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Monday, October 16, 2017

Expo 2017: Thoughts from a regular attendee

By Robin White (Toronto)

I attended Expo Real again this year in Munich (October 4-6). It is a regular stop on my travel calendar, and in my opinion one of the better venues for transacting business.

For those who have not been there, picture a cluster of major aircraft hangars on the periphery of town, all populated with exhibitor booths of varying shapes and sizes. Exhibitors range from cities (i.e. municipal governments) to investment and asset managers to brokerages to banks to professional associations to a variety of service providers, all competing for the attention of a hoard of attendees --  reportedly more than 41,500 this year. A sea of dark suits clambering over each other in an effort to be on time for half-hour meetings that have been set up in the various booths within the complex. Sometimes if the weather is good, as it was this year, meetings can be rescheduled outside, where seats have been set up in a courtyard setting.


In typical German fashion, the discussions are extremely efficient. A half hour does not allow for much small talk. After initial pleasantries, it's time to get down to business. Introductions dispensed with, it is time to see if there are opportunities that might fit, services that can be provided, or further meetings that need to be set up. It is fascinating what can come out of such meetings when everyone knows there is only a limited time frame for discussions.

After a full day meeting with dozens of contacts, and bumping into several others on the way to such meetings, it is time to chill at the Munich or Düsseldorf stand and savour some excellent German beer while reviewing some of the takeaways from each meeting. It is a terrific setting to build networks that may grow into meaningful relationships. 

And the overall summation of this year's Expo? Very positive feedback from European investors with respect to the future of European real estate, especially in Germany. Not quite so bullish on North America. Lots of discussion on whether there will be housing corrections in Toronto and Vancouver. Are interest rates heading up? Will there be any capital growth in commercial real estate in Canada next year? Hedging costs are a significant dent in investor returns, especially in the U.S. 

Having said all of this, major investors will continue to seek out investment opportunities in North America as part of their overall global allocation to real estate. But they are likely going to be more wary, especially given the global geopolitical environment that we currently face.

Major investors will require up-to-the minute advice when it comes to seeking out suitable opportunities, and the best advice is provided face to face. Expo allows this interaction to happen in the most efficient manner, and as such will continue to be on my calendar. I am already planning for next year!

(Robin White is Chair of Avison Young’s capital markets group and a founding Principal of the firm. During his career, which began in 1977, he has co-ordinated the sale of more than $5 billion worth of commercial real estate and completed several significant lease transactions, including several high-profile office buildings and industrial properties.) 

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