European governments turn to property asset sales to help bolster public finances


With several European governments recently announcing deficit-reduction plans, the motivation for many governments to sell public sector-owned property assets to raise much-needed capital will become more widespread across Europe in the next 12 months.

The global banking crisis and recession have led to a sharp deterioration in public finances in most major economies. As a result, a number of European governments, including the UK, Germany, France and Greece, are preparing to accelerate efforts to sell public property more actively and on a larger scale as a measure to raise funds. Government-owned property sales in Europe reached €840 million in 2009, and has totalled between 2% to 2.5% of all European public sales annually over the past four years. This figure could well increase this year, according to a new report by CB Richard Ellis (CBRE).

Richard Holberton, Director, EMEA Research & Consulting, CBRE, said: “Several European governments are looking to secure real estate disposals on a large scale. The volume of these asset sales is likely to increase in the coming year or so, as governments look for ways to shore up public finances. The average deal size of last year’s government asset transactions was generally quite small, averaging €10m. It is likely to be a similar story this year as buyers avoid larger buildings that carry vacancy risk, but we expect the practice to be more widespread.

“The market’s appetite for government-disposed buildings will vary depending on the reason for the sale and the type of asset. Investor demand is likely to be strongest for prime assets such as offices that governments will sell but continue to occupy, generating long government-backed income streams. Prospective buyers for these types of assets would include institutions such as local and overseas pension funds, insurance companies and German Open-ended Funds. Surplus buildings in poorer locations and with possible vacancy risk will attract less interest from buyers.”

The UK government has announced its intentions to sell around £35 billion of public sector assets over the next 10 years, with properties expected to include student housing and infrastructure. In Germany, the government is continuing its long-standing commitment to public sector and residential sales at a more local level. Germany made up 42% of European public sector sales last year and.its contribution to the European total has averaged 30% over the past four years. The target of BIMA (Bundesanstalt fur Immobilienaufgaben), the German company responsible for the disposal of state-owned properties, is to sell off around half of the €6.8bn portfolio of properties within the next five years. France, Italy and the Netherlands each accounted for 10% or more of all European public sector sales in 2009, such that in total, the four largest contributing countries accounted for nearly 80% of last year’s activity in the region.

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