In 2010, Sean O’Neill left his job as a director of DTZ Sherry FitzGerald to go out on his own. “It was a risk, but it was an opportunity,” he said.
Irish commercial property deals had ground to a halt as investors fretted about the Irish economy and whether it would even remain in the euro. Established firms were battling to deal with plenty of past mistakes.
“I could see a gap in the market for a small and nimble firm to advise the first international investors coming into the market,” O’Neill said. He advised two of the earliest investors in Ireland post the bust on what to do. O’Neill helped Israeli businessman Igal Ahouvi to buy a Tesco store in Roscrea for €13 million and the Livingstone brothers’ London & Regional to buy a building from Eircom for €20 million.
“Both investors had dipped around Ireland before but never did anything. It was too expensive for them during the boom,” O’Neill said. “Now values were really low. There was risk, but these were blue-chip tenants.”
O’Neill kept doing deals as Ireland’s commercial property market slowly recovered. Last year, a team came together when he was joined in the business by three former DTZ colleagues, Rosemary Casey, Maurice O’Neill and Michele Jackson. Between them, they have 90 years of experience in property.
Trading as TWM Select, the company has advised on transactions worth €800 million to date. “This is a company where you get senior experience,” O’Neill said.
“It is a people business,” Jackson added. “The brand isn’t well known, but the clients have come to us because we have the experience. We don’t have any baggage.”
One of the last deals Jackson did before leaving DTZ was to advise on Project Arc, a portfolio of 12 properties sold by Danske Bank. “There were 160 potential bidders, but only four or five firms could advise buyers, so I could see there was room for a boutique firm in the market,” she said.
O’Neill said he expected large funds who have invested heavily in Ireland to begin to deleverage more, creating more advisory opportunities. Jackson said she believed investors were now looking at non-prime office properties as well as land, industrial and secondary cities as the market normalises in Ireland.
“Financing is starting again too. Look at the Cardinals [the WLR Cardinal Mezzanine Fund] and Development Securities [a British plc]. But banks are still nervous,” O’Neill said.
Among the recent deals TWM worked on were acting for Standard Life in the sale of offices on Custom House Plaza for €24 million, and for SW3 in its acquisition of the Department of Justice building on St Stephen’s Green.
“We are acting for a fund that has a requirement for high yielding smaller investments,” Jackson said. This is the Irish-backed fund Yew Tree Commercial Real Estate, which has bought ten assets so far around the country for between €1 million and €4 million. “The idea is that we will put put a portfolio together where we are getting double digit yield, and maybe we will sell it as a portfolio when we get to €70 or €80 million,” Jackson said.
Ireland will always need developers, TWM believes, but new building in Ireland will be different from the boom, especially in Dublin. “The market is going to be driven by occupiers,” Jackson predicted. “The city is going to see a very different type of product. Occupiers want buildings that are attractive and sustainable. It is a much more sophisticated market.”
Maurice O’Neill said: “Funds, both domestic and international, are moving into development. The developer will become more of a manager for them. Investors will link up with developers who will be developer managers.
“It is now about the capital plus the occupier and the expertise. The capital is smart enough to know that ‘What does the occupier want?’ is the biggest question to answer.”
Article The Sunday Business Post, 29 March 2015
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