At the time, I thought I was being pretty brave to leave the comfort zone of Savills and cross town to join FHP. Job security at Savills was high and yet I had little doubt that the world as we knew it was on the slide.
My fears were justified, with the economy hitting a wall. But the lure of working for one of the biggest names in Nottingham was too big to resist. Four years on, I know I made the right move – I’m still standing and, just like FHP, I’m all the stronger for it.
Here’s my own account of how the world we operate in changed:
I got married, went on honeymoon, came back and started at FHP. All in the same month. I don’t do things by halves…
I took on FHP’s city centre office stock and, although the quality was there, so was the quantity. Even at this level of the market times were tough and we were clearly beginning to hit the brakes. Blind confidence kept the market moving, but supply was still outstripping demand.
Deals were hard work, with rents dropping and landlords trying to keep ahead of the fall.
Quality locations like The Atrium saw rents drop to £10 a square foot.
But there were 22,000 of those square feet available there in 2008, and The Atrium wasn’t alone.
Where we once had queues of people and rents at £16 per square foot, we now had few takers able to choose the pick of the deals. Many landlords were still hesitating as they had been able to achieve so much more only a short time previously.
Lehman Brothers. Need I say more? My worst fears were starting to be realised.
I was still the new boy at FHP and times were hard. There weren’t enough deals and even those which you had down as “surefire” would drag on for months or fall through as confidence drained away.
The big problem – one still around today to some extent – was matching the expectations of landlords to those of the now all-powerful tenant/purchaser. Longing for the “good old days” was no use – you had to get the deal done and beat other landlords to the finish line.
With empty rate liabilities and service charges burning a hole in the landlord’s pocket, incentives rose as lease lengths fell. There was a sense of paralysis and at times people didn’t even want to downsize for fear of getting it wrong
Unemployment hits its highest level since 1995. And The Sun jumps ship to the Tories. Times were still tough and it sometimes looked as if it was getting worse.
However, there was a chink of light at the end of the tunnel as FHP saw a number of new instructions begin to emerge – notably Wheatcroft Business Park, The Point and No 1 Nottingham Science Park. In better times they would have been full by now.
Our whole team jumped on these opportunities, but I was charged with handling them. It gave us something to get our teeth into but also reminded us that if we didn’t look after our clients, someone else would.
Generally, larger lettings just weren’t happening. But we took some solace from 15,000 sq ft of deals at The Atrium and a similar level of lettings at 30-34 Hounds Gate.
Elections, ash clouds and an oil spill. Okay, they didn’t happen in September but they all had an effect which lingered for months. Nick Clegg said “Hold your nerve and we’ll change Britain.”
I’ve used it out of context, but it summed up the feeling in the market. A fragile confidence was returning and it looked like recovery was on the way. Deals were on the up but everyone was hanging on the next bit of news – the election result, the Budget, the Spending Review.
But finally we were seeing some movement and as we headed towards 2011 you could feel things improving. Deals were being done. Quality of presentation and marketing was important but the key driver was still the deal. Landlords were accepting their relationship with tenants had changed and they needed to be looked after at all costs.
Good news? At Southreef, Crytek took 16,500 sq ft. Over 17,000 was let to Ikano at Waterfront Plaza. And at No 1 Nottingham Science Park 15,000 sq ft was let to Chinook, and 10,000 to Changan.
The Japanese earthquake, the Royal Wedding, threatened defaults on sovereign debt, Greek bailouts (that’s enough bad news, thanks).
It’s still an uncertain picture, but that doesn’t change the fact that this has been a better year. FHP has filled Wheatcroft Business Park and Waterfront House. We’ll soon be following suit at The Atrium, where we have only 3,000 sq ft available. In our time as agents at No 1 Nottingham Science Park we have seen more than 30,000 sq ft of deals concluded.
Rents have been creeping back up. Our first deal at Wheatcroft was £10.50 psf, but we are now back to £12.50. We’ve also seen excellent activity levels in smaller offices.
How has my team changed? It’s bigger than when I started and we now have real confidence and energy. We’re picking up high quality instructions, such as Bradmore Business Park, and following FHP’s acquisition of Pearl House on behalf of clients, and new instructions such as Apex Business Park in Nottingham and in Osiers Business Park and Equinox in Leicester, we are bringing new stock to the market.
In a strange way, I’ve really enjoyed the last four years. It’s been a rollercoaster.
Which brings us on to 2012, the year of the Olympics. At times over the past four years it’s felt like a permanent 100m sprint.
The speed may have relented a little, but the pace and the pressure are still intense.
The world seems to be going through yet another hiccup at the moment but we have to keep our eye on the long-term in Nottingham. As stock levels diminish we will see steady, incremental growth in office rents. There are new build schemes like Unity Square, Trivett Square, the Sentinel and the Portal all lining up to capitalise on this.
Ironically, when the Olympics are over the race could be on in Nottingham. Money is being lined up to invest here in retail, in transport, in an enterprise zone.
I don’t think it will be long before the next phase of new build schemes gets under way.