REAL ESTATE - The Association of Property Unit Trusts (APUT) is to embrace the entire UK unlisted fund sector and has changed its name to the Association of Real Estate Funds (AREF).

New chairman Nick Cooper (who is also managing director of ING real estate investment) said: “With a broader membership we will be better placed to ensure the effective self-regulation of the sector, improve transparency for investors and become an effective voice with the FSA, parliament and the Civil Service.”

Asked whether this move would bring the organisation into competition with INREV (the European association for investors in non-listed real estate vehicles) Mr Cooper said: “I think it’s more a case of INREV coming into competition with us as we’ve been established for a lot longer and have been producing indices and other research for longer.

“However, we have a sub-committee devoted to liaising with INREV and we regard it as a priority so we don’t anticipate a conflict of interest.”

AREF chief executive Rachel Greenfield said that while INREV’s loyalty was to the original investors in private funds, AREF’s loyalty was to the fund managers as membership of AREF is based on the fund vehicles themselves.

But she added that the data APUT/AREF produces enables investors to stock-pick the best-performing funds “so in effect we are benefiting both managers and investors”.

Ms Greenfield has been running a marketing campaign on behalf of APUT which paid dividends in 2005 in the form of an expanding membership base.

She said: “We had a very successful year, increasing the membership from 30 funds to 45 which in turn represents over £20bn of property assets under management.

“There are over 100 unlisted UK funds in the market and response to our new mandate has been very encouraging. We already have strong evidence that there will be a substantial increase in AREF’s membership as a result.”

AREF will tackle corporate governance for private funds and will issue a new version of APUT’s Code of Practice once a review has been completed. Mr Cooper believes this form of self-governance for the industry is preferable to increased scrutiny from the FSA and other bodies.

Mr Cooper has succeeded outgoing chairman Chris Laxton (head of external property funds at Morley) who recently completed a two-year term. He will be assisted by deputy chairman Richard Tanner of UBS global asset management.