Date29 April 2020
Published date29 April 2020
AuthorNick French
Subject MatterReal estate & property,Property valuation & finance
Are we still uncertain?
... in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes. Benjamin Franklin
In January 2020, the UK finally entered a period of some certainty in business and finance.
The UK electorate has decided that a pro-Brexit party should be in power for the next five
years with a majority of 80 seats. Business will be done. And after three years of faltering
uncertainty, the markets reacted strongly. It was not the decision itself that was important, it
was the fact that a decision had been made at last. I am pretty sure that had the populace
voted for cancelling Brexit, then the market reaction would have, initially, been the same.
Businesses and finance markets do not like uncertainty.
This is odd, because as Benjamin Franklins quote above reminds us, nothing is actually
certain. All that happened last week was that the new government was given the green light
to complete the withdrawal from the European Union. The uncertainty of the form that a
trade agreement will take is still uncertain; the logistics of imposing a virtualborder
between Northern Ireland and Eire is still uncertain; the future of the union, with the strong
showing of the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP), is definitely uncertain; the outcome of the US
election is, with Trumps impeachment looming, unknown. And, underlying this all, the
weight of global borrowing at historically high levels brings the uncertainty of recession to all
developed markets. So many things can change and so many things will change. Small
decisions will ripple through the markets and a new future will form only to be replaced by
another reality.
So how will the property markets in the UK and abroad react? Initially, in the UK, there is
so much pent up investment and occupational demand in the system, that I can see the UK
economy and particularly the property markets bouncing on the back of the election result.
Prices will rise in both commercial and residential markets, as yield fall and rents increase.
Obviously, the degree of that impact will depend upon the location. London and the south will
benefit most but, if the government keeps it pledges to invest more in the midlands and the
north, then Keynesian magic will bring a positive boost to those markets too. It may be just a
catching up period after three years of the Brexit uncertainty stagnation but it will be an
upturn nonetheless. We will see 12 years of strong growth and confidence in the markets.
But there are demons lurking. As mentioned, the fundamentals in the UK and world
markets are beginning to look very familiar with the prime indicators showing the same
levels as before the Financial Economic Crisis of the late nineties. There is a financial cliff
looming again. And for the property market, there is another urgency that will definitely have
a negative impact on property prices in the UK and that is the carbon reduction targets that
will mean that 95% of the existing let stock will need to be retrofitted, before it can be legally,
let within the next 10 years as part of the UK stated target of carbon neutrality by 2050. That
is a massive undertaking and cost and markets will adjust by re-indexing the price of all
property affected. The legislation (Minimum Energy Efficiency StandardsMEES) is already
in place and the target date of 2030 for the majority of properties to comply is already being
mooted. This is a massive intervention in the property market unseen in my lifetime.
My career in property has taught me that markets shift and change constantly so the blip
of certainty in the sea of uncertainty is nothing unexpected but something tells me that the
impact of climate change (or more correctly the interventions needed to try to slow its
Journal of Property Investment &
Vol. 38 No. 2, 2020
pp. 89-90
© Emerald Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/JPIF-03-2020-165

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