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UK healthcare property market sees record €3.14bn investment in 2020

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The UK healthcare property market saw record investment volumes in 2020 totalling €3.14bn (£2.7bn) despite the COVID-19 pandemic, 55% higher than last year, as investors increasingly seek stable returns and long-term secure income, according to global property adviser Knight Frank. This comes as healthcare property has seen surging interest from investors both in the traditional sectors such as care homes and private hospitals, in addition to rising demand for more specialist assets and providers such as mental health, learning disability and children’s services including children’s homes, foster care and schools.

 

An increasingly broad church of investors is targeting UK healthcare including a rising weight of institutional capital, a strengthening selection of REITs, and a growing level of overseas investors. Overseas capital has significantly increased, accounting for 72% of healthcare transaction volumes in 2020, markedly above the 41% share seen across the last five years.

 

The most significant deals were focused on the private hospital market, with North American REITs expanding their presence in the UK. European entrants have also been involved in some hugely significant deals already in 2021, with French operator Korian making its entry into the UK elderly sector and Belgian REIT, Cofinimmo, also acquiring assets in the Irish market. Both transactions are pivotal in restoring confidence and signal overseas capital is likely to play a critical role in the sector in 2021 and beyond.

 

Despite healthy investment flows, the pandemic has posed an unprecedented operational challenge for the sector, with hospitals, care homes, GP practices and other specialist healthcare facilities adopting stringent infection control measures, often at a cost, and private sector workforces being stretched in many of the same ways as the NHS. The greatest concerns were understandably focused on the elderly care home which impacted investment volumes with the elderly care sector representing 18% of all healthcare property investment, compared to 39% across the last five years.

 

Julian Evans, Head of Healthcare at Knight Frank, said: “Investment appetite for healthcare real estate remains strong, both in more traditional assets such as care home developments as well as more specialist assets including the increasingly popular mental health services sector. This demand is only strengthened by the limited supply within the healthcare market combined with the awareness of the ever-growing demographic fundamentals for these assets which are driving the sector and make it largely recession-proof amidst testing economic conditions in 2021. The year ahead will not be without its operational challenges as the sector looks past the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite this, we expect to see increased global and domestic capital directed at healthcare real estate as investors seek the safety provided by long-dated income the sector provides and look to de-risk and re-weight asset allocations out of retail and into alternative sectors; and the pandemic will likely accelerate investment into social infrastructure. We expect to see more investors target new development opportunities through both direct investment and lending. This inward investment is vital for the future of the sector.”

 

The strong fundamentals driving the need for healthcare real estate meant that the healthcare property sector outperformed the rest of the commercial real estate sector, with returns in the sector holding strong at 6.3% in 2020, whilst the wider sector saw returns below the long-term average. With a growing pool of investors and a diverse range of different asset types, healthcare transaction volumes have increased year-on-year since 2016, in contrast, to deal volumes in the wider commercial real estate market, which have stagnated and fallen in recent years.

 

High-profile healthcare property deals that are on the market and in the pipeline include mental health services provider Elysium Healthcare (c. €1bn /£900m), children’s care and education services provider Keys Group (€290.3m/£250m) in addition to another €3.5bn (£3bn) of specialist (mental health, learning disability) providers and €1.16bn (£1bn) of broader healthcare property transactions. England’s largest mental healthcare provider The Priory Group was sold to private equity group, Waterland, for €1.28bn (£1.1bn) at the start of 2021.

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Teenager arrested after car driven through Co Down parade, injuring two

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A teenager has been arrested after two men suffered minor injuries when a car was driven through a band parade in Co Down.

A 16-year-old has been arrested over a number of alleged driving offences and suspected common assault.

Police said a black Seat Leon failed to stop for officers and drove into the parade in the Newry Street area of Rathfriland.

The incident was reported to police at around 8.40pm on Friday.

Video of the incident shows the car driving towards the group before it mounts the footpath.

People can be heard shouting at the car to stop but it left the area at speed.

Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon district chief inspector Barney O’Connor said: “Last night, a black Seat Leon failed to stop, a number of times, for police who were on duty in connection with a band parade in Rathfriland.

“This vehicle then drove into the parade as it made its way up Newry Street.

“One man aged in his 40s and one man aged in his 30s received minor injuries following the incident.

“The male has been arrested on suspicion of six counts of dangerous driving, six counts for failing to stop for police, aggravated taking and driving away, disqualified driving, no insurance and three counts of failing to stop and report and remain at an injury road traffic collision.

