International developments

It’s interesting to see that a consortium of Singaporean investors has bought a major development site in the centre of Leeds with the potential for a one million square foot mixed-use scheme – expected to be mainly residential. Do the Singaporean consortium know something that UK developers don’t? Is Singapore simply too hot, er – in market terms? Do they have the operational capability to execute this kind of scale of project – in Yorkshire? It must be pretty expensive to create the required operational platform overseas. I think of it as the difference between buying a house overseas and building a house overseas. The latter is obviously a lot more challenging. Compared to cross-border investment in existing leased stock, cross-border real estate development tends to be much less common. Development by foreign companies tends to be more prevalent where the local development sector doesn’t have access to the capital or simply doesn’t have the knowledge base and experience to execute major projects. Alternatively, the ‘product’ may not exist and they may need to develop it themselves e.g. Ikea. Or they may want to capture some of the increased land values on surrounding sites generated by their project e.g. Ikea. Otherwise foreign developers seem to be handicapped. In particular, they’re not part of the local networks of politicians, land owners, planners, brokers etc.   Not surprisingly they often use local partners if they do go overseas and/or go to familiar markets – Germany-Austria, Sweden-Denmark, UK-Ireland etc. In this specific case, it’s a consortium – so they’re pooling some risk. It’s a big scheme and its sheer scale may have deterred many UK developers reducing competition. They’ve certainly made a bit bet on the UK/Yorkshire/Leeds/central Leeds housing (land) market. We don’t know much about cross-border real estate development. There’s plenty of scope for some robust investigation of the market entry decision-making processes and the relative importance of different variables such as motive, local partners, scale, skill-set, cost of capital, track record etc. It probably needs an in-depth qualitative research study analysing specific firms and/or development projects. I suspect that one of the comments in the press release is quite revealing. Vince Toh, Heeton’s chief executive officer, remarked “This site will be a great addition to the consortium’s land bank.” I assume that he’s aware of the political controversy regarding land-banking by English housebuilders.

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