No fire sales of UK properties on low default risk: Experts

Britain's property sector remains resilient, and Asian investors active in it, despite a lack of clarity on the relationship Britain will strike with the European Union.

That is the verdict of lawyers and investment managers nearly 100 days after Britons voted in June to leave the EU.

However, investors should not expect to find bargains easily as they did during the financial crisis in 2008 when there were fire sales of distressed London prime assets.

Mr Harry Tan, TH Real Estate's head of research for Asia-Pacific, said that there has not been an "onerous correction" in the pricing of prime London assets.

"A lot of the re-pricing is taking place in the secondary assets," he said at a briefing yesterday.

"For investors who are looking to take advantage of Brexit to buy cheap in London, I'm afraid you're not seeing that yet."

He said that unlike the financial crisis, risks of defaults are lower now, so there will not be "wholesale dumping of distressed assets".

TH Real Estate is the real-estate investment arm of global asset manager TIAA, which began as a financial services provider to teachers.

It is projecting a 12 per cent correction in property valuations by the end of next year, which Mr Tan said was small, considering the magnitude of an event risk such as Brexit.

Brexit bargain hunters will have to look to British property funds, which have been selling assets after a surge in withdrawal requests from spooked investors.

About 26 per cent of commercial property traded between July and the middle of last month was sold by funds, compared with about 18 per cent for the same period last year, according to data from Savills.

Mr Marc Franks, a London-based partner specialising in real estate at law firm Nabarro, said such fire-sale deals, while limited in number, "deprived me of sleep for a while".

He cited a substantial transaction which took just 65 hours to complete, but emphasised that most other transactions followed through without a renegotiation in prices.

Nevertheless, the slight discounts and the weak sterling are still attractive to Asian investors.

Speaking to Malaysian institutional investors, including sovereign wealth funds last week, Mr Franks said they were particularly interested in the asset classes of infrastructure and student accommodation.

Mr Alistair Meadows, head of International Capital Group at JLL, said that Hong Kong and Middle Eastern investors were still active in central London property deals.

Three large transactions this week showed renewed investor sentiment, he said.

Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC announced on Thursday that it had partnered student housing provider GSA to strike the largest student-accommodation deal in Britain this year, reportedly worth £700 million (S$1.2 billion), while a British local government council bought oil giant BP's business and technology campus for £300 million.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 01, 2016, with the headline 'No fire sales of UK properties on low default risk: Experts'. Print Edition | Subscribe