Confidence was returning to the UK property market as it emerged from the COVID-19 Lockdown, Axiom Stone Solicitors’ latest Virtual Real Estate Lunch was told on Wednesday (Sept 16).
The law firm’s internal specialists and guest speakers identified a more positive outlook on the economy and this greater enthusiasm and energy was reflected in robust activity in the commercial and residential property sectors.
The topic at the third of its highly-successful online lunches, hosted by Axiom Stone Chairman Jonathan Metliss and attended by over 80 people, was “The UK Real Estate industry and COVID-19: Green Shoots of Recovery. Yes or No?”
Setting the scene, Alex Brummer, Daily Mail City Editor, saw an all-round improving economic picture since mid-summer. Unemployment figures were better than expected and Britain was on course for the strongest recovery in Europe in 2021 – up by 7.6%. Defying the pessimistic forecasts, there was evidence of a buoyant housebuilding market, more sales along with the start of a return of workers to urban office space.
Vahideh Hojatoleslami, from Axiom Stone’s Commercial and Residential Real Estate team, underlined the property market bounce-back with the firm’s residential department receiving a significant number of new instructions over the past few months – higher than pre-Lockdown. Contributory factors were the popularity of suburban properties, more overseas buyers, stamp duty changes and planning reforms encouraging homeowners and developers.
Mira Arezina reported that the firm’s Property Litigation team were very busy advising on the implications of the emergency measures in terms of rent arrears and leases. Both sides needed to co-operate to achieve satisfactory outcomes. The firm had brought about a successful resolution to a tenancy surrender case which saw a tenant client stave off liquidation while the landlord received a lump sum payment. More good news for landlords and tenants was that the Business Interruption Insurance court ruling was likely to bring payouts.
On banking and finance, Rima Sengupta also pointed to a resilient market. The second quarter had seen improved lending activity aided by the stamp duty holiday and Help To Buy scheme. Axiom Stone’s recently-launched India Desk had seen growing interest from clients in the sub-continent. The firm was also joining more and more bank lender panels and pitching for new business.
In terms of employment, Claudine Lawrence said that with the furlough scheme winding down – and due to end in October – the firm was busy advising employers and employees about their position with a range of legal issues likely to arise, including redundancies.
Shyam Mistry, the firm’s health and safety expert, indicated that, at a rate of 17%, the UK was experiencing one of the slowest returns to work. Axiom Stone is advising firms on workplace COVID compliance – such as, risk assessment, proper communications, social distancing and track and trace.
Vicky Tsan, who recently joined as part of Axiom Stone’s China Desk, reported big demand from Hong Kong clients planning to move to Britain following the political tensions there and the UK government’s resettlement offer. The China Desk was advising them on buying property, business start-ups, buy-to-let investments and immigration visas.
Meanwhile, Adrian Pepper, of Pepper Media, saw positive signs in the government encouraging workers to return, the pursuit of a virus vaccine and London busier than a few months before. Other optimistic developments were the upcoming Business Rates Review and the fact that, with a steady flow of overseas investors, Brexit and any delayed EU trade deal was not likely to affect the real estate market.
Will Clough, of Allsop auctioneers, said that his Commercial Auction team had conducted £245m worth of business between January and September – only 15% down on same period last year. Rents and leases needed to be sustainable, but where prices were sensible demand was high.
Jonathan Metliss summarised the positive and encouraging picture of the real estate industry painted by the Axiom Stone team and the guest speakers, notwithstanding COVID-19 and the pandemic.
Pragnesh Modhwadia, the company’s Managing Partner, gave a vote of thanks to those taking part and those attending.
The next Axiom Stone Virtual Real Estate Lunch is scheduled for Wednesday, 11 November, 2020 (unless public gatherings are then permitted).