Industry bodies have proliferated but co-ordination has improved on a number of fronts. However, challenges remain and standard bearers must note that investors want a balanced and impartial approach, not a hard sell. Christine Senior reports
If ever there was a time when different parts of the property industry needed to work together to face common threats and challenges that time is now. Assailed from all sides by changes in regulation, the demands of sustainability, and the challenge of bringing some consistency of practice, measurements and transparency to a diverse asset class, real estate professionals are looking to their industry bodies for leadership. Although the number of such bodies seems to be proliferating, whether they are effectively working together is debatable.
But progress is being made. Edmund Craston, managing director at Rockspring, feels the industry bodies have improved co-operation when lobbying on matters of common interest. "Over 15-20 years the number of groups has escalated but the degree of contradiction has diminished," he says.
He welcomes the fact that a variety of groups might all be lobbying to achieve the same goal, although he recognises the risks. "The danger is that they may all say slightly different things, which would be unfortunate. Each group will represent the perspectives of its own constituents. An individual member of three different groups lobbying on one topic has to decide where he places his energy."
There have been some concrete achievements when bodies have lobbied together for the good of all. One such achievement was the campaign for REITS in the UK.
"When the UK industry was lobbying for REITs there was a lot of potential for different bodies to contradict each other," says Craston. "In the end the BPF, the IPF and the RICS formed a common industry group to make a single submission. It was a great collaborative effort and some of that has lived on afterwards."
Another example of close co-operation is INREV and its Asian opposite number, the Asian Association for Investors in Non-Listed Real Estate Funds. This collaboration means that industry standards such as the INREV guidelines are being endorsed in Asia and the two bodies continue to share expertise on research projects and data systems. The move of former INREV chief executive Andrea -Carpenter to ANREV has drawn the two organisations even closer together.
In the UK, collaboration among various bodies is increasing: several organisations - the British Property Federation, the Investment Property Federation, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, the British Council for Offices, the British Council of Shopping Centres and the Association of Real Estate Funds - have united under the umbrella of the Property Industry Alliance to co-ordinate their work on policy, research and best practice.
There are many topics requiring co-operation. To achieve a common position on regulation, climate change initiatives, metrics, reporting requirements, derivatives and policy may look daunting. And as time goes on it is likely that more topics will get added to the list.
Until recently, INREV considered itself an organisation devoted to improving transparency, accessibility, professionalism and best practice in unlisted real estate funds. Since last summer its role has expanded to include lobbying. INREV has set priorities for its campaigning, according to Deborah Lloyd, a partner with legal firm Nabarro and a member of the board of INREV. These are Solvency II, the Alternative Investment Fund Managers directive, and, if resources allow, the pricing of derivatives. Solvency II is the stand-out issue that warrants the biggest effort in a collaborative response.
"For real estate and real estate funds Solvency II is one of the biggest threats, bigger than the Alternative Investment Fund Managers directive," says Lloyd. "This is so big and so relevant to the whole industry that INREV has been very proactive and is heading a group that is pulling together other organisations, including the Investment Property Forum, the Association of British Insurers, the BVI and the German Property Federation (ZIA). Possibly others, including EPRA and the European Property Federation may get involved."
INREV has hired an organisation in Brussels to do research to find out what will be the effects of Solvency II. After that, the idea is that INREV, on behalf of the various organisations across Europe, will make representations directly to the EU on the directive. Combining firepower should make a bigger impression than bodies acting alone.
This is a big change in INREV's role. "It's an example of how industry bodies have worked together across Europe," says Lloyd. "INREV is in a position to act because it has the connections across Europe whereas most of the other organisations tend to be working in their own jurisdictions."
It seems that when the industry faces a threat that affects all participants, the various organisations, each with competing priorities, are willing to put aside their different focuses and work together.
"Industry bodies and their relationship with one another wax and wane as time goes on," says Lloyd. "When the chips are down, when there is a real necessity, you find the industry bodies pulling together. They realise their members are looking to them to lead the way."
Sustainability is another major issue where leadership is needed. But here the number of organisations devoted to the issue worldwide is proliferating, and rather than providing a unified message and a consistent picture of how asset managers and investors should proceed, the outlook is becoming cloudier. INREV is also hoping to take a lead here.
"I would say there isn't any co-ordination between organisations now," says Andrew -Mituzas, committees projects manager at INREV. "This is where INREV would like to take the initiative and get something up and running. Right now one of the main projects is to review what is out there [on sustainability], where are the gaps and how do we provide the entry point for members and non-members to find information."
