The sale of major Auckland city office buildings at 205 and 280 Queen St - now both unconditional - is a positive sign of renewed offshore investment in New Zealand commercial property that is set to continue, say the agents behind the two transactions.
CBRE's senior directors Warren Hutt and Jonathan Ogg have brokered the sale to an offshore Asian investor of the 15-storey building 280 Queen St, for more than $51 million.
Hutt and Brent McGregor, CBRE's senior managing director, also negotiated the sale of 205 Queen St to Auckland City Holdings Limited, a company associated with Brisbane-based Bloomberg Incorporation Limited.
Situated at one of the CBD's busiest intersections, 205 Queen St comprises the twin towers of 17 levels and 22 levels with podium retail on an entire block, at one of Auckland's busiest pedestrian intersections.
The sale of 205 Queen St is being executed in two tranches of 50 per cent each.
The first tranche has been sold for $47.5 million, with settlement to occur at the end of January 2014. The remaining tranche is to be sold at the prevailing market value in either March or September of each succeeding year, with an absolute obligation to purchase by no later than March 31, 2017.
Hutt and Ogg have also recently completed the sale of the five-level office building at 210 Khyber Pass Road in Newmarket.
Hutt says the big transactions indicate two significant factors. "The first is that offshore investment is not only very active in the New Zealand market, but private offshore and institutional investors are looking for big, high-profile commercial properties and are willing to pay to secure them.
"Secondly, with big deals making a welcome re-appearance in the Auckland office market, it is safe to say we have certainly turned a corner since the global financial crisis and the property world is back on the front foot again when it comes to selling, buying and marketing major CBD assets."
Ogg says the sale of the diversified office and retail property at 280 Queen St is a boost to the Auckland market.
"We worked closely with the offshore vendor following a highly targeted marketing campaign," he says.
"It is great to be able to broker high-value, high-quality deals to offshore investors right in our own backyard," McGregor says. "CBRE worked closely with the buyer who had been looking for the right property in New Zealand for quite some time. We showed them a number of properties, with a focus on Auckland-based CBD properties and they decided on 205 Queen St."
"There is still significant unsatisfied demand for office opportunities for offshore and onshore investors in the Auckland central area," Hutt says.
"With offshore interest in New Zealand only getting stronger, we are working to connect with property owners who might want to free up some capital through a large property sale or even a sale and leaseback arrangement."
Hutt believes an "unsatisfied demand" from offshore investors for Auckland CBD and fringe office opportunities won't be subsiding any time soon.
"We are very keen to hear from property owners and syndicates who can see the value in engaging with a key broker with international connections and investment networks.
"Being a global company, CBRE has constant touch points throughout the Asia Pacific region, as well as strong networks through the US and Europe. Our Asia Road Show in May 2013 was hugely successful in getting out into the Asia Pacific region and highlighting the investment opportunities in New Zealand.
"We have another Asia Road Show planned for the first quarter of this year, introducing new capital to the New Zealand market and bringing back the re-emergence of big international buyers. The combination of having an optimistic economy and a huge lucrative investment backdrop is creating a very positive investment environment that is steadily attracting more investment interest in New Zealand."
McGregor says Asian-based buyers view New Zealand right now as a good opportunity with good timing.
"They see our commercial property as a sound long-term proposition," he says. "Buyers, such as those from Asia, like New Zealand due to the attractive yields compared to their home countries.
"Even at 7 per cent to 9 per cent, New Zealand's commercial property yields are among the most attractive in the developed world. Asian-based investors generally perceive good value for money in New Zealand where they are able to acquire quality high rise buildings to build their portfolios with a minimal downside that may be out of reach for them in their local markets.
"It's all about yield: if that wasn't here they would continue to invest in Asia. They also like New Zealand as a stable economy, investment destination and as a country in general."
Hutt says that new capital coming into the market "appears to us to be something of a bow wave" - the start of new private and institutional investors looking to acquire in New Zealand.
"The only difficulty is a shortage of stock here. If there was more stock on the market, we would see more overseas investors coming in.
"Our contacts in Asia are telling us that we will see more Asian groups coming down here and actively looking with a purpose. One group in particular has a mandate to buy, with up to $300 million to spend.
"We're now working very closely with them, as we are with several other big offshore institutional groups with mandates to buy, some of which are new to New Zealand."