ETRE-Europe-2015-CoverCompetition for prime assets in Europe’s major real estate markets is leading investors to continue their move into secondary assets and recovering markets, according to Emerging Trends in Real Estate Europe 2015, a forecast published jointly by ULI and PwC. The report highlights a surge in popularity for real estate investment opportunities in a number of cities that were hit particularly hard during the last market downturn, with dramatic rises in this year’s city rankings for Madrid (up 16 positions), Athens (up 23 positions), Birmingham (up 14 positions), Amsterdam (up 17 positions), and Lisbon (up 17 positions).

The report finds that in spite of economic uncertainties in Europe, real estate remains fertile ground for investors. Seventy percent of investors expect that more equity and debt will flow into their markets this year in a quest for the best real estate. The biggest problem that investors are anticipating is a shortage of assets, which was ranked ahead of the challenges of regulation or the cost of credit. A large majority of investors (82 percent) say the availability of suitable assets will have a moderate or significant impact on their business this year.

As a result, real estate investors, armed with capital from sovereign wealth funds and pension funds from Asia and North America, are expanding their search for suitable investments. Berlin, for example, has replaced Munich as Europe’s top market for investment, as it is viewed as less costly than other major German cities. “As confidence has returned to global real estate markets over recent years, there has been a progressive movement up the risk curve,” said Lisette Van Doorn, chief executive of ULI Europe. “Investors have found prime assets expensive and hard to source, and have in turn looked to find new opportunities in recovering secondary cities, secondary assets, and development opportunities, as well as new or alternative real estate classes.

Top 10 European Cities for Existing Property Investments

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The trend has been prevalent in the U.S. for a few years and was first highlighted in last year’s Emerging Trends Europe report, which revealed that investors were looking at Ireland and Spain. However, this year’s report sees this sentiment gather pace with Athens, Amsterdam, Birmingham, and Lisbon all being cited as potential hot spots of interest.”

Simon Hardwick, real estate partner at PwC Legal and one of the authors of the report, said, “Real estate investors will face a tricky balancing act in 2015. The market is awash with capital surging into Europe from around the world. On the face of it, this is a nice problem to have, but we expect to see prices continuing to rise due to a shortage of assets. And despite an uncertain economic climate across Europe, investors will have to look beyond the major markets to secondary cities and assets they may not have considered before. This presents both an opportunity and a challenge.

“The wave of capital-rich investors entering European real estate markets is savvy and sophisticated. Their need to preserve and create new wealth will, for some, see a move away from core markets where many feel there is little value to be gained and into assets, developments, and cities that give them the opportunity to achieve better returns. There is a focus on the big social and demographic trends that are shaping our world and changing the way we live. Smart investments will be the types of property that benefit from population growth, urbanization, an aging society, and technological innovation. Nonetheless, we expect this next part of the cycle to be balanced by increasing concern about the resulting risks.”

An interesting consequence of the balancing act is that the appetite for residential investment is growing, stimulated by a housing shortage in London and some other markets. The interest in the private rented sector is particularly marked in the U.K. and Germany. Other sectors that look attractive to investors are logistics, fueled by consumers’ increasing digital shopping habits, and health care.

Emerging Trends in Real Estate Europe is a joint report published annually since 2003 by ULI and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). The report provides an outlook on European real estate investment and development trends, real estate finance and capital markets, as well as trends by property sector and geographical area. It is based on the opinions of more than 500 top real estate professionals, including investors, developers, lenders, agents, and consultants.

The top five European real estate investment markets in 2015 are predicted to be:

  1. Berlin: The city has moved up the rankings from last year, knocking Munich off the top spot for investment prospects in 2015. Historically dominated by domestic buyers, Berlin’s investment climate has changed as international investors pour capital into the city. The city is a hot spot for media and technology, and its young population has helped boost the investment appeal of its residential sector.
  2. Dublin: Ranked again in second place, the city has had another strong year in which investors have jostled for opportunities. Dublin has a good story to tell: there is strong rental growth based on low supply, employment growth, and an improving economy. Office rents and values are recovering strongly but still have some way to go before they reach their precrisis peak.
  3. Madrid: The Spanish city has shot up the rankings for investment prospects this year, and many overseas investors are targeting the city. But whether Spain offers solid, long-term business prospects is hotly debated among opportunistic investors.
  4. Hamburg: The city has slipped by one place this year, but this is mainly due to investors looking to smaller, less established markets rather than any real decline in the city’s fundamentals. International investors are flooding into Hamburg, accounting for half of the 2.4 billion euros’ worth of deals in the first three quarters of 2014. Its growing population means the residential sector is thriving.
  5. Athens: Athens is the biggest mover on the list this year, zooming 23 places to number five. In recent Emerging Trends surveys, investors have indicated a willingness to enter other distressed markets such as Spain, Ireland, and Italy, but Greece is starting to gain attention. Although Europe’s hardest-hit economy remains fragile, a few trailblazing investors are moving in to take advantage of pre-rebound opportunities.

Peter Walker is ULI vice president of strategic communications, based in London.