Real Estate By Far The Dominant Asset Class – Full Report

Real Estate By Far The Dominant Asset Class – Full Report

Real Estate Is A Dominant Asset Class by Savills

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The new march of money

World real estate is a global stage on which a variety of economic and monetary acts are played out. Some actors have access to large amounts of equity, others to cheap debt. Many players in recent years have been operating under much looser monetary conditions than in previous decades so money has become cheaper and opportunities have been presented in those countries where asset prices were hit by domestic recession.

This means that cross-border activity in real estate has generally grown since the global financial crisis of 2008. The proportion of deals done where buyers originate in different countries has increased from a low 17% in 2009 to 20% in 2015. Over the same period, cross-border volumes have grown by 334% from $65 billion to $217 billion.

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In this issue of Around the World in Dollars and Cents, we have taken a look at how much real estate there is in the world and how much of that is available for investors, both domestic and cross-border. For the first time we have included agricultural in our assessment, so we are presenting a complete cross-sector picture that includes residential and commercial assets.

We then take a look at how asset values are distributed across global regions and how recent flows of money from one region to another may be in the process of changing this. Differences in monetary conditions and investor practices in global regions are then examined. The results have important and profound implications for global real estate trends.


Looking to the future of world real estate, we study the investing intentions of the equity-rich private sector and see that some money is becoming not only footloose but also more adventurous in the asset classes it is willing to invest. This is a theme that has been picked up by many of our researchers around the world who have each given their tips for real estate investment in 2016 and beyond.

What price the world? Real estate in the global asset universe

Worldwide real estate assets comprise nearly 60% of the value of all global assets, including equities, bonds and gold

We estimate that the value of all developed real estate in the world amounts to approximately $217,000,000,000,000 (217 trillion US dollars, see fig. 1). This covers retail property, offices, industrial, hotels, residential, other commercial uses, and agricultural land.

The world owns real estate assets of nearly three times its annual income. Global property value in 2015 amounted to 2.7 times the world’s GDP and represents an important store of national, corporate and individual wealth. It accounts for roughly 60% of all mainstream global assets. The value of all gold ever mined (in the region of $6 trillion) pales into insignificance next to the value of all developed real estate.

The fact that the value of global real estate exceeds by almost one-third the total value of all globally traded equities and securitized debt instruments highlights the important role it plays in economies worldwide (see fig. 3). Real estate is the pre-eminent asset class that will be most impacted by global monetary conditions and investment activity and which, in turn, has the power to most impact national and international economies.

In recent years, quantitative easing and resulting low interest rates have suppressed real estate yields and fueled high levels of asset appreciation globally. Investment activity and capital growth have swept around the major real estate markets of the world and led to asset price inflation in many instances.

We estimate that around one-third of the value of the global real estate market identified here is readily investable at scale (see fig. 2), with the remaining $145 trillion not being publicly traded in any meaningful way. Most of it, even in the commercial sector, is owner-occupied or owned by small and private entities.

Of the $72.5 trillion of commercial and residential real estate that we count as ‘investable’, around $1.05 trillion or 1.45% was traded in big ticket deals of over $10 million in the 12 months to Q3 20151. This investment grade stock has increased in value by 3.56% in the two years since our last estimate of world real estate value in Q3 2013. This represents average annual growth rate in global capital values of 1.77% per annum but covers a range of experiences, from high-growth in the US to negative or no growth in parts of Asia.

Real Estate

This year we have included for the first time the value of agricultural land, at an estimated $26 trillion, of which about $7.8 trillion (around 30%) is corporately and institutionally invested. Most agricultural land is owned by non-investing entities, operators and occupiers, especially in emerging economies where this is a sector with great potential for further growth and investment. If the land is owned by non-investing entities, it is likely to be non-investable.

Not included in the global calculation is the value of local commercial properties: workshops, work-spaces, shops and small business premises that are not part of the high quality commercial real estate universe that constitutes global property markets, but which are important components of economic growth and prosperity, especially in emerging markets. They are almost impossible to value at a global level but have huge potential for future investment as economies mature and real estate markets develop within them, adding to the global stock.

