Travelling light

Fancy expanding beyond your home market? No problem. Just ask your research department to prepare a comprehensive report on the market and possible acquisition targets, get finance, legal and compliance to investigate local regulations and the money side, and send someone from business development out on a three-month scouting mission to build contacts in the region – your admin support can organise visas and make travel arrangements. But hang on – what if your company doesn’t have a research department, a business development function or large teams of support services, or indeed the cash to make foreign acquisitions? What might be a major undertaking for a large firm can sound impossibly daunting to a smaller one. But there are compelling reasons to take the plunge anyway: UK Trade & Investment says that 90% of the firms it works with fall into the SME category and that, on average, they go on to win £100,000 of new sales within 18 months. In this article for Modus, the magazine of the RICS, I spoke to small surveying practices that have managed to successfully expand abroad and found out how they did it.

Planes, trains and the information superhighway

Infrastructure is the world’s biggest growth market, with vast investment taking place in the transport, energy, water and communications networks that underpin every aspect of modern life. In developed countries, the emphasis is on upgrading crumbling facilities after decades of underinvestment. In the rapidly growing economies of the Middle East, Asia and Latin America, it’s about building new networks from scratch, even entire new cities, as the global population grows to a predicted 9.5bn by 2050 and mass urbanisation continues. A 2013 report from the McKinsey Global Institute estimated that it would take US$57trn worth of investment by 2030 just to provide the infrastructure to meet projected GDP growth – 60% more than had been spent in the previous 18 years. In this ten-page cover feature for Modus, the magazine of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, I led a whistle-stop tour of the opportunities for its members: with so many sub-sectors in so many countries, the biggest challenge is working out where to start.

WSP Genivar Solutions magazine – high-rise special

My company Wordmule produced this 24-page magazine for global engineering consultancy WSP Genivar, exploring the trend for super-tall, super-slender buildings around the world. I planned and wrote all the content, interviewing experts from WSP Genivar and its clients and partners, and my colleague Nick Jones sub-edited the pages. Click here to read about why cities are building towers, the secrets of designing “iconic” buildings, the sustainability of high-rise versus low-rise, and whether there’s any limit to how tall we can go.

Solutions_high-rise special_cover

Is it worth having greater freedom to spend fewer resources? Discuss.

Whatever the result of the referendum on Scottish independence on 18 September, the balance of power between north and south Britain is undoubtedly moving in only one direction. From April 2015, Scotland will be able to set its own taxes and borrow up to £2.2bn to fund capital projects, as the Scotland Act 2012 transfers considerable fiscal power from Westminster to Holyrood. Even if Scots vote no to full independence, there’s almost certain to be further devolution, with the main UK political parties all publicly committed to greater Scottish autonomy. But how much more control over its own destiny will an independent, or more independent, Scotland actually have? I spoke to Scots on both sides of the debate to write this piece for Modus, the magazine of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, about the potential impact on property and the balance of power across the UK. They pointed out that formal power and real economic power are very different things, that the Scottish government has never exercised its existing power to raise or lower income tax, and that while Scots like the idea of Scandinavian-style public services, they would be much less keen to pay the taxes to fund it.

BRICs and mortars

How worried should investors be about the apparent resurgence of the Cold War between Russia and the west? Was the dramatic slowdown in Brazil’s economy really just a blip? Is China about to suffer its own subprime crash, and how might a make-or-break general election in India affect its real estate market?

It’s now 13 years since the “BRIC” countries were grouped together by Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neill. Since his 2001 report, these emerging economies have indeed taken their place among the world’s powerhouses. Their combined GDP has grown more than five-fold and their share of the world’s wealth has increased from 8% to nearly 20%. Even a tiny blip in any one of them sends shockwaves through global markets. With 40% of the world’s population living on more than a quarter of the world’s land area, the BRICs’ growing prosperity made for an apparently unstoppable real-estate boom, barely checked by the global financial crisis. Their demographic momentum and structural undersupply still present undeniable opportunities, but are the rewards high enough to make the risks worthwhile? In this report for Estates Gazette, I examined the prospects for investors in Russia, India and China. (The Brazil section is by EG features editor Emily Wright.)

Meet your future landlords

When international investors go in search of real estate, the question is not if but when they’ll come to London. The UK capital’s stability, transparency and liquidity have made it a magnet for money – private, institutional or sovereign – from every continent. In 2013, foreign buyers were responsible for more than two thirds of commercial property investment, with established sources of capital competing with newer ones, predominantly from the Far and Middle East.

So where will the next wave come from? Ultra-high-net-worth individuals may hail from anywhere, but the greatest concentrations of wealth tend to be where there’s either a lot of resources, as with the oil riches of the Middle East and Central Asia, or a lot of people – the pension savings of the growing middle classes in China, Malaysia and Korea. In this feature for Estates Gazette’s MIPIM issue, I identified five countries set to be the most significant new entrants over the coming decade – a world tour that took in Taiwan, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, Brazil and, still some way off, Iran…

Homes of the rich and famous

Are you a concrete-obsessed billionaire searching for your dream holiday home? You could do a lot worse than check out Concrete Quarterly’s house-themed Winter issue (which I edited). So what’s it going to be? Norman Foster’s luxury apartments in downtown Buenos Aires (pages 4-7)? A modernist retreat apparently carved out of a rocky outcrop in the hills of Maharashtra, with a bath open to the skies (10-11)? Or, for those seeking a third way between luxury holiday and survival weekend, this extremely comfortable cyclone-proof bunker deep in the Queensland jungle (9)? It may look like the home of a Bond villain but the owner’s actually a stamp dealer (the clue’s in the perforated facade). And for the rest of us, there’s the rather more liveable Hill Top House – Japanese-style exposed interiors seamlessly inserted into an Oxford terrace.