Good infrastructure, large and small towns, villages, coast, and countryside have all been a magnet for businesses, families and individuals migrating from other larger urban areas resulting in a race for space.

2021 has seen an insatiable demand for residential property across the county with frenetic activity during the first six months, aided by the 0% Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) holiday for residential property up to £500k fuelling transactions and a lack of supply creating a surge in prices.

The national picture was reflected in Kent, a county that fulfils all of the above attributes. The 2021 Kent Property Market Report (KPMR) noted that the county’s residential property prices had, in fact, outperformed the rest of the UK.

Research conducted by Zoopla commissioned for this year’s KPMR revealed that all districts across Kent outperformed both the south east and UK average house price increase over the 12-months, with Dover and Canterbury both achieving a 6.7% increase over that period

Demand outstrips supply and construction thrives
With pre-loved homes in short supply, construction of new build has been active across Kent and residential schemes have been brought forward. In and around the county residential property has been built, planned or is coming on-stream in Ebbsfleet Garden City, Medway, Gravesend, Swale, Thanet, Folkestone, Canterbury, Ashford, Kings Hill, Sittingbourne and Faversham.

The pandemic has reshaped priorities and homeworking has facilitated what many hope will be a better work/life

balance. London is an easy and fast commute away, which makes Kent a desirable destination, both to buy and rent, so the county has seen an influx of families and individuals seeking more space and quality of life. This

Proposal for 45 Flats at Station Rd Faversham

Proposal for 45 flats at Station Rd Faversham (credit: George Wilson Holdings)

will no doubt strengthen local communities and local economies, is vital for Kent’s economic development, and a silver lining if ever one was needed.

Buy-to-let
Rents have risen faster during this year than they have since the early days of the recession in 2008. Some of those who worked in London and other large conurbations pre-pandemic, moved back to parents or sold and moved out of towns and cities to ‘escape to the country’ and work from home. This caused an uplift in rents due to lack of available property and overdemand. More recently, businesses are slowly requesting employees to return to the office – for at least some of the time – and the result has been a rush back to centres of commerce, exacerbating the rise in rents and an ever greater dearth of available property.

Add to that a favourable time for landlords taking on a buy-to-let mortgage. Moneyfacts reports that for the past 12 months, the cost of mortgages rates for the buy-to-let sector (with a 60% loan to value) has fallen every month. So, competition for available and suitable property may be the only thing holding back new entrants to the buy-to-let marketplace.

However, there is potential for a new generation of retirees and freelancers/consultants to become landlords as lenders ease rules that have in the past prevented some from investing in the sector. Some lenders have dropped their ‘minimum income’ threshold, which will enable those previously excluded to participate.

A silver lining
At a time when some long-term landlords are looking to exit the market, there is an opportunity for new investors to get involved. With Kent property remaining more affordable, in relative terms, than the rest of the south east, this may be an ideal time for and those wanting to join the buy-to-let sector, or existing landlords to expand their portfolio.

For more detailed information follow this link to the Residential Performance sector data extract from this year’s Kent Property Market.

To view the full report visit Caxtons 2021 Kent Market Property Report or download the pdf here.

Caxtons recently won the EGi Most Active Agent in Kent award for commercial property transactions.

Radio House John Wilson Business Park

Radio House John Wilson Business Park (credit: George Wilson Holdings)

Where office sector uncertainty is concerned, Kent has mirrored the rest of the UK
While business parks have seen some significant lettings, there has been limited take-up in Kent’s town centre office sector with most demand for floorplates of less than 3,000 sq ft. However, a shortage of quality office space means it is still at a premium, keeping rental values steady. The result is a five-year annualised average growth rate of more than 3% across the county.

Sevenoaks, Tunbridge Wells, Dartford and Maidstone are driving rental growth, and demand in Gravesend continues to rise resulting in an 85% increase in the average prime office rent across the last 5 years.

Many businesses are adopting a ‘wait and see’ approach, rather than committing to office space. If appropriate, and a mix of homeworking / office commute becomes the norm, the focus may be quality rather than size, in order to aid collaboration, creativity, training and underpin the culture of organisations.

Serviced offices provide ideal co-working facilities
Serviced offices such as BizSpace’s mix of co-working includes hot desking and private offices, and is a welcome addition in both Maidstone and Ashford and fits the bill for many businesses – at least for now.

Refurbishment of the former Customs House in Gravesend includes around 9,000 sq ft of high spec office space with views out over the Thames.

A recent survey revealed 50 co-working facilities currently operating across the county, boasting more than 60% occupancy for hot desking and 80% private offices. In addition, there are another ten such facilities in the pipeline.

The arts on the move
Office space in the pipeline and under construction includes a film studio complex and business space in the Grade II Listed former engine sheds by Ashford International Station - given a £14.7m boost in the Autumn budget - and Tunbridge Wells BC has granted outline planning consent to U+I to provide 74,000 m2 of warehouse and offices at Kingstanding Way, on the edge of the town.