“He was also arrested on suspicion of two counts of common assault and other related offences. He remains in police custody at this time.

‘Utterly reckless’

“At this stage, we are not investigating a sectarian hate crime motive in relation to this incident.

“Our officers are continuing to robustly investigate the circumstances of this incident.

“Officers have already spoken to a number of those present and I know this has been alarming for all those involved.

“I would like to thank those in the community and those involved from the band, who have already come forward, for their cooperation and assistance.”

Alliance councillor for the area Eoin Tennyson said: “Shocking reports from Rathfriland that a car drove through two marching bands last night.

“Utterly reckless and disgraceful behaviour. Thankfully no-one was seriously injured or killed.”

TUV leader Jim Allister said: “There is palpable anger across the unionist community following last night’s outrageous incident in Rathfriland in which a car was driven into two bands.

“This is entirely understandable as we could very well be waking up to news of many people injured or worse.

“The shocking behaviour captured on film needs to result in a robust PSNI investigation and arrests.” – PA

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Floating assets: Static homes on water are the new des res

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Living on a narrowboat or barge might be a dream for many, but the practicalities can be daunting; filling up water tanks with a hose, having to take the boat off to pump out and running out of electricity.

But it’s now possible to buy a modern static houseboat, which is just like living in a flat on water with the advantage of a beautiful location and being cheaper than a home on dry land.

Caroline Clark, 55, bought a luxurious 45 ft by 16 ft floating home from Prestige for £230,000 and is waiting to move in next month. 

Tranquil: Caroline Clark and her dog Aggie on their Prestige floating home at Priory Marina on the Great River Ouse, just outside Bedford

Tranquil: Caroline Clark and her dog Aggie on their Prestige floating home at Priory Marina on the Great River Ouse, just outside Bedford

After she sold her bungalow in a village just outside Bedford, she put the deposit down and worked out with Prestige exactly what she wanted for her home: a study rather than a second bedroom, and a separate bathroom and walk-in wardrobe instead of an en suite.

Since April, she’s been living in the showhome at Priory Marina on the Great River Ouse, just outside Bedford, where there will eventually be 12 houseboats.

Caroline had frequently walked round the back of the marina and seen all the boats moored there and thought they seemed appealing. 

So, when idly looking for properties for sale, she saw the floating homes advertised on Rightmove and couldn’t believe it.

‘I sent the link to my parents saying I’m tempted by this, then went to see it and immediately fell in love with the whole place.

I remembered going to Amsterdam in the past and seeing the houseboats on the canal and thinking what a fantastic way of life, but never imagining that I could live like this in Bedford,’ she says.

She hadn’t thought about living on a boat before as she didn’t want all the hassle involved and the potential cold in winter.

‘But these houseboats give you all the benefit of a boat, in fact with much better views out of the French doors, as well as the luxury of central heating, sewerage and running water from the mains.

‘As I live on my own, apart from with Aggie my rescue dog, those things are important.’

Caroline says she can walk into the centre of town in 20 minutes, swim in the river and she’s bought a big Canadian kayak.

‘You start doing different activities when you live on the water. It’s very sociable here, too. So far, there are four other boats on my pontoon and the owners are all in their 50s/60s.’

But it’s not that cheap to live on.

‘You can’t get a mortgage and insurance is quite expensive as if anything goes wrong, you have to pay for salvage. 

‘I pay about £900 a year and £3,000 in annual mooring fees, which includes water and sewage,’ she says. ‘But it would take a lot to tempt me away from here. 

‘There is a lovely tranquillity about this place and you feel connected to nature. It’s like a little haven in Bedford, tucked away, and it feels magical to be part of it.’

Nine similar floating homes are also available at Sawley Marina in Nottinghamshire, priced from £179,000, prestigehomeseeker.com.

Richard Homewood, of River Pod Houseboats, has been making bespoke floating homes for more than four years. 

Based in Kent, he delivers them on a low loader lorry all over the UK and these environmentally friendly houseboats have been bought by people as young as 22 and as old as 80, who all want a slightly different way of life on the water.

‘All our boats are on mains water and plug into mains electric. Sewage can either be pumped out every six months, plumbed into mains drainage or if someone chooses to have a Klargester system installed, the dirty water is treated and sanitised before going back into a river or into a holding tank. Then it only needs to be pumped out every one to two years,’ says Richard.

A couple of these homes have been bought for use as an Airbnb.

Tara and Quentin Branson, who are commercial builders, live near Allington Lock on the River Medway, Kent.