In the UK, the Green Property Alliance unites a number of industry organisations with interests in sustainability. A notable achievement of the alliance has been to agree a set of green metrics for energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, water use and waste management in commercial buildings. More needs to be done to bring some commonality to global standards of measurement, but at the global level the number of organisations involved in sustainability issues is numerous and diverse and goes beyond the real estate arena.
Liz Peace, chief executive of the British Property Federation, says a global common framework for measurement and reporting on environmental issues would be a big step forward, but the barriers to achieving this are huge. "EPRA is doing an exercise on this at the moment and we have fed into them some work we have done in the UK. They have been receptive to that. Similarly we have fed our research on a common framework and reporting system to UNEP Sustainable Buildings and Climate Initiative. We are trying to make inroads in that direction. It's not easy because across Europe, and the world, you have many different systems of measurement.
"Trying to pull together national initiatives is very difficult. But the property representative bodies try very hard to share their thinking."
While recognising the major achievement on metrics standardisation of the Green Property Alliance in the UK, Paul McNamara, head of research at Prupim, would like to see more progress. He thinks investors themselves could be more proactive in driving a co-ordinated approach. In his work for the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative, he is advocating more input from investors on what they want from metric providers.
"Investors have tended to see it purely as a technical thing, but they are paying the price for it now," he says. "They are being asked a hundred and one questions by multiple organisations on behalf of multiple clients. It is bamboozling and costly.
"However, some of the bigger metrics providers are beginning to look at how do you put a generalised global framework around the area of metrics but within that allow local or regional specificity in the metrics."
While even limited achievements in standardising metrics should be celebrated, in other areas there is still a lack of progress as different bodies pursue their own agendas. Policy is an example of where McNamara feels more could be done.
"There has been a reluctance to actively engage in policy debate," he says. "But such is the importance of property to the problem and solution of carbon emissions that the industry is going to need to engage with policymakers, otherwise policymakers may do things that have unintended or unpalatable consequences. It would be better if they were able to co-ordinate. Maybe the Property Industry Alliance and the Green Property Alliance need to move on from metrics and think about what a policy dialogue with the government might be."
At the European level INREV representing non-listed funds and EPRA representing the listed sector are making efforts to work together for the common good of the industry. Mituzas at INREV is liaising with Gareth Lewis of EPRA on what they could jointly work on in relation to EU regulation. "Our view is he and I should have more discussion to make sure what the listed side is doing at EPRA and our views are aligned. We should co-ordinate our efforts. If we at INREV can take some points from what the listed side do and add that to reporting requirements for the non-listed throughout Europe, that would make good sense."
INREV has been criticised for being too close to investors, at the expense of managers, a criticism it has worked hard to put right.
In INREV's defence, Craston says: "INREV has made a conscious effort to try to get more engagement from managers. It was once in danger of being a forum where investors would get together and scrutinise managers. It has worked hard to address that investor domination."
EPRA too has its critics. Some have said it fails to get engagement from investors. Its membership comes from a wide range of industry representatives, but first and foremost the listed industry itself for which it acts as the industry's trade association. Some 48% of its membership are property companies and REITs, but making up 19% of the members, investors form the next largest group.
Romain Triollet, EPRA's director of public affairs, says the organisation engages with investors, as it does with all its members. "Investors are involved as members - they participate in working committees, they contribute whenever we develop policy. For example, we usually circulate a brief to members and ask for feedback before we develop a position."
EPRA has also been active in making itself more open to investors via its ‘investor outreach' programme. This investor education programme has the goal of "promoting listed real estate as a transparent and sound investment class" via discussions, seminars and networking events aimed at investors.
Triollet says the programme allows the organisation to have contact with investors on a regular basis. "Each time we have an event on the sidelines there will be meetings organised with investors. Every time we travel to a European capital we always try to organise meetings with investors."
Obviously the education of investors about REITs by an organisation that represents the interests of listed property are two aims which might be at odds with each other, and which investors could be mistrustful of.
"Do I want a representative body in REITs taking a lead in investor education? To be honest I don't," says Tony Key, professor of real estate economics at Cass Business School. "My preferred model for representative bodies are NCREIF in the US or the Pension Real Estate Association, which are dispassionate. They don't regard it as their job to lobby for the asset class. They are there to describe it rationally and coolly but they are not yet another promotional sales agency."