Today’s UK referendum on European Union membership is causing ‘peak uncertainty’ for the real estate sector.
With less than 24 hours to go until the result of the country’s knife-edge vote is known, the industry is braced for a reaction.
As reported in April, the UK has experienced a sit-and-wait approach by some global investors. Continental Europe has not been spared; one agent told IPE Real Estate that Asian investors in particular were holding off any European deals until the outcome of today’s vote is known.
For the best part of two quarters, reluctance to commit to deals has been the main issue to affect a sector which is seemingly largely in favour of a vote to remain in the EU.
But there has been some debate among investors as to whether the slowdown in transactions should be attributed to the referendum or if it would have happened regardless.
The IPF admitted in its latest forward-looking consensus report that referendum uncertainty was making it impossible to tell if the UK market was approaching a cyclical correction.
In a note published today, Capital Economics said “Brexit-related uncertainty has played a secondary role in the moderation in investment activity”, citing last year’s surge in investment in alternative sectors not being repeated this year.
”If fears about Brexit were investors’ main concern, we would expect overseas investors to cutting back on their exposure to UK commercial property particularly in London.” In fact, overseas investors are still net-purchasers, the company said.
This week, Joe Valente, head of European real estate research and strategy at JP Morgan Asset Management, said that with “precious little, or no, data to speak of”, there are “plenty of forecasts of the economic demise of the UK” and a “moribund property market”.
“Most of these are based on a range of outlandish and somewhat fanciful assumptions,” said Valente, who has previously argued that the EU is more likely to suffer investor vengeance in a post-Brexit world than the UK.
However, a temporary “demand shock is possible, but not inevitable” if the UK decides to leave the EU, he said.
“If there was a demand shock triggered by investment decisions being delayed, it will impact the real estate market, in as much as this would coincide with already increasing supply in certain markets,” Valente said.
“Against such a background, vacancy rates would rise and rents fall, a fact that has long been factored in by real estate investors.”
Ben Habib, chief executive of AIM-listed First Property, is one of the few in the UK’s real estate sector to argue that a “Brexit” would be positive for both the property market and Britain as a whole.
Habib doubts that a Brexit would have a severe impact on the property market.
“Any volatility would only be an opportunity for small, opportunistic companies such as First Property,” he said.
Manish Chande, senior partner at Clearbell, a London-based private real estate fund manager, has previously argued that, in the short term, the uncertainty is creating buying opportunities in real estate.
In the hotel sector, more than 95% of property and investment professionals favour a vote to Remain, according to a recent poll of hotel professionals in London.
At an event last week organised by hotel consultancy HVS, an audience of around 80 investors, operators and property developers expressed their views on the outcome.
“The overwhelming feeling from our audience was that Britain should remain within the EU, not least because it removes huge uncertainties as to what will happen if there were a vote to leave,” said HVS London managing director Charles Human.