Top property investors shy away from rural deals
Top private equity players have warned the recovery in Irish real estate prices remains restricted to Dublin, with few signs of improvement outside the capital.
Overseas private equity investors have focused overwhelmingly on Dublin since the crash, as they looked to take advantage of tumbling prices here.
Many have reaped fortunes as commercial property prices and rents rebound.
It has been hoped that the improvement in Dublin would spread to the rest of the country but Aref Lahham, who heads Orion Capital Partners, warned the "jury is still out" on the provincial Irish market.
"In Dublin it's still okay but for the rest the jury is still out," he told a Private Equity Investor conference in London yesterday.
Zsolt Kohalmi, head of European acquisitions for the giant US investment firm Starwood, said there were still big risks to investing beyond Dublin, especially because the market is so illiquid. Any deals outside Dublin is much more of a "bet" than an "investment", he said.
"In Ireland it's quite remarkable that two years ago when we made the first bet on a joint venture with Nama we never thought the fundamentals [of the market and wider economy] would improve as they have."
Starwood Property Trust completed a deal to buy €450m worth of Dublin offices in April. That deal came about because of the lower cost of funding, said Mr Kohalmi.
"It's not for everyone but in January 2014 Dublin prime office rents stood at €35 per square foot and now it is well over €50. We didn't see it [improving to such a degree].
"The last two years, as Ireland has become more fashionable, a lot of people have wanted to get in, but now investors are going outside Dublin and they are making a liquidity bet.
"You are forecasting if there will be demand for those smaller locations," Mr Kohalmi said.
In Dublin Mr Kohalmi said the availability of financing for development was making properties that may have been avoided even two years ago attractive. "Two years ago you could buy good assets [in Dublin] but today unless you're doing a full on development, that's a pipe dream.
"As a result, there has been a shift in asset quality but we have seen the appearance of financing which has made a huge difference."
Tim Mooney of Varde Partners, a €10bn US fund that paid Nama €170m for a portfolio of regional shopping centres last year, said there are still opportunities in Ireland.
Varde had bet on Nama subordinated bonds as well as property directly, he said.