The changing face of the construction and property sector has led solicitors A&L Goodbody to switch the focus of its work with clients in recent months.
Patricia Johnston, partner with A&L Goodbody's commercial property department in Belfast, said that since launching its Northern Ireland operation in May last year, the practice had engaged extensively with clients.
She said, however, that one year on, the Northern Ireland property sector had changed significantly, with many companies facing a challenging operating environment.
Mrs Johnston said: “There has been a considerable change in the nature of work we’re engaged in on behalf of clients from the construction and property sectors.
“The focus has shifted away from acquisitions and transactions towards advisory work such as advising our corporate and banking departments’ clients on how to restructure and refinance their businesses and assets, and working with our market leading projects team on their ongoing PFI/PPP transactions.
“We are also receiving more instructions from landlords in relation to maximising their returns on rent reviews and dilapidations."
According to Mrs Johnston, construction and property companies are the ones being hardest hit by the current economic downturn although other sectors too are facing more challenging times.
“Increased interest rates, the global credit crunch and the rapid slowdown in the residential property market have all contributed to this environment,” she said
“One of the key messages we are currently sending out to property companies is to be alert to the warning signs and to seek professional help before it is too late. If restructuring measures are taken in time, a struggling company can often be saved before resorting to insolvency. In these times, directors need to be very conscious of their duties to the company and its creditors.”
Another noticeable trend in the sector, Mrs Johnston added, is the growing number of inquiries from parties who want to walk away from or enforce contracts negotiated at the heart of the property boom.
“Borrowing is difficult at the moment and property values have fallen rapidly,” she said. “Completion of property contracts is therefore no longer a certainty and at times buyers are willing to forfeit deposits rather than having to complete multi-million pound transactions for which no finance is available.“
Since Goodbody opened its Northern Ireland office in Belfast, staff numbers have doubled.
“We have every ambition to continue to grow. Construction and property will continue to be an important practice area for our firm and certain parts of the sector are holding up well,” said Mrs Johnston.
Meanwhile, A&L Goodbody is sponsoring the young property agent of the year category at this year’s Belfast Telegraph Property Awards event which take place in association with Ulster Bank on November 13 at the Ramada Hotel, Shaw's Bridge, Belfast.
There are 10 categories in total for both the commercial and residential property sectors.
For further information see www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/propertyawards or contact organisers JPR on (028) 9076 0066 or email@example.com