DTZ Research has published its 2014 Annual Outlook report, highlighting that economic growth has picked up and the UK macro outlook has improved.
The findings were presented to more than 100 guests at an event held at Austin Court in Birmingham city centre.
The report revealed the outlook for the regions was brighter than in recent years, with economic growth in the regions forecast to increase by 2.8% in 2014 and three per cent over the medium term, while employment was forecast to increase by 400,000 over the next two years.
Job gains will be underpinned by business services, TMT and retail, offsetting the ongoing contraction of the public sector.
As a result, occupier sentiment and demand for commercial property is generally strengthening. Take-up is growing across the regions. Availability, particularly for Grade A office and industrial space, however,is falling rapidly.
The report estimates that there is only 1.6 years of Grade A office space left based on current take-up rates. The retail market is also expected to see vacancy rates moderate from current high levels.
Investor appetite for commercial property assets is increasing and volumes have risen markedly. The record yield gap between London and the regions, and between prime and secondary property, is encouraging investors to move up the risk curve. The window of opportunity is closing, however, as the yield gap is forecast to narrow and regional markets becoming less undervalued.
Richard Yorke, UK head of research at DTZ and co-author of the report, said: “Based on its relative attractiveness, investors’ appetite for commercial real estate is very strong. This is further helped by a normalisation of the lending markets but investors should take advantage of current pricing quickly before interest rates rise.
"At the same time, prime opportunities have become less attractive. Consequently, investors need to consider secondary assets and locations more closely, which are still attractively priced. Investors need to be bold and move quickly to take advantage of this limited time opportunity.”
The growing shortage of grade A office space, combined with the regional development pipeline at an all-time low, means investors are now encouraged to acquire assets for development and refurbishment.
The bigger cities are best placed to respond to potential new demand. Birmingham, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Leeds are strongest in terms of development as a proportion of long-term deliveries. The dearth of new supply and a wave of leasing events mean that prime rents are increasing and set for further growth.
The cities which are likely to see relatively rapid increases are Edinburgh, Leeds and Manchester. Incentives are also likely to erode in markets such as Birmingham.
David Tonks, senior director and head of DTZ’s office agency team in Birmingham, said: “It is increasingly the case that an occupier’s comparison of value available in the market involves an assessment of the building specification and services provided by the landlord, in addition to the headline financial terms.
"As the supply and demand balance continues to shift we will see the cost of good quality space increase during 2014 and it is already evident that incentives offered to occupiers are less generous than they were 12 months ago and pressure on headline rents is growing.
“There are, however, also signs of landlords competing for occupiers by providing improved services to their tenants. The trend for an improved level of service is most evident in the market for secondary accommodation that accounts for almost 50% of annual take-up within the central Birmingham market.
"The more successful buildings are increasingly offering additional services that provide increased convenience for occupiers through a central concierge service or increased efficiency in use through shared meeting/catering facilities for example.
"Larger occupiers are also analysing their occupancy rates and factoring this into the scale of their requirement, having allowed for building specification and quantifiable expansion plans over the short to medium term. The keen focus upon value rather than price looks certain to continue.”
DTZ Research also revealed that the outlook for the industrial market was positive, with increased manufacturing activity and export orders leading to strong take-up of Grade A space.
As with the offices market, however, a lack of available Grade A space - in most regions less than 10% of total availability) - the options for occupiers seeking existing grade A stock are severely limited. Meanwhile, retail spending will continue to increase, with some high streets seeing falling vacancy rates in 2014.
Pictured: From left, back, Richard Yorke, head of UK research, DTZ, David Tonks, head of office agency, DTZ Birmingham, Simon Lloyd, head of UK industrial agency, DTZ. Front, Fergus Hicks, global head of forecasting, DTZ, Jon Leedham, head of DTZ’s Birmingham office, Nick Allan, head of investment for DTZ’s Midlands and South West region.