It is time for owners, investors and users of real estate to use the time afforded by the lull in real estate activity to prepare their businesses for the next period of economic growth according to a new report by Ernst & Young.

The real estate business risk report – published in conjunction with Oxford Analytica – highlights the top ten business risks currently faced by the industry and outlines steps which can be taken to respond to these risks.

Dean Hodcroft, Ernst & Young partner and head of the firm’s real estate team, said: “In this time of great economic uncertainty and lack of liquidity, many companies are proactively looking for ways to effectively manage risk, streamline operations, and enhance their business relationships so they can hit the ground running when markets begin to stabilise.”

The top ten risks identified by the report are:

1.  Continued uncertainty and impact of the credit crunch – tighter credit is just one threat to real estate from the crunch; the economic downturn is affecting commercial vacancy rates as well as property valuations.

2.  Global economic and market fluctuations – due to capital flows and business expansion, the real estate industry has become a truly global industry and, as such, is increasingly susceptible to global market fluctuations.

3.  Impact of aging or inadequate infrastructure – particularly in the US, but also in other markets around the world, a lack of key transit and utility infrastructure is a threat to economic and real estate growth.

4. A global war for talent – globalisation of business has also created a worldwide talent pool with countries forced to compete for human capital.

5. Changing demographics – aging and urbanizing populations are changing competitive dynamics and creating new markets in real estate.                                                                                                   6. Inability to find and exploit non-traditional global opportunities – with competition increasing worldwide from sovereign wealth funds and others, many global investors face a tough time sourcing new deals that will meet return expectations.

7. Pricing uncertainty – with few transactions taking place in the real estate market, valuations are a problem for existing owners, as well as buyers and sellers.

8. Green revolution, sustainability and climate change – real estate is at the forefront of the green movement with pressures intensifying to build and operate in sustainable ways and minimise the carbon footprint throughout all types of real estate.

9. Economic vulnerability and regulatory risks in developing markets – developing markets are a key focus for global real estate firms but regulatory risk in these markets is constantly changing as authorities seek to jump start economies.

10. Increasing energy costs – few analysts expect more than a temporary respite from high oil prices as new supply will be unable to meet renewed demand.

“It is no surprise that the continuing economic uncertainty throughout world markets and the lingering impact of a global credit crunch are seen as the greatest risks faced by real estate companies,” said Mr Hodcroft.

“As a result, there will be a fundamental shift back to traditional real estate underwriting principles, including comprehensive cash flow analysis and prudent levels of debt and equity in consummating real estate transactions. This ‘back to basics’ movement will lead to the greater transparency necessary to restore confidence between buyers and sellers.”

The real estate sector has felt the tightening conditions in credit markets perhaps more than any other sector due to its heavy reliance on capital. Financial conditions for real estate projects are undoubtedly worsening and the current financial markets landscape is expected to persist for the next couple of years.