Housing funds like to buy new buildings from ...

Pan-European residential fund providers are adjusting their strategies: Germany continues to become a sideshow, new construction is sought that meets the increasing demands for sustainability.

Catella Residential Investment Management (Crim) recently launched the Catella Elithis Energy Positive fund. It is a Luxembourg Sicav-SIF for institutional investors in accordance with Article 9 of the EU Disclosure Regulation. Michael Fink, Managing Director at Crim, does not specify an exact target volume. It could be around 500 million to 600 million euros, he says, of which about 30% is debt capital. The distribution yield should be more than 3% annually, the IRR 5% to 6%. Backers need to bring in at least €50m. "That is comparatively a lot. But the fund lends itself as a club deal. We prefer to work in partnership with a few investors who understand the concept and stand behind us when it comes to improving the buildings or introducing innovations in asset and property management," explains Fink.

The plan is to invest exclusively in high-rise residential buildings based on the Elithis Group concept. Catella and the French developer want to build residential towers in European cities that arithmetically produce more energy than tenants consume. To achieve this, the energy demand is pushed down by the orientation of the buildings, their construction and the fittings. This includes keeping the façade facing north narrow and offering little surface for the wind to attack, insulating well, installing large windows to let the warmth of sunlight into the flats in winter, and using wastewater heat. Tenants can control their flat technology via an app and view information about their energy consumption and the impact on ancillary costs. Energy is generated via photovoltaic modules on the façade and on the roof. Because the modules are part of the façade, 30% less material is also used, says Fink.

Concrete figures on operation are available for the Danube Tower in Strasbourg, which was completed in 2018. Over three years, the building has consumed an average of 92 kWh/m2 of primary energy annually, and 99 kWh/m2 was produced via the PV modules.

Catella hopes to strike a chord with investors with the fund product. "In operation, the residential towers already meet the European Union's goal of being climate-neutral by 2050," says Fink. In addition, the life cycle of the buildings can be extended. With manageable effort, it is possible to convert them into office buildings. According to Fink, the fund also pays off on the S in ESG, social. The cold rents are comparable to those of other new buildings, the costs for heat and electricity are very low. "In the end, tenants save 5% to 10% on housing costs compared to a comparable residential building in the neighbourhood."

So far, the buildings have only been and will only be constructed in France, but Catella is also looking for construction partners in other European countries. The fund is to buy about 25 to 30 properties within three years. The first three residential properties in Bordeaux, Clermont-Ferrand and Nancy have been contractually secured. With the new construction portfolio, Catella hopes to secure the investments. What's more: while the target yield of 5% to 6% p.a. has so far not taken any change in value into account, Catella ultimately expects a premium. Fink is talking about 6% to 8% p.a. total return. "This is an energy positive portfolio with a social aspect. The valuation for it will certainly be adjusted in the medium term."

Patrizia is also targeting institutional investors with a new pan-European product. The Sustainable Communities fund is to come to about 1 billion euros and invest in 25 metropolitan areas in Europe. It is looking for housing, including social housing, and also social infrastructure such as kindergartens, libraries, community centres and health facilities. The fund is geared towards impact investing, but is not an Article 9 product. With a targeted IRR return of 10% per annum, it is doubtful that quite a lot will be bought in Germany. Already in the past years it was said that residential property prices in this country are high. With a view to Sustainable Communities, the company cautiously declares that it will "possibly also invest in Germany". For the time being, however, money is flowing into Ireland, into a suburb of Dublin and here into a project with 290 social housing units, a day-care centre and a library.

The Aberdeen Standard Pan European Residential Property Fund (Asper) is also acting very cautiously in Germany. The open-ended fund for institutional investors has invested 1.7 billion euros so far, but only reported its first purchase in Germany in February. This is a coliving project in Berlin. Together with another acquisition in Cologne, investments in this country will then amount to almost 85 million euros. That is only 5% of the total investment volume, although according to the fund prospectus up to 50% is earmarked for flats in Germany. "Germany is relatively expensive," explains Marc Pamin, board member of Aberdeen Standard Investments Germany.

"On the other hand, we have bought more than we thought in France, Spain and Sweden." France currently accounts for 22% of the investment volume. Here, the fund likes to invest in senior residences - because, according to Pamin, there are very good operator concepts and the yield is about 50 to 75 basis points higher than for classic apartment buildings in France. In Germany, on the other hand, it is more like 50 basis points.

So far, the returns have been on target, says Pamin. For the past year, he reports a total return of 9.1%, which mainly comes from a 7% increase in value (distribution: 2%).

The Asper complies with Article 8 of the EU Disclosure Regulation and is marketed as an evergreen fund. According to Pamin, all 48 properties are KfW Efficiency Houses 55 or built to a corresponding standard. Adjustments are already being made where possible: In Finland, for example, where the majority of buildings can be converted to geothermal. "Nevertheless, improvements will have to be made over the years," says the fund manager. "Many things, such as the supply of renewable energies, are currently out of our hands, and there will certainly still be innovations in terms of materials and technology.

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