Entrepreneurs will keep striving
Generally speaking, there are ample signs that the Northern Ireland property market will continue to improve in 2017. Overall, last year was a positive one for commercial property, and while the immediate fall-out from the Brexit vote appeared to have had a negative impact, it was very much a case of business as usual towards the end of 2016.
Rental levels are now consistently in excess of £17 per square foot (psf), and following KPMG's leasing of space in Belfast's Soloist Building at a headline rent of £21.50 psf, there is every reason to believe that similar rental figures are achievable this year for Grade A office accommodation.
This increase in Grade A rents will have a knock-on effect for Grade B/refurbished space and we would expect rents for this type of accommodation to be in the range of £16-£18 psf dependent on location.
City centre office take-up in 2016 increased significantly and we expect to see continued expansion in this sector during 2017.
With vacancy rates down in most sectors and increasing appetite from lenders, we see 2017 presenting a good opportunity to invest. As always, a sound understanding of property fundamentals is a must and we anticipate a continued flight to quality in this area.
Getting the year off to a positive start is the sale of Laganview House, a landmark building on Ann Street and Oxford Street, which we sold for £1.4m, comfortably over the £1.25m asking price.
The property attracted keen interest from local and UK investors and represents an exciting refurbishment/development opportunity that will further enhance Belfast's waterfront area.
This sale bodes well for 2017 as there is a clear appetite for similar opportunities with specific focus on the office and leisure sectors.
In Northern Ireland we are no strangers to political uncertainty which is probably just as well given our current predicament. Once again our inept political leaders have created significant challenges for the local business community. Added to the unprecedented events of 2016, uncertainty is going to prevail across several landscapes.
Admittedly, there has been some concern that foreign direct investment will decline following the US election result as the new administration seems likely to encourage US firms to remain in North America. Time will tell, but it is important to note that Invest NI has attracted a significant number of potential office tenants in Northern Ireland over the last few months and active requirements for Grade A office space continues to increase.
One thing we can be sure of is the resilience of local entrepreneurs and their businesses, and the fact that irrespective of political inertia they will continue to strive for growth and progress.