In Germany, as in most countries, it has been a year of significant change and upheaval with the introduction and re-introduction of lockdown restrictions. These measures have prevented our healthcare systems from being overwhelmed while also causing uncertainty and distress in the economy, leading investors to take a look at their holdings more closely.
However, while nobody saw the exact nature of this pandemic coming, the changes we have seen in the real estate market in Germany are not exclusively tied to Covid-19. In fact, we have seen an acceleration of trends that were guiding our portfolio long before terms and phrases such as ‘self-isolation’ and ‘you’re on mute’ entered everyday use – meaning our German portfolio, comprising 34% logistics, 28% offices, 18% high street/mixed use, 14% in shopping centres and 8% in hotel investments, has proven resilient in this year’s crisis.
Structural changes in the retail sector
This is perhaps most evident with retail. While retail has undoubtedly been hit the hardest, the pandemic has served to catalyze structural changes that had started much earlier. As a result, we have been reweighting our portfolio over the last five years towards both logistics as well as inner-city mixed used assets to reduce our exposure to fashion-anchored shopping centres. This strategic portfolio shift to mixed-use schemes has helped us weather the storm that Covid-19 created for bricks-and-mortar retail. Our latest addition in Germany was project Bricks – a refurbished mixed-use historic industrial scheme in Berlin-Schöneberg with a mix of offices, residential, education and convenience retail. Throughout the crisis we have also continued our conversion projects of the iconic retail gallery “Sevens” on Königsallee in Düsseldorf and the “Stilwerk” in Berlin’s City West. Both projects were started prior to the pandemic with the intention to convert the upper floors into offices.
Where tenants have been exposed to headwinds, such as retail and hotel, we have found taking a supportive approach is key to maintaining performance through this time. We have been constantly engaged with our tenants and have developed mutually beneficial solutions for those that have required assistance. Through this, we have managed to keep the occupancy in our shopping centres between 90-95%.
The resilient residential & logistics sectors
At the other end of the spectrum, residential and logistics have become increasingly attractive since the outbreak of the pandemic. Logistics already makes up close to one-third of our German portfolio, and has a combined value of over €1bn, and having recently acquired Airpark Berlin, a newly developed 158,510 sq m logistics park near the Schönefeld and Berlin Brandenburg airports, we will continue to focus on the asset class next year.
Demand for logistics space continues to outstrip supply, driven by e-commerce, last-mile delivery and a general reconfiguration of supply chains.
Similarly, residential has also proven resilient in the crisis and with the recent launch of our pan European residential impact strategy, our aim is to invest in housing across major European cities including the ‘Big 7’ – the seven major metropolitan areas in Germany. The strategy will offer investors diversification through exposure to the residential sector and aims to have a significant social impact by helping to deliver good quality, sustainable and affordable rental homes with comprehensive services for middle income households.
Offices: the biggest question mark
Finally, the biggest question mark for German real estate investors lies over the office sector. With many of us working from home, the impact of this on long-term behavioral changes and the future of offices has been much debated since the outbreak. The outlook for offices may have changed in a profound way but we are confident that the role of the office will endure both for occupiers and investors. However, they will have to evolve. In Germany, we will prioritise acquiring or creating flexible, sustainable, tech-enabled, buildings in urban locations within supply-constrained winning cities.
Looking ahead, which were evolving over the recent years such as urbanization, digitalization and ESG.
We believe that the urbanization and the concentration in the major metropolitan areas in Germany will continue – despite the fact that the Covid-19 pandemic has also shown the negative consequences of living in tight conurbations. With a move towards increased working from home, we might however see that the boundaries of the metropolitan areas are extended to further distant suburbs.
For other mega-trends, such as the rising share of e-commerce, the pandemic has served as a catalyst for future growth. For us, this means we see the most opportunities in mixed urban schemes and residential investments within lively districts of the German ‘Big 7’, as well as in logistic investments which serve the major metropolitan areas. There may be a few more months of restrictions, but a brighter post-pandemic future is now on the horizon, and Germany offers significant opportunity for investors who have weathered the Covid-19 storm.of offices will endure, both for occupiers and investors.