Managed space failing, says Avanta Asset Factor
Copyright: David Lawson - first published Property Week March 2007
Meeting David Alberto is like walking into a firework display. Ideas and insights flash, fizzle and bang – and seem to go on for hours. Three times we were moved around offices in one of his Avanta business centres to make way for paying tenants but nothing stopped the flow. Sparks were still flying as the door slammed on a taxi racing him away to another meeting. Nor is this the turbo-charged sales patter increasingly common since property transformed into the hottest investment in living memory. Some views are almost blasphemous.
Firstly, he points out that for all the fuss and blather, managed space remains an almost insignificant slice of the property market – a startling view from someone who was a heavyweight with Regus and MWB, and now heads a company on course to create its own 1m sq ft. Managed space has failed to keep up with modern demands over the last decade, says Alberto. Occupiers have moved on, looking for property to suite more flexible ways of working, but suppliers have not, providing a limited choice between conventional leasing and serviced space when they should be offering a range of alternatives.
Meanwhile, landlords now accept the idea of offloading surplus space for short-term letting, and management agreements are lauded as a huge step forward. But Alberto points out the rarity of such schemes and dismisses most as merely ‘enhanced letting agreements’ rather than removing liabilities from balance sheets. He also casts doubts on forecasts of a wall of money which will boost managed space into the mainstream. Investors will stay away unless operators provide hard evidence they produce better returns than conventional leasing. ‘There is still not enough transparency,’ he says.
Alberto has put his money where his mouth is to create what he sees as a way to unlock the true potential of managed space. A joint venture with facilities manager Asset Factor will create a kind of one-stop shop for landlords and tenants. The two firms have laid out their vision by taking over Dukesbridge, a 22,000 sq ft office block in Reading from the Prudential. Avanta will manage the space and Asset Factor look after the facilities. The Pru has been released from all liability for an ageing, hard-to-let asset but keeps rights to take short-term space if required – a pattern that could be repeated on some of its other problem buildings.
Asset Factor, a subsidiary of Helical Bar, is not just a bolt-on extra service but a critical partner. Chief executive Oliver Jones served a stint with Regus, so he knows about the sector, but is also a veteran advisor on corporate property strategy and has opened the door to major occupiers and landlords like the Pru. An even more adventurous project is in the pipeline, where a building will be redeveloped for an occupier and any surplus space taken back as a business centre. This move into development has come from another important tie-up.
By chance, Alberto was chatting over dinner with executives of fund manager and developer Kenmore and both sides quickly realised they shared common goals. He wanted a backer for plans to create a 1m sq ft portfolio and they were looking for a way into the sector. Kenmore backed a management buyout and unlocked a potential £100m warchest for Alberto’s ambitions. But the tie-up brought an added bonus with expertise to consider new development. This extends into residential, which further widens boundaries considering that mixed use is becoming almost mandatory nowadays.
Alberto is quick to point out that he is not setting a fixed template for future centres. Avanta has, and will, continue to create straightforward managed space and agreements where landlords pay fees or take a slice of the rents. ‘You can’t impose a single pattern. Factors like location and individual requirements must always come first,’ he says.
The key is to create a broad-spectrum approach. Managed space must not be seen as a distinct sector but part of a broad offering including new development and refurbishment to asset and facilities management, says Alberto. He believes this is what both occupiers and investors really want, but have been short-changed in the past by an industry made up of advisors and developers who stick to narrow specialisms.
Formed in 2004 by David Alberto, previously with Regus and managing director at MWB Business Exchange
280,000 sq ft of space in eight centres
1m sq ft planned within three years split equally between leases, freehold and management agreements
Co-invester, trader, developer and fund manager
£1 billion portfolio spread across UK, Europe and Middle East
Joint venture between Helical Bar and the management team of Oliver Jones, Matthew Punshon and Keith Perry
Established 2006 to advise corporates on property