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Real estate investments defy economic slowdown, begin modest recovery

Nigeria is expected to continue inching its way towards real estate recovery, as property investors are able to repatriate investment capital, pay dividends, conduct export related transactions and meet other financial obligations.

However, consolidating these relative improvements will require a sustainable regulatory framework that reduces uncertainty in the economy, coordination of monetary and fiscal policies to improve macroeconomic conditions, according to Broll Property Group, one of Africa’s leading property services companies.

The Broll Sub-Saharan Africa Snapshot 2017 – a half-year overview for both investors and occupiers, noted that there was also a silver lining with respect to inflationary pressure in the Nigerian economy. The snapshot contains overviews of the economy as well as the industrial, office and/or retail markets in Nigeria.

Although confidence is emerging in the investor market, it remains too early to determine the extent to which the improving economic indicators and improved dollar liquidity will drive investment activity in the office sector.

In the first half of 2017, no new office deliveries were recorded, however around 52,000m2 of A-grade office space is expected to be delivered to the core markets of Ikoyi and Victoria Island over the next 6 to 12 months.

For instance, the increased dollar liquidity in the economy and the opening of the forex window for investors has boded well for landlords. Transactions which hitherto faced constraints and difficulty, such as the repatriation of investment capital and the repayment of dollar based loans and dividends, are now able to be conducted with relative ease given the improved access to forex in this new window, according to the snapshot.

Specifically, relocations by corporates from B-grade and standalone buildings to better quality space in A-grade buildings in Victoria Island and Ikoyi remained a key theme in the first half of 2017. These relocations continued to be driven by more favourable leasing terms in the market as a result of the vacancies in recently delivered buildings.

In a bid to remain competitive, landlords continued to extend concessions by way of lower rents, longer rent free periods and additional fit-out allowances. Overall, demand from existing corporates as well as whilst most of these corporates opt for newer, better quality buildings in the core markets of Ikoyi and Victoria Island, there were also some enquiries for office space in secondary locations.

Throughout the first half of the year, there was also a resurgence in demand for larger office spaces in the occupier market. Whilst smaller office requirements of 200m2 to 500m2 held sway, enquiries and transactions for spaces exceeding 1,000m2 were noted in the core markets of Ikoyi and Victoria Island.

Average asking rents for office space within these core markets vary between approximately $33/m2/month to $41/m2/month for B-grade spaces, while A-grade spaces have average asking rentals of $54/m2/month to $64/m2/month.

Notwithstanding the respite reflected in some macroeconomic indicators, the harsh reality facing the retail sector remained largely unchanged. Amidst the challenging business environment, many landlords have sought innovative ways of driving performance and increasing the vibrancy in their centres.

Consequently, some landlords have undertaken the reorganisation of their tenant-mix by adding kids play areas and other entertainment activities. Retail schemes that did not have provisions for cinemas in their designs are also looking to retrofit cinema screens into their existing structures.

This slowing effect on the sector has been reflected by slower take-up rates in recently delivered schemes, which have taken much longer to fully let. Additionally, as retailers reassess their expansion plans, there has been more focus on older, more established shopping centres in core markets, causing recently delivered centres in both core markets and second tier cities to record slower leasing activity.

Currently, average asking rents for 100m2 – 200m2 of prime retail space are roughly US$62/m2/month in the core markets of Abuja and Lagos whereas rentals in secondary markets are around US$44/ m2/month. Whilst no new shopping centre developments were delivered in the first half of 2017, around 50,000m2 is expected to be delivered over the next 6 to 12 months

The snapshot noted that the new forex window opened by the CBN for investors is also expected to revive some confidence as landlords are now able to carry out dollar based transactions and meet other financial obligations much easier. As some landlords look to benchmark their rents with the rates offered on the forex window, rents which are quoted in dollars but paid in naira might trend higher as this window offers a devalued naira rate.

For the industrial market, Broll stated that there is a significant mismatch between the demand and supply of stock in the market, but increased activity in the industrial sector will hinge on sustainable policies to revive the industrial and manufacturing base of the country.

This would be strengthened by investment into adequate attendant infrastructure (roads, rail, ports, power, etc.) that can lead to the repositioning of the sector. Whilst the current government’s plan to diversify the economy and reduce the country’s dependence on imports is a step in the right direction, the full impact on the industrial sector will be better determined over the long-term.

The high cost and limited availability of land in desired locations such as Lagos as well as the lack of adequate infrastructure to transport goods from cheaper sites situated further away from commercial hubs reduces the investment potential of the sector. This is further emphasised by the rents commanded which are currently too low to attract much needed investment capital. Average asking rentals for prime industrial space ranges from US$1/m2/month to US$5/m2/month, depending on location.

Group CEO Broll Property Group, Malcolm Horne said: “As African property markets are maturing, tenants are seeking out professional advice and landlords are gradually embracing the needs of multinational and large national space users.

“Both are driving a growing trend towards outsourced property services to further their goals of extracting value from commercial real estate, growing with new developments and optimising financial structures.”

Elaine Wilson, Divisional Director for Research for Broll Property Group said: “Our research teams across Sub-Saharan Africa enable us to advise and provide our clients with knowledge based research across various commercial property segments in these countries.”

Wilson explains that markets across Sub-Saharan Africa differ from country to country, some are less sophisticated than others and what may work in Nigeria for example does not necessarily work in a market such as Mauritius.

Originally published in The Guardian

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