‘At last there is real evidence of properties moving faster’

Jonathan Whittle
Jonathan Whittle
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THE first thing everybody wants to know when it comes to marketing a commercial property is – how long will it take?

Whether it’s an owner selling or a landlord letting, the agent will be asked to gaze deep into his crystal ball and come up with an accurate answer, writes Jonathan Whittle, of commercial agency Douglas Duff.

Similarly, prospective buyers or tenants frequently ask “how long has this property been on the market?”

And luckily for us, I would say that is getting easier because at last there is real evidence of properties moving faster.

During the recession the average length of time a property would stay on the market was probably two years. I know of several buildings that were let or sold in the last 12 months having been marketed for three or four years. Some properties were let after a marketing period of six months or less.

Compare that with the former Alps Electric building at Wymbush, on the market for less than a year and now sold as a 10-acre redevelopment site.

It is even more significant that it has not been acquired by an occupier but by a developer, showing that Milton Keynes is again inspiring confidence in property investors, and that funding is again forthcoming for redevelopment. There has been no speculative development in the city since the boom years of 2006/7.

Another indicator is the former Alexon factory at Pitfield, in Kiln Farm. Douglas Duff has been marketing the seven-acre site for less that six months and we are now negotiating terms with a local expanding owner-occupier.

Highly successful US mobile data security company Airwatch has chosen to locate its UK headquarters here in MK. They have leased premises in Knowlhill which we marketed for a period of less than three months. A remarkable result.

The first new letting at Linford Wood Businesss Centre, in the Carina Building, for two years has also completed to another growing local company, Mirus IT Solutions, in conjunction with our joint agent, Lambert Smith Hampton.

And we are close to finalising terms for a lease in the adjoining Gemini building which will become the UK headquarters for a German solar energy component company.

This is a major global player and it is interesting to see that Milton Keynes is now attracting a cluster of companies in the solar energy sector.

We are representing an international insurance giant, who are leasing 8,000 sq-ft of brand new office space in the Pinnacle, CMK while another local expansion sees a musical instrument specialist doubling their space to take the former premises of a Japanese company in Harrison Close, Knowlhill. Terms here were agreed within three months of being instructed.

In the depths of the recession, in 2008 to 2010, the supply of premises far exceeded the demand from local and regional business but as we start to see confidence returning, as these examples show, the average time taken to dispose of properties is reducing significantly.

It appears to be either older, economically priced premises, or the high-quality, premium property, which has attracted most interest in the past few months.

This leaves a substantial supply of middle-ranking business space available either to let or to buy.

One factor that has marked out Milton Keynes over the past couple of years has been the willingness of landlords and property investors to put capital into improving their premises, demonstrating their confidence in the ability of the new city to attract and retain successful businesses.

As time taken to let space reduces I am optimistic that we will continue to see improved take-up throughout 2011.

Luckily we have some superb properties available that have been comprehensively refurbished, including Bank House in CMK, owned by Hermes Real Estate the owners of thecentre:mk, Phoenix House owned by IM Properties in Birmingham and Turnberry House, owned by Frontier Estates and Lasalle Investment Management.

I’m pleased to say with some confidence, for the first time in several years, that we can’t guarantee that this vacant space will be available for long!