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NAMA commercial property sales recovery 'is set to continue'

PROPERTY sales by the Republic's bad bank Nama and other financial institutions are likely to continue at a steady pace in 2014, according CBRE.

In its Outlook for 2014, the commercial property agency said the year would see the continuation of the recovery born in the second half of 2013.

The recovery was particularly apparent in investment sales, with sales of supermarkets among the big transactions of the year.

Brian Lavery, CBRE managing director in Northern Ireland, said last year was "a major turning point" for the commercial property market. He continued: "The most notable trend was an increase in activity in the investment sector as the process of de-leveraging kicked off in Northern Ireland in the last six months of 2013. There was strong demand from both institutional and local buyers for the assets that came available for sale. Activity in the occupier sectors was more subdued however."

And 2014 was likely to be busier, thanks to an improving economy. "We are likely to see property being released for sale by Nama and various financial institutions at a similar pace to the second half of last year," Mr Lavery said.

"We expect to see continued demand from UK institutions for prime assets that come available for sale in Northern Ireland."

There was still a lot of "de-leveraging" still to take place in Northern Ireland, he said.

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Retail had seen some improvements, with new arrivals such as Kiehl's, which opened at Victoria Square Shopping Centre last year, and Apple-related company iConnect, which is set to open two stores in Northern Ireland.

But retail would remain at the mercy of technology, Mr Lavery said. "In addition to managing their physical stores, retailers have to continuously adapt their business models to account for new sales channels and changes in consumer shopping habits.

"The retail experience is adapting to become more of an entertainment experience, and retail stores have to change from being 'market places' to 'meeting places' in order to attract customers."

And while investment activity had lifted, occupier activity was "relatively muted" – partly due to the delay of a decision on devolution of corporate tax until after the Scottish referendum on independence, CBRE said.

A 46% lift in office take-up was skewed by a small number of transactions, such as a letting to Land and Property Services at Lanyon Plaza. And the lack of top grade office accommodation would continue to be a problem, with new offices at City Quays and Titanic Quarter not being completed for another year.