Belgium office accommodation, the challenges for businesses in France and why the Germans are not always more efficient

I have been active in the European real estate markets for over 30 years with a focus on the more liquid north-western countries. I have worked for agencies (Knight Frank and CBRE), an accountancy practice (Touche Ross) and investment banks Lazard Brothers and Citigroup.

Nearly 14 years ago I set up Rynda Property Investors as my own FCA regulated real estate investment management house. I have enjoyed working with incredibly loyal and supportive clients and very committed colleagues.

Rynda is primarily a real estate operating partner platform for global capital. Rynda actively sources real estate opportunities in Benelux, Germany, France and the UK. Our clients invest across the risk spectrum and want advice and asset management from locally based teams of committed individuals who are trusted experts in their relevant markets.

Rynda always seeks to back its judgement by co-investing with our clients.


The demise of Carillion has provoked much negative political and public reaction some justified and some wholly unjustified.

High praise is warranted by the Royal Liverpool & Broadgreen University Hospitals Trust when matters could have been so much worse. The Trustees commissioned Carillion for the construction of the New Royal Liverpool University Hospital on the basis the contractor was only paid on the handover of the completed project. Whilst the project has been delayed by over a year and currently remains uncompleted, at least the Royal Liverpool & Broadgreen University Hospitals Trust have a strong negotiation position to get the overdue work completed as soon as possible because of the favourable payment terms they achieved.

Carillion were due nearly £350m when the work was complete so there is plenty of incentive for someone to take on the contract and finally complete the project. Imagine the additional hassle and cost to the Trust if the contract had been paid by monthly instalments and completion had not been so valuable.

Let us also assume that Carillion’s board fully appreciated their business was becoming a bank as well as a contractor by taking on this contract in competitive tendering.


The amount of office accommodation converted to residential in Brussels is significant in terms of the demand-supply balance of the market. Planning approval for the change of use appears to be generally easy to achieve and the configuration of many office layouts is suited to the change.

However, counterintuitively to many UK investors it is the prime office markets that are most affected by the scale of conversions that is driving down availability of good quality well located office accommodation. In most UK locations office to residential conversions are most prevalent for B/C quality buildings in less well-located office markets. In Brussels the relative values have meant that surprisingly good quality office buildings in strong locations are being converted.

Prime residential capital values are circa €4,550 m² whilst many CBD offices have traded at similar levels as investments. Therefore, factoring in a discount for vacancy and the costs of a long lease up has meant residential conversion has been attractive for all but the very best quality offices. Recent downward shifts in Brussels office yields have moved a few more offices away from this conversion inflection point.

The rates of conversion are likely to continue to influence office supply levels unless there is a significant re-rating of residential values. The trend over time could go some way to remove the perception that Brussels is a challenging market for office investors.


President Macron has a very significant uphill battle to make France a business friendly economy. From the bureaucratic hurdles of undertaking business to the very high taxes, his challenges are myriad.

The challenges faced by businesses come in all forms of dealing with the French government with a current example being a return requesting a refund of VAT. The French authorities having acknowledged the return was submitted on time and using the correct form have so far taken over 10 months not to process it. Chasing yields a polite “it is in the system” and “it will be paid in due course”. Rumour has it that VAT refunds in Italy regularly take over a year to process.

Is the slowness of the refunds a function of an under resourced government department or perhaps a deliberate strategy under which the French government is off-balance sheet borrowing from the business community?


It is easy to take for granted the speed, the efficiency and the value for money of Companies House that acts as the central statutory register for all legal entities registered in the UK.

With a password and login within minutes, a user can notify and update the records of any entity for changes to a registered address, in the appointment of directors or in the entity’s accounting year-end. The website is easy to use, the support team efficient and friendly and 99% of notifications can be concluded electronically. There is also an email alert service for forthcoming filings. All the services are free except the Annual Confirmation Statement at £13.

In Germany, like most EU countries, there is no such easy system and the costs are considerable. In most cases, a notary is required and often attendance at a meeting is mandatory by senior officers to effect the most simple of changes.

The general hassle is compounded further, if a UK holding company owns the German entity or if a UK individual holds a directorship. In such cases, a UK based notary public is required and the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office (“FCO”) become a crucial part of the process.

Effecting changes to a Germany entity now requires;

  • the briefing and appointment of a UK based Notary,
  • the Issuing of a Notarial certificate at a meeting with the Notary,
  • the initiation of a FCO legalisation process,
  • the return of the FCO legalised documents after several days wait,
  • the couriering of the above documents to a German Notary and
  • finally the attendance at a German notary.

The process often costs well over a £1,000, takes at least a week and requires a considerable amount of senior personal time!