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2 OCT 2019

New research on achieved returns from property development

Tony Mulhall RICS

Tony Mulhall MRICS

Associate Director Land Professional Group

London, UK

RICS

Evidence of achieved returns from development is difficult to find in a sector of the property market which for a variety of reasons - not least confidentiality and commercial sensitivity - remains opaque. Increasing demand for comparability in the private sector and transparency in the public sector is placing greater emphasis on better quality and reliable data on development. RICS Research has just published ground breaking research entitled 'Performance metrics, required returns and achieved returns for UK real estate development'.

The research, conducted by Neil Crosby, Steve Devaney and Peter Wyatt from the University of Reading, seeks to fill a significant knowledge gap in the development sector. The investigation is based on examining published viability appraisals, analysing published accounts for real estate developers and undertaking a survey of developers combined with a small number of confidential interviews with market participants.

It reveals the wide range of approaches adopted in the sector, extending from basic methods of calculation undertaken by smaller developers, to a more sophisticated range of approaches adopted by larger companies.

The researchers found that development appraisal methods vary in the way that they incorporate or measure developer returns. This variation among market participants and across methods in the handling of developer returns raises questions when it comes to development appraisal.

City street at night
New research has shed some more light on developer returns in the real estate market

The conventional residual method of valuation, together with profit margins on either cost or value predominate in project appraisal practice for small and medium sized developers, as opposed to more contemporary cash-flow based techniques. Larger developers tend to use cash-flow techniques and rate of return-based performance measures, in combination with cash-margin measures.

There was also a divide between those developers that focused solely on residential development, who favoured residual methods of appraisal and cash margin-based metrics, and those who undertook either commercial development or both commercial and residential schemes. The latter were more likely to undertake cash-flow modelling of feasibility alongside any residual valuation-based assessment of profit or land bid.

Based on a survey of the sector, a figure of 20% profit on costs was mentioned regularly for sites without significant risks, and 25% for those sites with higher levels of perceived risk. Real estate development returns are frequently referred to as a standardised metric. In reality they are based on the multifaceted risk profile of the project.

This research should make a significant contribution to informing all those stakeholders engaged with the sector either as surveyors, landowners, developers, planners, funders, public decision-makers and members of the community. It should also be the start of a regular survey of development returns as the market progresses through its typically cyclical pattern.

Tony Mulhall RICS

Tony Mulhall MRICS

Associate Director Land Professional Group

London, UK

RICS

Tony Mulhall is responsibile for the Planning and Development Professional Group, which has 22,000 members worldwide. As a chartered surveyor and town planner he worked across planning and property disciplines in both the public and private sectors. He graduated in Surveying and Planning in Dublin and also holds Masters degrees from the University of York and from Cass Business School, City University, London.

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