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First quarter low on take-up, high on investment

As the Belgian real estate domain prepares to head off the Cannes to meet its counterparts from the rest of the world at Mipim, broker JLL has looked at the performance of the Brussels office market over the (majority of) the first quarter.

By mid-March, take-up had amounted to 60,000 m² which is currently some way short of the average of 88,000 m² seen over the past five years. Average transaction size is also down by 9%, to 972 m². It may be considered that this particular factor is in line with trends for smaller amounts of space, more home-working, fewer work stations than members of staff, the growth of co-working areas… Among major deals, however, are the 9,800 m² taken up by the Wallonia-Brussels Federation in Green Island. Welkin & Merani, as we reported this week, has just signed for 4,000 m² in The One, although this became official after JLL produced its figures.

The European institutions are looking likely to be back in the market this year, and the Commission is launching a call for tenders for a new conference centre. Among buildings which will be competing is Atenor’s Realex, alongside The One, CEO Stéphan Sonneville revealed on Thursday. Other deals in the pipeline cited by JLL are the SNCB for a new centralised building near the South Station, and the Brussels Capital Region, looking to replace the space it has in the CCN. This could be as much as 40,000 m².

Another returning phenomenon is the arrival on the market of speculatively constructed projects – very much a rarity since the recession first hit. And the developers appear to have got their timing right: Cofinimmo has already let two thirds of the 18,000 m² of Belliard 40 (photo), to be delivered this year, Passport at the airport was fully let at delivery in January. Speculative deliveries this year, JLL calculates, will amount to 121,000 m². This may lead to a slight rise in overall vacancy, from its current level of 8.4% to close to 9%. Rental levels may also continue to rise, not just the iconic ‘prime’ of € 30/m²/year, but upper quartile rents too.

And finally, bank rates mean that the real estate investment market is likely to do well again, with almost a billion Euros already placed during the first quarter. This is the best first quarter in the history of Belgian real estate, and is around double the ten year average! Three major transactions catch the eye – Eurocommercial Properties’ acquisition of the Woluwe Shopping Centre for 468 million Euros, a South Korean consortium’s 369 million Euros spent on Egmont I and II, and Arts 56 going to Befimmo for 116 million Euros. JLL expects to see a full year total amounting to some 3.5 billion Euros, putting 2018 in line with the five year average.
Tim Harrup

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