As detailed in our new research report on the sector, alternative investment volumes have accounted for more than one quarter of all UK commercial property transactions in each year since 2015, and have since become the second most sought after sector behind offices. In 2017, alternatives transaction volumes reached £17.6bn, easily outpacing both industrial (£11bn) and retail (£8.3bn).
Some of the predominant targets for alternatives investors are the private rented sector (PRS), hotels, student housing and care homes – all asset types which are well represented across London. In line with the rest of the UK, the London alternatives market has grown over the years and in 2018 we have seen around £5bn of transactions.
There are strong commercial and social drivers behind the investment case for these types of assets. The trend towards urbanisation; the economics of higher education; and an aging population will all support the need for the more private rented sector homes, student housing and healthcare facilities while rising tourist numbers will increase the demand for hotel rooms.
Investors can be further reassured by the fact that demographic trends are relatively predictable and it is, therefore, possible to estimate demand for these alternatives sectors. Similarly, occupier demand for some alternatives is less cyclical than in the traditional sectors and therefore less exposed to economic shocks.
However, there is no doubt that there are also risks associated with alternatives investments. Despite, in many cases, exhibiting higher yields than the traditional sectors, alternatives are often reliant on operator performance and can be exposed to management risks and/or contingent costs.
Ultimately, the alternative sectors are perhaps best suited to those investors that are seeking stable and long-term income rather than short-term strategies and those who are trying to ‘play the cycle’.
One of the key compelling aspects of those sectors is the prevalence of long leases of up to 25-30 years, often in combination with sale-and-leaseback or income strips strategies whereby an investor buys an income stream, rather than the physical asset. Accordingly, alternatives are considered by some investors as relatively defensive, stable and low-risk investment vehicles.
So whilst London’s commercial property investment market has always been characterised by its trophy office buildings and luxury retail, you can expect a growing volume of investor money in the capital, both domestic and cross border, to head for assets which are maybe more pedestrian, but increasingly intrinsic to our lives.
Senior Property Economist