Companies Are Selling Their Real Estate at the Fastest Pace Ever

(Bloomberg) -- Companies are selling record amounts of real estate as they rush to shore up their Covid-battered balance sheets.

Firms across Europe, the Middle East and Africa sold 27 billion euros ($32 billion) of corporate properties in 2020, according to a report by broker Jones Lang LaSalle Inc. That was slightly more than a year earlier, even as overall real estate deals collapsed during the pandemic.

Companies are ditching property to "preserve capital and release liquidity, as well as to reshape their portfolios to support post-pandemic business plans," said Nick Compton, head of corporate capital markets for EMEA at JLL.

Just over a third of corporate sales were office properties, with volumes jumping 10% from the previous year. All types of commercial real estate sales in Europe plunged by 27% in 2020, according to Real Capital Analytics data.

Widespread lockdowns cut off revenue overnight for many retail and hospitality businesses in 2020, straining their balance sheets and prompting them to raise capital. Many of the sales involved leaseback agreements, allowing companies to access capital while maintaining their premises. Retailers including the U.K.'s John Lewis Partnership Plc and Matalan were among property sellers.

The forced shift to home working also provoked many businesses to reconsider how much real estate they will need in future.

"What we are witnessing is a wholesale rethink from many enterprises on their relationship to real estate," said JLL EMEA Corporate Solutions CEO Mark Caskey.