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Why alternative investments thrived above global real estate market in 2017

Global real estate markets witnessed diminishing returns in 2017, which gave room for investment diversification, a development which led to the expansion of the frontiers of the real sector, a newly released report by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has revealed.

The report, conducted by the Investment Risk Forum (IRF) of the RICS – comprising of more than 40 of the world’s most influential real estate investors, came a decade after the crisis in real estate hit the world.

The forum was established in 2015 to foster industry leadership and to share best practice, with the aim of enhancing the industry’s approach to risk management.

In the new report, which draws on responses to an extensive survey with follow-up interviews, the group explores whether lessons from previous cycles have been learnt to mitigate future risk.

eProperty News quoted TC Chetty, RICS Country Manager in South Africa: “The report aims to highlight some of the trends and perspectives which influence risk management in real estate investment, and is designed to stimulate further discussion and act as a foundation for ongoing leadership in this field.
“A number of issues were raised, among which included concerns surrounding the availability and consistency of cross-border property data, a challenge which is becoming acuter as the industry grows internationally and especially as investment volumes grow in emerging markets.

“Besides, advances in risk management have come at a time when real estate investment has reached new all-time highs, with yields noticed to have been compressed and competition for returns is fierce.

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“Against this backdrop, investors are observing a growing risk appetite, with moves into alternative, non-traditional assets becoming increasingly widespread,” said Chetty.

A 2017 McKinsey report also reflected this momentum of alternative investments toward non-traditional asset classes such as student housing, data centres, healthcare offices, medical facilities and assisted-living communities.

This move to alternatives is changing the risk profile of investments as hotels, student accommodation, healthcare and the private rented sector behave very differently from traditionally core assets such as offices, hotel accommodation and housing sector.

Alternative investments operate under different business models with different types of investors. However, when understood correctly, these assets create new opportunities for investors, as observed by the report, which also highlights a trend towards greater flexibility in the way properties are designed, managed and leased by occupiers.

Co-working, flexible space is becoming more prevalent in the office sector, building on models. As a result, leases are becoming shorter and more flexible, with covenant strength being tested in new ways. For investors, the opportunity to acquire assets with long-term tenants in place is becoming less prevalent.

Another challenge that was considered is that driverless cars will be a reality in the not too distant future, so investors with multi-storey car parks in their portfolios are now thinking about the risk and opportunities.

The IRF notes that in 2017, the sector appears much better placed to manage and mitigate risk. Experiences of the last downturn have prompted material changes in the way investors are set up to weather complex and volatile markets. However, there are several areas, which the industry needs to tackle to improve risk management.

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Firstly, the industry needs to ensure that comparable real estate market data is available across borders as there is a lack of quality benchmarking data in many markets.

“The industry also needs to improve institutional knowledge sharing to ensure new generations learn from the experience of previous cycles and share innovative thinking, market insight and best practice.

“As a priority, we need to share lessons with new generations of employees, in particular on liquidity management, integration of research in the risk management process, and practical approaches to risk management.”

Dataset such as total returns are available in some developed markets but there is a need to capture this information more systematically around the world. As a result, the IRF suggests there should be greater accessibility to indices that can enhance benchmarking and the ability to manage risk prudently.

In addition, common standards that underpin real estate information would ensure property data is more transparent, comparable and meaningful across markets, to allow better and informed decisions on investment risk.

Adds Chetty: “The Forum concludes that there is a need for greater leadership and best practice in risk management systems and processes, drawing on lessons from other investment sectors.

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