Insights & Research

Quarterly Research Report Q1 2024

OFFICE TAKE-UP INCREASES BY ALMOST 50% AS COMMERCIAL PROPERTY MARKET SENTIMENT IMPROVES

The take-up of office space in Northern Ireland during the first three months of this year was 48% higher than the same period in 2023, a new research report on the commercial property market has found.

CBRE Northern Ireland recorded office take-up at 99,931 sq ft, which was also a 36% increase on the final quarter of last year, with 18 deals completed during the three months.

CBRE’s report also revealed that overall investment transaction volumes in commercial property in the region during the first quarter of 2024 were just over £54 million. This compares to £128m sold during the same period last year, reflecting a 58% decrease in spend, with the total investment figure for the whole of 2023 being £338m.

The hotel sector has experienced a strong trading start to 2024, with occupancy and average daily rate (ADR) surpassing 2023 levels. It has been a mixed quarter for retail while in logistics, vacancy levels within existing developments remain low with limited stock coming to the market.

Commenting on the report, Brian Lavery, Managing Director, CBRE NI, said:

“It has been a slow start to 2024 for the Northern Ireland commercial property market in terms of overall investment levels, but inflationary pressure is easing and market sentiment is improving following the welcome return of the Northern Ireland Executive.

“With 90% of companies committed to re-establishing their physical presence by the end of the year, the office market is in a more stabilised position and, with several deals going into legals recently, this hopefully signals a positive 2024 ahead.

“The end of the Stormont hiatus has released the handbrake that has been on the commercial property market, creating a more certain and attractive environment for investors and developers to turn challenges into opportunities.”

Further key findings of the report include:

  • There were 18 office deals completed in total, with the three largest deals accounting for just over 52% of total take-up and the remainder of deals at 7,000 sq ft or less.
  • The largest investment sector so far this year has been retail, representing nearly 60% of the total investment spend followed by alternatives at 20% and offices at 17%.
  • Domestic Northern Ireland investors continue to be the largest investors within the market, representing 83% of the total investment spend over the quarter.
  • Properties sold in Northern Ireland during the quarter include: ETAP Hotel in Belfast (sold for £7.35m), Linen Green Shopping Village in Moygashel (sold for £4m), Bannatyne Health Club in Holywood (sold for £3.5m) and Homebase in Orritor Road Retail Park in Cookstown (sold for £3m).
  • After a number of planning approvals for new hotel developments in 2023, there was continued planning activity during the first quarter of 2024, including the former police station on Queen Street in Belfast being granted planning permission for a 74-bedroom hotel and the Galgorm Collection receiving planning approval for an additional 46 bedrooms as well as spa and leisure facilities at the Rabbit Hotel in Templepatrick.
  • New enquiries for large industrial units are on the rise but with vacancy levels low in existing developments, the challenge remains in finding new suitable sites

Mr Lavery continued:

“We warned in January that three-quarters of Belfast’s office stock may become obsolete by 2030 due to upcoming EPC (Energy Performance Certificate) legislation. That is clearly resonating with the market as a number of companies are searching for new space that meets their ESG goals despite existing leases not expiring for a number of years.

“The hotel sector has maintained its momentum from the end of last year with a strong start to 2024, while it has been something of a mixed bag for retail, with the market remaining healthy despite a few administrations being reported. The out-of-town retail warehouse sector continues to perform well, as does the food and beverage market.

“Trends in the industrial and logistics sector remain consistent with 2023’s picture whereby enquiries remain high but suitable sites are lacking, and vacancy levels remain low in existing developments.

“Obsolescence remains a threat for older assets and there could be refinancing challenges for loans that reach maturity over the next 12 months, with many likely to have originated in a very different interest environment and against the backdrop of contrasting real estate market conditions.

“Looking ahead, there can be positivity about how real estate will perform as the year progresses, with value declines not as prevalent as before, largely due to the inflationary pressure decreasing.