ULI, formed in 1936 in the US, is a knowledge exchange platform for a broad spectrum of real estate specialists; its members include investors, developers, architects, planners, city leaders, and advisors, from both the private and public sector. Here Joe Montgomery, CEO of ULI, shares his thoughts about his focus for 2012 and the outlook for the European real estate markets.
What is your focus for 2012?
"This year we are trying to grow ULI, particularly in France, Germany and the Netherlands, which are core markets for us. We're seeing huge enthusiasm from Russia and Turkey and we're also trying to develop chapters in Romania and Norway. So it's year when we're trying to consolidate our operations in our existing markets, reach out to real estate specialists in new markets, and connect more with our American and Asian cousins, where ULI's presence is strong.
What do you see as the latest trends in European real estate?
"My views are reflected in the recently published Emerging Trends in Real Estate Report, which is available on the ULI website. The dominant features are the cost and availability of finance, the impact of austerity measures by governments, increasing unemployment and the impact of this on consumers, and the knock-on effects for the real estate sector. And of course, the prospect of changes in the regulatory arena, which could push up costs for many people operating in our sector, possibly forcing another wave of consolidation.
"These drivers will mean that it will be a year where weaker operators will find the climate even more difficult, whereas those with strong lines of equity could find that forced sales from banks present new opportunities in the market.
"When we presented our report, we found a fairly sober environment, with the exception of Turkey and Russia, where we found our members to be far more optimistic. So really there are contrasting views depending on where you sit in Europe.
How does ULI differentiate itself from other similar associations?
"ULI is a genuinely global, we may have been born in the US, but our adolescence has seen growth in Asia and our adulthood will hopefully see a stronger presence in Europe. We are a genuinely broad church in thematic terms, professional disciplines and international perspectives.
"At our core, we are a non-profit, mission-driven organization, concerned with doing good and for the real estate industry to be seen as a force for good. We run pro bono educational programs for young people in the more stressed cities and communities, offer learning and education opportunities, and help cities face urban development challenges by drawing on private sector expertise.
"Over the coming months we're going to be very active in East London, not least because East London will be the major focus of the 2012 Olympics, but also because it has, at its periphery, some of the most distressed communities in the UK, if not Europe, sitting quite close to one of the best centers in the world and one of the best locations for real estate opportunities in the world.