Overall, the most important component of global real estate value is the homes that people live in. By far the biggest proportion of these are owned by the people who inhabit them, which makes this sector the least concentrated, in terms of ownership, and most closely tied to the fortunes of ordinary people. There are approximately 2.5 billion households on the planet and those in developed economies occupy housing at much higher price points than those in less developed economies. We estimate that the median value of the dwellings occupied by all these households is $43,000.

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Total assets breakdown

Old world economics contain the highest share of global real estate value so potential for growth in emerging markets is significant

The value of the world’s real estate is unevenly distributed across the globe. Western nations contain the lion’s share of asset value, while less developed nations contain the least.

The dominance of real estate in Western economies is most noticeable in commercial markets, where nearly half of the total asset value resides in North America and over a quarter in Europe (see fig. 2). Asia and Australasia contain 22% of commercial asset value, leaving just 5% for South America, the Middle East and Africa.

Part of the reason that the US market is so big is because it is the most mature. The US market is much more transparent than many others and is therefore easier to measure well and in detail. Consequently, it is where data coverage is most comprehensive. This is assisted by the fact that it is also probably the most institutionalized market and therefore recorded and reported on by those entities. The US also contains more of the most valuable real estate in the world on a $ per sq ft/meter basis.

On the evidence of these regional real estate total values, the potential for the growth and development of investable commercial assets across the developing world would appear vast, but it is not necessarily the case that Western-style commercial property markets will develop in these new frontiers in the same way as they have in the west and parts of Asia.

Currently, many commercial premises in the less developed parts of the globe are informal, small-scale, flexible work-spaces and shops. These have not been priced into overall asset value in this publication because they are traded in informal and opaque markets, often not recorded at a national, let alone international scale. Many work-spaces and even retail spaces of this type are often mixed with residential property, either in buildings, blocks or neighborhoods. The norm in nations which have not experienced widespread car ownership and suburban built environments is mixed-use and live-work space.

There is a real tension between two possible future built environment development scenarios in the nations which have not yet seen widespread, large-scale development in their cities. Recent development in China and other parts of Asia has shown that it is often easier, cheaper and faster to demolish existing structures to make way for large-scale developments. Improvements in infrastructure, land reclamation and investment in public transport lead to rising land values that exclude all but the large-scale and corporate players from participation. Landmark, world-class ‘trophy’ projects often involving named ‘starchitects’ are also beloved by politicians and planners alike, so they take priority over the smaller-scale integrated neighborhood developments.

There is a big question mark, however, as to whether big-box, energy-hungry office blocks or retail malls will remain the universally preferred types of business accommodation in the 21st-century
digital age and where the economy is developing along different lines to the late 20th-century Western experience.

Whatever the future development model adopted, the creation of new commercial real estate markets in Asia, Latin America, MENA and Africa is a potentially huge market. If the quantity and value of commercial space in these regions were to reach the current global average per head of population, the total value of commercial real estate globally would rise by 54%.

Residential real estate value is slightly more evenly distributed than commercial, broadly in line with the size of affluent populations (see fig. 1). China accounts for nearly a quarter of the total value, having nearly one-fifth of the world’s population. Having said this, the weight of value is still in the West: 21% of the world’s total residential asset value is in North America – despite the fact that only 5% of the population lives there. Europe contains 24% of residential assets by value but only houses 11% of the population.

Real Estate

The growth of residential real estate value in Asia illustrates the role of housing in developing economies. Its growth means there is now more collateral in the personal finance and small business sector of these countries. If African residential real estate markets were to develop in the same way over the next decade or two as the Asian markets (excluding China) have, this would add $5.8 trillion to the global total.

The global potential for economic development to impact on residential real estate is huge. A growing middle class and growing home ownership in areas of economic growth will increase the size of residential property as an asset class. If residential property in Middle Eastern, African and Asian countries were to move towards the global average per head of population, this would increase global residential asset values by 32% or $52 trillion.

There are big prizes for the super-opportunistic investor. While emerging economies will always be seen as high risk, the fundamentals of economic growth with strong demographics will undoubtedly increase demand for housing, work-space and retail/leisure space in population centers. This will create compelling opportunities for those able to deploy capital into the right types of real estate – the highest demand locations of the more stable nations.

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