Germans bring a breath of life: A new source of support for UK property has appeared, reports Heather Connon

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The Independent Online
THE GERMANS are invading Britain, but this time they are being welcomed with open arms.

So far this year German investors have acquired more than pounds 500m of commercial property in the City, more than half of the deals done, helping to breathe some life into a market that has seen little movement for more than three years.

In the past month alone, German funds have paid pounds 75m for the Bank of Tokyo's London headquarters in Finsbury Circus, pounds 78m for Coopers & Lybrand's Plumtree Court building and pounds 30m for Sceptre Court, headquarters of the solicitors Cameron Markby Hewitt.

Their total investment remains small compared with the Japanese and the Swedish, who piled into property at the top of the market. But John Rigg of the surveyors Debenham Tewson Chinnocks, which advised on pounds 350m of German deals this year, believes their interest has helped improve yields by up to 1 percentage point. That means they must pay more: while some of the early deals were at yields of close to 10 per cent, Finsbury Circus was sold at 8.6 per cent and Sceptre Court at 9 per cent.

The invasion started last summer, when restrictions on foreign investment were removed. First into the fray was DEGI, an open-ended German fund, with the purchase of a building from Norwich Union to which it has since added three for a total investment of pounds 147m.

Other active investors include DIFA, whose pounds 94.5m investment includes Finsbury Circus, and BfG - the fund management arm of BfG bank - which has spent more than pounds 150m.

The attractions are twofold. Unlike tenants in Germany, British ones sign 25-year leases which, with a blue-chip tenant, give property the qualities of a long-dated gilt. Secondly, with most investors taking a jaundiced view of property, prices were low, making Britain more attractive than France - where the Paris market is going into a London-style slump - Spain, where prices are still falling, or the US.

However, there are signs that Germany's own economic problems could slow the flow of investment. DG Anlager, which unitises properties to sell to private investors, pulled out of a deal to buy a building in Cornhill because of the difficulties of selling it on - although more substantial private investors have been active in buying properties for their own funds.