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Commercial property: predictions and insights for 2021

Niall Alcock, Director at Deloitte Real Estate, gives us some of his predictions and expected trends in the UK commercial property markets for the year ahead.


4 min read

2020 was, by all accounts, a unique year. I’m not sure that anyone’s predictions this time last year would have come close to what was to unfold. The full impact of the pandemic and national lockdown on how and where we live, work and socialise will not really be known until we are able to live our lives again without the restrictions we currently find ourselves under. 

Nevertheless, activity in the office, residential and leisure sectors has continued throughout 2020. In my view, the market fundamentals underpinning these sectors remain strong, meaning I think we can be optimistic about the year ahead.

Future of the Workplace

Workplaces saw a seismic shift this year, as dedicated office spaces were practically emptied overnight. The ONS suggested that as much as 50% of the UK’s adults were working from home in April, aided by modern sophisticated IT infrastructure. It’s safe to say that many businesses surprised themselves with efficiency of remote working, which has led to predictions that an abandonment of the office and a transition to remote working is to come.

Whilst it’s reasonable to suggest a continued shift in working culture, in my view, these predictions are greatly exaggerated. When restrictions were first lowered in mid-summer, research by AlphaWise showed that over a third of white-collar employees returned to the office as soon as they were able.

My own experience is that people miss the social environment and supportive networks the workplace provides, particularly in a time when employee wellbeing has never been higher on a company’s agenda. In addition, the majority of business leaders rely on physical workspace as a place to collaborate with partners and prospective clients. In this context, I anticipate a significant return to the office as soon as it is safe to do so.

Deloitte’s 800 Manchester-based staff will take over two floors at WeWork within the Grade II listed Hanover Building

Occupiers will be getting to grips with their workspace requirements throughout 2021, as restrictions are lifted and long-term working practices emerge. This will result in an increased focus on the quality and adaptability of workplaces. Companies competing to attract and retain the best talent will seek to offer a modern, inspiring and flexible working environment as part of their package. In many ways, this is an acceleration of trends that have been underway for years. It should be welcomed and embraced by landlords and occupiers.

I expect coworking spaces to enjoy a strong year as they accommodate a hybrid model of remote and in-office working. Deloitte’s announcement that it will relocate its Manchester office to the Hanover Building at NOMA is a clear example of a business that has recognised this and is embracing it to the fullest extent; as COVID-compliant hot desking allows diverse teams to work together effectively in a fantastic, characterful office environment.


We saw significant movement in the residential market when it came to home buying in 2020. According to Rightmove, national house sales rose 67% year-on-year in October 2020. This has been fuelled partially by the stamp duty holiday, which ends in March. This boom in house sales is already starting to subside and gains in house prices may reverse in 2021. 

The pandemic has led to speculation that we may see a decline in city centre living and the build-to-rent concepts that have emerged through the last cycle; however, the sector has shown remarkable resilience in 2020. Construction has continued across multiple high profile developments and we continue to receive enquiries for new build-to-rent developments.

Many people, especially those of the younger generations, are looking for an amenity-rich, creative residential product. In Manchester, for example, recently completed schemes such as Deansgate Square have been continually raising the bar. It includes the tallest building outside of London in the UK and provides residents with concierge, leisure facilities, dining areas and social spaces within the development – as well as a central location. It’s not the only one; 2021 will also see the completion of several more high quality build-to-rent schemes in Manchester, such as Crown Street, Circle Square and Greengate.

City-centre residential markets will continue to evolve and adapt, as they have done over the past 10 years. We will see greater diversity in the marketplace, as innovative residential developers, funders and operators seek out new niches such as co-living, inter-generational living and affordable concepts.

Return of Hospitality

Whilst the pandemic hit all industries, hospitality was particularly devastated. CGA and UKHospitality estimated a year-on-year fall of some £17bn in revenue, creating a wave of high-profile administrations and closure of independent businesses across the UK.

This is, though, very much down to enforced closure, rather than a loss in consumer appetite. We are already seeing this with the reopening of other leisure industries, with football stadiums across England easily selling out their government-sanctioned allocations.

Pending a lift of event restrictions, hospitality is primed for a revival in 2021, particularly in cities that enjoy a vibrant culture, events and sport scene. According to the 2020 Live Nation Global Impact of COVID-19 on Live Events Benchmark Study, 91% of music goers will return to attend live events when restrictions are lowered, followed closely by cinema (87%), theatre (78%) and sporting events (75%). 91% of live music ticket holders still plan on attending shows they currently hold tickets for and 79% expect a return to live music events within the next four months.

This will also coincide with a bounce-back in the hotel sector, but I expect the recovery will extend beyond 2021. 71% of respondents to Deloitte’s Hotel Sector Survey last September were positive about the long-term future of the UK hotel market and expect a rise in both investment activity and profitability over the next five years – although just over half believe it will take more than two years for performance to reach pre-pandemic levels.

2020 has been as challenging a year as I have known in my career, but I believe we can be optimistic about the year ahead. Fundamentals of the regional market are strong, there is a joint focus on building back better from the pandemic and this could be an exciting time for innovation as we adapt to the post-COVID world.

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