK Residential Research at Knight Frank comments, “Grade A properties signify the pinnacle of quality and functionality. In times of uncertainty, businesses and investors gravitate towards spaces that offer both prestige and modern amenities.” This underscores the steadfast appeal of Grade A properties, even in the face of broader market challenges.
According to insights from the ABRDN UK real estate outlook Q4 2023, “Investors recognize the intrinsic value of Grade A spaces, viewing them as a safe harbour amidst economic uncertainties. The premium rates signify not just cost but the assurance of long-term value and stability.” This perspective reinforces the strategic choice that Grade A properties represent, best-in-class assets – buildings with low carbon footprints, appealing amenities, alluring locations that attract high occupancy.
Within this competitive landscape, Unica Capital emerges as a key player uniquely positioned to master the intricacies of the Grade A market with the ability to discern opportunities that align with our long-term vision. Unica Capital, has a proactive approach to identifying and acquiring prime Grade A assets, showcasing a commitment to high quality prime office spaces that have enduring value.
Distressed Assets and Off-Market Opportunities:
The current climate presents a unique window for savvy investors to explore distressed assets and off-market deals. In 2023 Unica Capital, has been well-placed to capitalise on these opportunities. Recent acquisitions, such as Poland Street (which recently completed a full refurbishment and welcomes new tenants) and Westminster (currently tenanted by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government), exemplify the company’s ability to identify and secure assets in line with its commitment to excellence.
Long-Term Investment Perspective:
In the face of uncertainties, the focus on long-term strategic investment remains a guiding principle. Purchasing distressed assets and securing off-market deals aligns with a strategy that prioritises stability and growth over time. Unica Capital’s approach underscores the belief that these investments provide a secure pathway in the current market landscape.
As we review the prime office market landscape of 2023, it is evident that challenges coexist with opportunities. Unica Capital, stands in a strong position, strategically positioned to harness the evolving dynamics. In a market seeking stability, the company’s liquidity, strategic foresight, and commitment to long-term investment make it a formidable player and well placed to capitalise in the prime real estate market during 2024 and beyond.
Published: December 8 2023
Author: Alexandre Piechaud