ITALY - Property adviser Savills is expanding its Rome office in a bid to capitalise on continuing strong investor interest in the Italian market.

The move, which includes relocation to larger premises, will coincide with the appointment of retail specialist Stefano Bernabei who will focus on retail in central and southern Italy.

No information is available yet on further planned additions to the 19-strong Italian team.

Susan Trevor-Briscoe, the firm's Italy research analyst, cited the continuing lack of investible real estate as the primary market driver.

"There are new developments in Milan, backed by international investors, but larger projects tend to come onto the market in a phased way," she told IPE Real Estate. "There's no danger of oversupply, though the availability of quality assets might give the market a bit of a breather."

With supply constraints and yield compression in the main real estate segments, investors continue to scout opportunities in niche markets. "Office and retail are still strong; logistics is emerging; but investors are also considering areas that in the past they just wouldn't have - such as army barracks," said Trevor-Briscoe.

A report published by the firm last month pointed to macro growth driving demand for office space up 50% in the second half of 2006, with overall rents remaining broadly stable.

The Italian market has also ditched its earlier reputation as an opaque, politicised real estate market.

"The market has adapted to international investors' expectations in the past few years," said Trevor-Briscoe. "Investors might have to work a bit harder to get information than they would in the UK, but transparency isn't an issue."

The introduction of REITs earlier this year is also likely to increase market transparency.