They bought The Lady Florence, which is moored alongside their land for £100,000 and have been surprised how much interest they have had in it.

‘We’ve used it a bit, it’s so beautiful on the river and a step away from our hectic life, but it’s fully booked through August.’

And they are so pleased with their investment, they are thinking of buying another. One, two and three-bedroom River Pods start from £68,000, theriverpodcompany.co.uk.

One problem to be aware of when buying a houseboat is finding a suitable mooring, which can be difficult. So, if you can find a houseboat that already has a ‘home’, then that should really float your boat.

On the market… and on the water

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‘They are everywhere in this area’

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We should see plenty of action in an hour, Dr John Dunbar says assuredly via email, excited at the prospect. As a venom expert, many nights are spent combing the walls and railings of Dublin housing estates for Ireland’s highly-poisonous false widow spider.

Alone in the dark, armed with extended tweezers and a headlamp, he carefully places each one inside long plastic tubes as the residents sleep inside, blissfully unaware.

On a chilly evening thousands of such spiders are scattered just out of sight along Beech Park, a long quiet suburban road in Lucan lined with detached homes and webbed hedges. The noble false widow – or steatoda nobilis – first recorded in Ireland in 1999 is far more common than most people realise and its numbers are increasing alarmingly.

Within two minutes Dr Dunbar is poking at a web string. He has spotted two long, thin protruding legs, inconspicuous to the passerby. It is the first trophy of 94 that night.

Although he has handled thousands, Dr Dunbar has never been bitten. Twenty bites have been recorded in Ireland, he declares, and the bite is one to be avoided.

Hospitalised

“In some cases [bite symptoms] are so mild they just observed it for a couple of hours and it was pretty much gone,” Dr Dunbar explains. “Then we’ve had other cases where people have been hospitalised.”

In some cases victims have experienced severe bacterial infections, debilitating pain and body tremors.

Steatoda nobilis is compared to the notorious black widow for a number of reasons including notable similarities in appearance, genetics and toxins. It is known as the “false widow” because in regions where they co-exist it can be difficult to tell them apart.

Smaller than the native house spider, chocolate brown with a large bulbous abdomen and an intricate cream pattern sometimes resembling a skull, the false widow is easy to identify.

Five or six years ago researchers would have had to look hard for one. Today, a single hunter can expect to bag between 100 and 150 in a few hours in any suburban estate.

Thought to have originated in the Atlantic archipelagos of Madeira and the Canaries, it arrived in the United Kingdom and Europe on banana boats. Throughout the 20th century it established thriving populations throughout England and Wales, and later colonised parts of western Europe, California, Chile and the Middle East.

Although found in Co Wicklow a little more than two decades ago, little was known about its presence here until more recently. A 2017 Royal Irish Academy study confirmed the species in at least 16 counties, but most significantly in the greater Dublin area where it is abundant in urban buildings and around street furniture.

As Dr Dunbar walks slowly from suburban home to home, he identifies and scoops up the spiders from virtually every single driveway pillar he examines. His head torch illuminates the undersides of wall ledges, shrubs, gates, guttering, the back of ESB boxes. They are everywhere. After just a short while it seems other native species are relatively difficult to come by.

“[Their urban habitats] bring them in conflict with humans,” Dr Dunbar explains. “Usually the spider accidentally gets entangled in clothing or bed sheets and when they’re unintentionally pinned or squashed the spider actually bites, purely in defence. They’re actually quite a docile species.

Potent venom

“But they do have a venom that’s a little bit more potent than what we’re used to. It’s very similar to the venom of black widows, not quite as potent, but still kind of getting there.”

The risk posed are similar to ones posed by bees and wasps. Each spider can give about half of one microlitre of venom, about one thousandth of a millilitre. On his regular hunts Dr Dunbar tells the gardaí he will be prowling. The glow from his headlamp and his intricate inspection of neighbourhood walls are common, as are encounters with neighbours.

Just as he is plucking a sample with his extended tweezers, a resident approaches with a fair idea of what is going on but curious all the same. “They are obviously everywhere in this area,” Colm Gallagher says resignedly. “I know what the implications are; they have venom and whatever else. But they’re not terribly dangerous.”

They do go inside houses, but not usually. Whether for the curious resident, the arachnophobe or the scientist, there is still a lot to learn about these creatures and a race to learn it.

“They are here to stay, there is no way we’re going to get rid of them,” he says. “But we really need to monitor them while we can over the next years and see what happens. Now science must tell us what we are dealing with,” he said.

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