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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2001, MCB UP Limited
Keywords: WWW, Property, Reports
One thing the year 2000 will probably be remembered for is the continual rise and eventual fall of technology stocks on the US stock market. In the UK, the property sector hit the headlines largely due to the relative poor performance of this sector in comparison to others. At the beginning of June a shake-up began as MEPC agreed to be taken private by Leconport, a joint venture between GE Capital Real Estate and Hermes, with other listed property companies considering the merits of being listed on the stock exchange.
For the property sector generally, adapting to the Web has been a slow process. The majority of international real estate consultants now have a presence on the Web, with many actively using this as a means of marketing, not only their services, but also property itself. But what of property companies – is much information available about them and their activities? The answer in short is limited – a number of companies have a presence, with the level of content varying.
The best of the bunch has to be MEPC (www.mepc.com). Their Web site has been around for some time now and was recently upgraded. It is easy to navigate through the site, with not too much information to clutter up the screen. From the main home page links are provided to key sections including company information, details on business parks and company news. A ticker bar also provides brief details on the latest company news.
Taking the "about MEPC" link provides a brief summary of the companies activities following its recent acquisition. A copy of the current (2000) annual report is also available to download, or by taking the past reports link, the 1999 report is also available.
With the focus of their activity now on business parks; it stands to reason that the business park section is perhaps the most comprehensive. Taking this link provides a list of the 19 key parks in their ownership – clicking on any of the park names listed provides details on that park. In some cases the link will transfer you to the Web site of the individual business park; for example, clicking on Chineham Park directs you to the Chineham Park Web site (www.chinehampark.com), or for Leavesden Park (www.leavesdenpark.com). As with the majority of marketing from MEPC, the information supplied is in a standard format, including details on availability, floor plans, location and demographics.
Other information on the main Web site includes the latest news which is usefully divided into key periods from July 1999. Unfortunately, when I went to view some sections, all I got was "news to come".
Another good site is that of Slough Estates (www.sloughestates.com). The majority of information is accessed from the home page, including links to the "portfolio", "financial results", "news" and "environmental policy". Under each a brief description is provided to outline the contents of that section, in "portfolio" "you can view a selection of the company's existing and future UK developments". For ease of navigation a "site guide" is provided, giving instant access to the key areas of the site – if you want to find the mission statement, worldwide offices or press releases look no further – they are all here and just one click away!
From the portfolio link a summary of company activity is provided. At the end, links are available to "UK" and "International" properties, from where you can view information relating to each site. The UK section is divided according to market sector; for example, office, industrial and retail. Information on lettings are also available for a selection of individual properties. For those expecting useful comparables you will be disappointed – only details on the property and tenant are given!
Financial information is available, with the annual report available in paper format once you have filled in some basic details. A unique feature of the site is the information on the company's environmental policy, which outlines its strategy and some of the activities already undertaken.
A more recent entrant is Development Securities (www.developmentsecurities.com). As the site loads up it appears that four sections are available on "property", "investor relations", "news" and "about us". In the end only the investor relations link is displayed, though having said that the other information is available through this section! Taking the news link provided a list of press releases dating back to September 1999 on development activities. It is very comprehensive and up-to-date – when I visited in the beginning of January 2001 the last entry was for December 2000. As with MEPC, accounts are available for both 2000 and 1999, either as a pdf document to view with Adobe Acrobat®, or in a html format to view through a Web browser. Basic information on development activity is also provided in the form of a single sheet on each key site, including Cambourne Business Park and Paddington Goods Yard. Additional information could be provided, including links to the Web sites of the individual developments – for example, in the case of Cambourne, a direct link to www.cambournebusinesspark.com
Frogmore (www.frogmore.co.uk) have a similar level of information on their Web site, with key information on "Management", "Operations", "Financial" and "Contact". The financial section has brief details from their report and accounts with financial highlights for 1999 and 2000, including a current breakdown of their offices by sector and region. A balance sheet, profit-and-loss account and five-year highlight is also available to view – if you need a brief summary, then take the "factsheet" link. More detailed accounts would be useful. Under operations information on key property holdings is available – clicking on the particular site provides some brief details – generally a picture/ artist's impression with a description and specification. Links are also available to view building sizes, floor plans and the location.
A number of other developers/property companies have a presence on the Web, including Marylebone Warwick Balfour (www.mwb.co.uk) and Grosvenor (www.geh.com). A number of companies, rather than developing and maintaining their own sites, have chosen to have their site within the property mall (www.propertymall.com) – companies with a presence here include Greycoat, Gazeley, Chartwell Land and Warner Estates.
Further sites are no doubt around with most companies adopting their name followed by ".co.uk" or ".com". If that produces nothing then try the search engines, the best around these days seems to be "Google" (www.google.com). If that results in nothing, it could just be that property companies are sticking to their traditional "bricks" rather than "clicks and mortar"!
Dr Nigel AlmondMarket AnalystWeatherall Green & Smith , LondonE-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed are the author's and not those of WG&S.