Monday, 21 September 2009

Berlin Property Market 2009 - Status and Outlook

Thanks to the financial crisis real estate values are in demand again. Investors increasingly focus on key figures of proposed real estate opportunities. The transaction volume has dropped considerably. The number of active market participants has reduced. In turn the market has become more settled and focused on results and not action. Less viewings to come to a transaction. Opportunist investors are very active in the market due to sales under financial pressure. International investors are less active some previously very active nationalities like Irish and Danish investors have almost completely vanished as buyers. They now appear on the sellers side due to financial pressures.

The buyers’ yield expectations are opposed to the sellers’ expectations but the gap is currently closing slowly. Closed special funds, insurances and pension funds, as well as owner-occupants and private investors dominate the scene. Interest rates for real-estate loans are still on a historical low. Banks, however, demand a higher equity share from the buyers. It has become more difficult to obtain a morgage. The benefit is with buyers who have sufficient own funds - equity is king.

Berlin Real Estate Market

With approx. 1.9 m. apartments Berlin is the biggest residential real estate market in Germany and the biggest German office real estate market. Berlin is a city of tenants with less than 13 % owner occupiers. According to economic data Berlin is still behind compared to other German major cities: High level of public debt, low growth rates, high unemployment, low spending power of the inhabitants.

But things are changing: Events like the 2006 Footbal World Cup, this year's Track and Field World Championship and numerous cultural events of international format have brought millions of visitors to the city providing income in the hospitality sector and related businesses. Also it has brought the idea of real estate investment in a comparatively under priced market to those visitors and their contacts back home.

The public authorities have modernized entire quarters, especially in ex-East Berlin, major projects have been started, the new airport Berlin Brandenburg International due to open in 2011 being one of them. The infrastructure is very good. Berlin is the seat of federal government and thus attracts decision makers from politics, lobby and business organizations.

Residential and mixed buildings

In the medium to long term the population will grow by 300.000 to 3.6 m. residents by the year of 2030; the number of households is growing. The rent level is still considerably lower than in other German major cities and other European capitals. The Berlin rents have been continuously rising in the last years, especially in popular and sought-after locations, even though a lot slower than anticipated by many investors during the boom years of 2005 to 2007 (see also recent postings on this blog). The demand for apartments is increasing.

Project developers are currently less active with a focus on housing developments for individual homeowners. The construction of new buildings remains on a low level and was actually decreasing during the past 18 months. We still observe a demand for typical Berlin pre war buildings focused on locations, such as Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg, Friedrichshain and the Western city centre, mainly Charlottenburg, Wilmersdorf, Steglitz and Schöneberg. Here demand is high and good deals are snapped up quickly. In demand are in particular properties in a range between 500,000 and 3,000,000 Euros with a yield expectation of a minimum of 7 %. As always the location is key. But also vacancy level and repairs backlog are clear knockout criteria especially for international investors. Saying this, there is a specific demand for development properties with purchase prices between 500 and 700 Euros per sqm in these locations.

Commercial real estate market

Tenants’ demand is focused on modern office space and retail units in the Eastern and Western city centres. The top rent is 20.80 Euros/m²/month and thus slightly declining. Peripheral areas are continuously becoming less important. On the other hand there are off center locations with a special edge: Adlershof for research and development and Friedrichshain with the Mediaspree area around MTV and Universal Music.

The sales volume has decreased considerably compared to previous years. Demand is reduced to prime properties, securely, long-term rented to blue chip tenants in good locations. New projects including modernizations are deferred or executed in such a way that allows short notice flexible response to changes in demand. Yields in medium and low end locations are therefor increasing. The top reail locations Kurfürstendamm and its side streets, Schlossstrasse in Steglitz, Friedrichstraße and Alexanderplatz in Mitte, as well as the touristy and cool locations around Hackescher Markt are in the focus and rents in locations with highdemand are naturally rising.

Outlook

Demand has returned to the market and is met by owners ready to sell at the adjusted market conditions. Yields for comparable properties have gone up by about 1.0% to 1.5% over a period of 18 months. In some locations demand is reaching or already exceeding supply. Conditions for investment are friendly: Interests are low, rents are high. The financial gearing of the past with 10% to 15% equity, sometimes even less are a thing of the past – pre Lehmann Brothers.

Shortly I will provide some actual price analysis of properties currently offered in Berlin. So come back to check or sign up to this blog.

Uwe Falkenberg

Uwe Falkenberg the author of this article is a Berliner and active in the German property market for more than 25 years. Experienced as project manager, developer and business owner he now operates Falkenberg solutions - Real Estate Consultans. His international background and local expertise is an ideal combination for an international investor.


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