Guests at the latest Reading Social heard of positive signs in both the housing and office markets in the town centre.
Mike Shearn, chief operating office for Haslams Estate Agents, told around 50 guests at the event on February 9 at the Dog House in Friar Street, the market is in better shape than during the financial crash.
He said: “There’s still a market, which is good, unlike in 2008 when we fell off a cliff – there was no market. Then, even if developers crashed the price, no-one would buy.
“It’s nothing like that now, there’s still a market and lots of transactions, certainly at the lower end of the market and certainly secondhand.”
Vendors at that end, he said, have been more realistic with prices but that realism has yet to reach prime markets. A dip in prices, seen in the last quarter, will likely continue, he said.
Inactivity characterised that quarter but things are picking up although international investors remain cautious.
However, one market has been on the up for many months.
Mr Shearn said: “The lettings market is still absolutely flying. PRS is flying in Reading, it’s about £27 per sq ft. At the beginning of last year it was about £25 so it’s gone up. It was going up around 15-16 per cent per annum but now it’s probably settled at about six to seven per cent, year on year.”
Haslams has been selling 200-300 new flats a year in recent times but those numbers have seen the most dramatic drops.
“Last year, in the whole market there were two new build apartments sold. This year there will be none and next year there probably won’t be any either.”
Mr Shearn said the many visible cranes in the town centre are either commercial schemes or BTR.
Government measures in tax and regulation have penalised the PRS landlords and, while they were intended to improve things for tenants’, Mr Shearn said they have made the whole situation worse.
The Elizabeth Line has not attracted a host of London-dwellers seeking to move here and commute back, although there was a notable example of one, a man who rented a flat in Reading for £1,700 a month while equivalent in the capital would have been around £3,000.
Toby Bidwell, founder and director of TCN, which owns the Dog House, said his target market of mostly SMEs is providing strong demand for space.
The firm has centres in locations including Bath, Bristol, Birmingham, Bridgewater and Brixton and is seeing 90 per cent plus occupancy.
He said: “SMEs wanting one to 30 desks are taking this economic turmoil, not in their stride but they are saying ‘these are the facts, we are where we are. Electricity costs have doubled or whatever but is that going to prevent me getting on and setting up my business?’. Most of them say ‘no, it’s not, let’s get on with it’.
REDA chief executive Nigel Horton-Baker told guests his organisation is working on attracting people back to town centre offices with wellbeing and leisure activities for lunchtimes.
Inward investment is a big focus for REDA and Mr Horton-Baker said Reading has gained widespread publicity from the opening of the Elizabeth Line which he said is attracting more people who want to live in the town.
He said: “As a marketeer I couldn’t have bought the amount of marketing publicity generated by London about being connected to Reading. It’s just off the scale and we are seeing the benefits of that now.”
REDA is gearing up for election time for the town’s Business Improvement District’s (BID) next five-year term, the first election since Covid. If businesses support the BID it would see investment in additional services in the town centre economy of over £1 million per year from 2024-2029, aimed at making it safer, more welcoming and more vibrant.
And, among news of events for the year ahead a festival of around 40 walks is planned, along with a climate festival involving a visit from a touring exhibition. Big names are promised although details are still under wraps.
Mr Horton-Baker said afterwards: “It is great to see the bounce back in the housing market and that the Dog House is doing so well, meeting the need of entrepreneurs in the town and proving that Reading is a great place to do live work and do business.”
For the latest in what is happening at REDA, go to the February newsletter at https://mailchi.mp/reading.gov.uk/reading-city-vision-news-december-5384484?e=ce058513a6
Look out in Thames Tap for news on a round table event held at the Dog House just before the Reading Social.
Image (l-r): Nigel Horton-Baker, Matthew Battle, managing director of UK Property Forums, Mike Shearn and Toby Bidwell.
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