The foundation stone for extensive growth – how it all began
On 17 December 1965, the foundation stone was laid for the more than 50-year success story of Union Investment's real estate business. That day saw the establishment in Hamburg of a company called CO-OP Immobilien-Fonds Verwaltungs AG, with the purpose of constructing retail outlets within CO-OP branches. This was later followed by investment in other properties and sites. But no one at the time could have foreseen just how popular open-ended real estate funds were to become, both nationally and internationally.
According to an excerpt from the local Register of Companies published on 9 March 1966, “the object of the company [was] to set up and manage real estate funds in its own name, but separately from its own assets, for the account of third parties. Share capital: DM 1,000,000. The Board of Directors consists of two people.” Units in the CO-OP Immobilienfonds fund (now UniImmo: Deutschland) established on 1 June 1966 were mostly marketed via the Bank für Gemeinwirtschaft (BfG), founded in December 1965, and by private and third-party banks.
In 1980, the company was renamed DIFA (Deutsche Immobilien Fonds AG). Since the reorganisation of DIFA's ownership structure in 1987, fund units have been sold exclusively through the Volksbanken Raiffeisenbanken banking network. The company initially invested predominantly in developed and undeveloped sites acquired on the free market and in real property owned by consumer cooperatives. It also engaged in the construction and modification of stores and other facilities operated by the cooperatives. The company’s shareholders were the central institutes of the consumer cooperatives and the Association of German Consumer Cooperatives (BfG).
Slow but steady growth at first
Jürgen Ehrlich, who retired in spring 2003 after 38 years at DIFA AG, recalls that in those early days “it [was] difficult to imagine that this form of investment would go on to play such a significant role in the investment sector.” After all, the aim in 1965 was simply to support store expansion by the consumer cooperatives. Accordingly, the first property acquisition was a large-scale store – an early forerunner of today's supermarkets. It could also be considered the grandfather of the diversified CityQuartier and StadtQuartier developments, such as Riem Arcaden , which are a major source of stability in the company’s open-ended real estate funds today.
That first large store was worth DM 135,000, and it took CO-OP Immobilien AG three years from its foundation to raise DM 100 million from investors. “Growth among German open-ended real estate funds was steady rather than spectacular, with property still an underrated asset,” says Jürgen Ehrlich. After multiple development stages and having successfully overcome various crises in the real estate investment sector, the company is now firmly established as an active asset manager. Following on from the first investments in other European countries, the focus of international expansion and growth is now on the US, Asia and Australia. Real estate has really come into its own, and remains highly sought after.