'It's hard work but things are picking up'
THE commercial property sector is seeing a definite upturn this year, with both the number and the quality of calls to agents being significantly better than 12 months ago.
Although the climate is still very difficult, the market for good quality industrial and office space available for sale or let is picking up, according to agents.
Richard Mounsey, managing director of Festival Park-based Mounsey Chartered Surveyors, says: "The feeling is that this year we are working very hard but getting somewhere, whereas previously we were working very hard just to stand still.
"There is a general sense that we are seeing better and improving trading conditions than we've had in the past few years, and the quality of the enquiries we are getting is better, which is leading to more transactions.''
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Richard, pictured right, pinpointed the industrial sector as being the best performer. He says: "We are getting instructions from companies based outside the area, but with an interest in North Staffordshire.
"We have just let a 40,000 sq ft industrial unit to one, we are in the final stages of buying a 38,000 sq ft unit for another and we are acquiring a 65,000 sq ft manufacturing building for a client.
"Industrials have held up quite well across the different size ranges, especially so for good buildings in good locations, with decent road links and dedicated parking."
Business parks such as Centre 500, off the A500 at Wolstanton, are proving a popular destination for firms, and similar developments elsewhere are also attracting tenants or buyers.
He says: "The right building in the right place should move. We have just sold a 11,000 sq ft unit that went for 15 per cent more than the bank valued it at, and at a price which would have been a good figure even five years ago, simply because it met those two criteria for the purchaser.''
Richard says that units can be sold or let if people are willing to cut deals, saying: "It is still a buyers' – or tenants' – market and all deals have softened. We are more realistic now and there are a lot of incentives to get buildings tenanted.''
Demand for office space is picking up slightly, but again tenants are tending to look more favourably at business parks or estates which cluster firms together and offer decent parking and transport access.
It is no great surprise that the weak point in the commercial property sector remains retail and town centre offices above shops.
Richard adds: "The secondary office sector, those premises above town centre shops, remains a very hard part of the market where demand is weak and there is still little indication of the retail sector picking up. For all the reasons mentioned, in terms of access and parking, this sector is still struggling.''
However, this year has seen a sustained upturn and with the caveat that it depends on what happens to the currency crisis in the eurozone, Richard says he is cautiously optimistic that it will continue.
"Last December was the busiest I've had for four or five years and it has continued pretty much like that throughout this year so far," he says.
"We are getting genuine new enquiries from people looking to set up or to relocate, with many leading to lettings and sales in greater number than before.
"It is still hard work and you need to think on your feet a lot more, but the business is coming in and we are putting more property to the market month on month.''