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17 July 2019

Christie & Co reports high levels of activity in the North East throughout first half of 2019

Specialist business property adviser, Christie & Co provides an overview of the regional market in the North East for the first half of 2019, reflecting on previous predictions, emerging trends and challenges facing the sectors.

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Activity in the North East remains high, specifically within the hotels, pubs and restaurants sectors, with Christie & Co noting a busy start to the year with strong buyer appetite, particularly in popular locations in North Yorkshire and the cities of Newcastle, Leeds, York and Sheffield. Christie & Co has found supply in the region relatively consistent on last year, although some business owners who have been waiting for the outcome of Brexit have finally decided to sell.

Notable completions in the first half of 2019 include The Guy Fawkes Arms, in Scotton near Knaresborough, Herringthorpe Service Station in South Yorkshire, Snaith Hall Filling Station in East Yorkshire, and Loftsome Bridge Hotel in Selby.
 

Hotels

Activity in the North East hotels market has been consistent on last year, as Christie & Co reports viewing and instruction levels, and hence deal levels, relatively similar to those seen in 2018. Buyer appetite has also remained strong with highly profitable businesses and value for money deals appearing most attractive.

The last six months have seen half a dozen medium sized deals completed in the private market from coaching inns at circa £1 million to country house hotels up to £2 million. One of the largest Christie & Co deals in the North East and Yorkshire this year is Aldwark Manor near York with over 50 bedrooms and a golf course.
 

Restaurants

Despite the widely reported distress in the industry, particularly among corporate entities within the casual dining sector, demand from local owner operators and regional, multi-operators remains strong. There have been transactions recently whereby Christie & Co has received multiple bids on a restaurant, resulting in a best and final offers scenario, meaning clients have had the choice of very strong offers from credible purchasers.

There remains a healthy appetite amongst buyers for coffee shops and cafés with high footfall, with urban settings or tourist hot spots being particularly attractive. The vast majority of restaurant transactions at Christie & Co continue to be on a leasehold basis.

Notable transactions include Arc Inspirations’ takeover of the former Jamie’s Italian site at Grey’s Monument, enabling a regional, multi-operator to acquire a prime trading position which had previously failed in the hands of a corporate chain.
 

Pubs

Christie & Co’s Q1 2019 activity levels remained strong and the volume of transactions was slightly ahead of the same period in 2018 with a notable post-Easter spike in the number of operators looking to sell and applicants looking to buy. Passing the half way point in 2019, there arguably appears to be an undersupply of good quality trading assets available across the region, particularly in popular town and city centres and affluent suburban hot spots.

Buyer appetite has remained reasonably stable during the first half of 2019, however, buyers have been slightly more cautious about purchasing underperforming assets that need investment. Whilst the majority of buyers still want some room for improvement, they require a business that is currently strong and not ordinarily in need of significant day-one investment.

We continue to see the vast majority of pubs sold for ongoing use, however, there is still demand from developers looking for conversion and alternative use projects. Interestingly, Christie & Co has also seen some pub companies and breweries that have disposed of assets in recent years are back in the market to acquire new pubs, some with a particular focus on high volumes of wet sales.
 

Dental

Christie & Co has seen a huge drive from private equity backed operators at the top of the market as investors seek the security of the healthcare sector. Similarly, independents and groups continue to acquire in the North as they are seeing more value than in saturated areas such as the Midlands and the South East.

Generally, Christie & Co highlights that there is there is huge demand for NHS practices around the major towns and conurbations, meaning well located practices are achieving record prices. However, Christie & Co does note some sensitivity around pricing on offers made for practices in rural locations where there is NHS underperformance due to recruitment difficulties.

As all providers of NHS orthodontic services in the North are currently being made to re-tender for their contracts, Christie & Co anticipates that some operators will see their income reduced whilst others will see it as an opportunity to expand.

Christie & Co recently sold 23 Cosmetic Dental in Morpeth, a privately-owned business comprising five surgeries, and Park Road Dental Practice, a mixed income, three surgery dental practice in Wallsend. Both sales are examples of the demand for prime dental businesses and attracted multiple offers from a range of dental companies and private buyers.
 

Care

The care market in the North East is still seeing good appetite from buyers as strong demand continues to outstrip supply. Christie & Co has seen the majority of buyers looking for distressed stock, as they can put their own stamp on it and build the business up, while homes that trade very well are less in demand as some buyers can be reluctant to pay the higher multiples. However, operators in the region are performing well overall, meaning there has been less distressed stock this year, pushing the disparity between supply and demand further.

Following the Panorama programme on the BBC, which aired in May documenting events at Whorlton Hall care home in County Durham, operators have felt the effect of needing to be more aware from a CQC point of view and also the necessity to employ good staff and providing good training. 
 

Retail

The first quarter of 2019 was initially quiet for new deals but this has since improved, with Christie & Co noting instruction levels are at a similar number overall to last year. However, there has been a slight shift in the type of instruction receiving the most interest, going from the sub 15k per week leasehold businesses, which have been in demand over the last two years, to the higher turnover 15k + per week stores and well priced freeholds, which have begun to receive multiple offers.

With less supply in the region, appetite for petrol forecourt business of all sizes has remained in high demand in 2019.

David Lee, Regional Director – North East at Christie & Co comments,

“The first half of 2019 has been a successful year for our team. The market remains healthy and despite political uncertainty, our clients and buyers in the region seem determined to carry on as normal. July is already very busy and our forecast for the second half of 2019 is very positive. We are looking forward to helping our clients achieve their goals of selling their businesses and increase our already robust presence in the market.”