Together’s corporate MD on ‘Trussgate’, the North West market ambition, and MIPIM
As he prepares to go to Cannes, the specialist mortgage and secured loan provider’s Chris Baguley weighed in on where investors should be looking in the North West and why the commercial market is still a strong investment.
Baguley is part of the Together contingent heading to MIPIM next week, where he will be promoting the North West market.
“The North West is in a strong place,” he told Place North West in an interview. “We’ve got an incredibly strong and robust financial and professional services sector – you only have to look at some of the banks and some of the accountancy practices that are choosing to open in Manchester.”
What is more, the North West has a vision.
“We’re a very ambitious region,” Baguley said. “We underestimate how forward-thinking we are and how many incredible businesses we have as a region.”
Bouncing back from the mini-budget
The road to recovery after September’s ‘Trussgate’ mini-budget is a long one, but the economy is making progress, according to Baguley.
“I don’t think we’re fully recovered,” he said. “There’s a lot of caution still.”
Persistent concerns include fuel costs, inflation, supply chain issues, interest rate increases. While problematic, Baguley does not foresee these freezing the market.
“Property values are still holding out,” he said. “It might be a slowing growth, but the values are still there and are still strong – and there is a massive shortage in stock.”
Last year, a lot of SMEs put plans on hold, according to Baguley.
“We saw a real reduction in appetite to compete as a vendor,” he said. “We saw a lot of people sitting on their hands, waiting to see what was going to happen.
“The reality is from the beginning of January, it was almost like business as usual,” Baguley continued.
“The momentum and appetite during Q1 has almost been back to pre-Truss. There’s a real appetite.”
Baguley uses a “rocket and feather” analogy to explain the current economic situation.
When the economy hits a difficult period, the prices of certain items – like fuel – will go through the roof. While they have rocketed upwards, the descent back down happens slower – like a feather falling from the sky.
We are currently on the feather side of things.
“People are recognising we’ve been through the worst,” Baguley said. “That’s why they’re making investment decisions.”
When forced into another metaphor by being asked to describe the current market as an animal, Baguley opted for an elephant.
“Pre-Covid, I would have said it was a cheetah making great ground,” he explained. “The September mini-budget made us a tortoise.”
An elephant, by comparison, is still slow – but steady and strong. What is more, Baguley points out that “an elephant never forgets”.
The market, Baguley reasons, has not forgotten the lessons from Covid. Instead, it has learned from them and taken them on board.
Commercial property shortages
Keeping the market buoyant throughout Covid and other economic struggles has been the continuing shortage in supply.
“When you look at commercial property, whether it’s office or industrial, there is still a shortage of stock,” Baguley observed.
“If you look at last year, the vacancy rate for 100,000 sq ft+ properties was at just 3.1%, in Q3 2022” he said. “That is a historic low in terms of what actually is available in the market.”
Since land supply is a continual issue, more and more developers are looking at reinventing existing spaces.
These are not easy sites, as brownfield sites normally boast a series of contamination issues. However, the current demand for industrial space especially is making these sites more viable than ever before, Baguley said.
For investors, purchasing a property is all about finding out where they can create value. That is good news for shopping centres, Baguley said.
“These can become ‘good value’, subject to the client having a very strong strategy,” Baguley observed. “We’re seeing clients buying former retail units and repurposing them into a combination of residential units, towers, doctors’ surgeries, pharmacies.”
The desire to add diversity to an investment portfolio has been good news for the suburbs as people look beyond the city centre.
Baguley used Wythenshawe as an example, noting Manchester City Council’s plans to regenerate the area. These spots are cheaper than the city centre and offer a greater return on investment.
“Investing outside of the city is key,” Baguley said.
The push to diversify portfolios will be to the North West’s gain, as global investors are encouraged to look beyond London. The value in looking beyond the Big Smoke will be one of Baguley’s key messages and one he wants the international community at MIPIM to pay attention to.
“Opportunities exist here,” Baguley said. “There’s a quality of life in the North West, as well as a quality of skills and resource. We have a really skilled labour force that is only going to grow as people choose to relocate. Those are the things that we need to get across.”
Curious about how the commercial property industry is doing in the North West? Together released its Together Market Report 2023 earlier this month. The report includes valuable insights as to where the investment opportunities are in the region. Read the Together Market Report 2023.