From small-town Germany to world city
In the early 1990s, DIFA sought to diversify its DIFA-Fonds Nr. 1 and DIFA-Grund funds by adding exposure to other European countries. The starting point came in 1992 when it acquired the St. Andrews House and Finsbury Circus office properties in London.
“The changes to the law brought about by the agreement that established the European Economic Area in 1992 effectively removed the fiscal, legal and commercial barriers between Germany and other EU countries. In doing so, they paved the way for the international expansion of our real estate business,” says Martin Brühl, CIO at Union Investment Real Estate GmbH. After acquiring St. Andrews House and Finsbury Circus – an office building let to the Bank of Tokyo which is now the oldest holding in DIFA-Fonds Nr. 1 alongside EMPORIO – the company purchased the 25-storey office tower at 6–8 Bishopsgate in London's financial district in 1994. The London portfolio was gradually expanded: Thames Court was acquired in 1996, Whitefriars in 1997, Westferry Circus in 1999 and later also 33 Holborn, the headquarters of supermarket chain Sainsbury's, followed more recently by a joint-venture stake in the Watermark Place office building (2015). Union Investment subsequently successfully disposed of several of the properties acquired in the first decade of investment from 1992 to 2002, such as 6–8 Bishopsgate, Westferry Circus and 33 Holborn. After a long holding period, Finsbury Circus was upgraded to create a modern core property.
Growth across mainland Europe
International diversification has remained a sustained strategic focus since the beginning of the 1990s. After entering the UK market, Union Investment went on to build a pan-European portfolio. Properties were acquired in France (1999), Belgium (2001), Spain (2003) and later in Hungary, the Czech Republic, Sweden and Austria (2005), followed by Turkey, Norway, the Netherlands and Luxembourg (2007). In 2007, DIFA-Grund was renamed UniImmo: Europa, with the new name reflecting its broad diversification, which currently extends across 21 national markets with a 62 per cent focus on European real estate.
2014 saw the start of a new chapter for UniImmo: Europa when the fund's non-European portfolio was expanded to include the almost fully let Southpoint office project in Brisbane, Australia .“We are very comfortable investing in Australia,” says Björn Thiemann, fund manager of UniImmo: Europa. “In addition to attractive initial returns and long-term leases, the advantages of the Australian property investment market include real estate ownership laws based on the Anglo-Saxon model.” 25 years of investment experience in the UK are thus being leveraged down under to generate new returns for Investors.