Cultural and creative production is at heart of the Thames Estuary Production Corridor where the vision is to develop a world-class hub for this specialist sector of the arts. Whilst it has been difficult to operate during the pandemic, this area of business is identified as a high growth sector over the coming 10 years, with the added

knock-on for both professional and business services companies.

Investment continues
While there is uncertainty, investment sales proceed with substantial deals in Dover and Tonbridge completing. The office sector is identified as a high growth area over the next decade where quality of stock will be paramount.

Whitehall Place Biz Centre, ex Customs House (credit: Gravesham Borough Council)

For more detailed information follow this link to the Office sector data extract from this year’s Kent Property Market.

To view the full report visit the 2021 Kent Market Property Report or download the pdf here.

Caxtons recently won the EGi Most Active Agent in Kent award for commercial property transactions.

As news of another strain of Covid heralds the start of December, businesses will be capitalising on their experience and knowledge of best working practice, gained over the past 20 months.

While striking a balance of working from home (WFH) and office commuting are for companies and employees to agree, survey evidence increasingly points to the need for some form of communal work, to aid collaboration, creativity, training and to underpin the culture of organisations.

Across Kent this hybrid pattern appears to follow national trends, consequently – and following a chaotic 2020 – letting activity has returned leaving little or no vacancies on established business and science parks in the county.

The result of this return in demand is that rents remain relatively stable, and Kent has recorded an average annual increase in prime business park rent of 2% reaching a new high of £23.23 per sq ft (£250 per m2) over the past three years.

Given developments in scientific discoveries during 2020/21, science parks in particular have led the way.
Where other businesses have rationalised on the space they use or are likely to require in the future, the specialist nature of lab and high tech operations sustained park occupation levels throughout the lockdowns.

In addition, it’s hoped that the Government’s new Innovation Strategy, which will increase public investment in R&D to £22 billion a year, will benefit the science and technology sectors. Add to that growing investment funds available for science start-ups and grow-on companies and the result has been a rapid expansion of the sector.

At the forefront of science and innovation.
Mark Coxon, Director and Head of Commercial Agency at Caxtons said: ‘While business parks have experienced few voids and little vacancy or activity over the last year,science parks have certainly taken off in a much bigger way.

”We are seeing new demand from specialists in the scientific world that we’ve rarely noticed before in Kent. It seems that there has been a mix of tragedy – in the pandemic, meeting opportunity – Kent’s workforce and

2020 09 21 DayOne Sandwich Discovery Park 4314

Day One - Sandwich Discovery Park

facilities - resulting in a strengthening of the sector. Long may it continue so that Kent is at the forefront of science and innovation”

Since January ’21, Discovery Park (once entirely Pfizer occupied) in Sandwich welcomed 36 new tenants – including 14 start-ups - and more are due before the year-end, with strong demand for wet lab space from London based science companies. Construction supported by the Government’s Getting Building Fund for an incubator facility with laboratory, write up and office space for 20-25 businesses will be delivered in 2022.

Kent Science Park near Sittingbourne maintained high occupancy through 2021, with consent granted for additional buildings and further applications in the pipeline.

Maidstone’s Innovation Centre is nearing completion and the 30-acre Kent Medical Campus in Maidstone is under way, ultimately having the potential for 1,000,000 sq ft (98,000 m2) for SMEs in life science, healthcare and medtech sectors.

Business Parks are flourishing too.
Kings Hill, Maidstone has agreed new transactions with more space under offer since Covid restrictions eased.

Due to limited voids/floor space at both Crossways in Dartford and Gillingham Business Park there has been little change or activity.

BizSpace moved in to the newly completed Cobalt Building at Eureka Park in Ashford where consent has been granted for additional Grade A office space for pre-letting or plot sales.

In Faversham, at Eurocentre Business Park, Saphir House was taken back and modified by the owner/developer George Wilson Developments, creating two floors of office space above and ground floor retail. The building is now fully let with Screwfix taking 5,000 sq ft (464 m2).

Investment volumes have slowed and there have been no major science or business park transactions during the past 12 months.
Looking to the future, science and technology activity will, most likely, drive the increasing demand for floorspace in the parks and that will have a knock-on effect to related development (speculative or otherwise) and investment.

Kent’s relative affordability is a bonus and a pull factor, and its ability to retain a highly skilled workforce in the Garden of England will be more important than ever. In order to attract the right demographic, the overall package on offer must deliver good and affordable housing, varied lifestyle options and quality working space that Kent’s science and business parks are perfectly placed to provide.

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The Hub at Kent Science Park Sittingbourne

For more detailed information follow this link to the Science and Business Parks sector data extract.

To view the full report visit Caxtons 2021 Kent Market Property Report or download a pdf version here.

Caxtons recently won the EGi Most Active Agent in Kent award for commercial property transactions.