To showcase the global connectivity at CBRE and our International Valuations Team cross-border valuation work for some of the largest global clients this is the first of a series of blogs looking to uncover emerging markets in Central Asia. For this first blog we wanted to put a spotlight on Uzbekistan. In this blog, written in partnership with our colleagues in Kazakhstan, we explore the country’s fundamentals, the local real estate market and future prospects.

From the Silk Road to a reformed economy

Lying on the crossroads of the Silk Road, Uzbekistan is Central Asia’s most populous country with 34 million inhabitants. Known for being rich in natural resources, it is one of the world’s largest producers of cotton and the second largest exporter. Despite this, after the fall of the USSR the country’s economy struggled as it adjusted to life without Soviet subsidies, with corruption and a lack of reform slowing development. To illustrate this, according to the World Bank, 2018 GDP per capita in Uzbekistan was $1,532, compared to Kazakhstan of $9,812 – a country with half the population. However, this is changing under the government of President Mirziyoyev which has embarked on a reform programme to modernise the economy. In this blog, we look at the role real estate is playing in this.

A real estate market poised for modernisation

As with many countries in the CIS, the real estate market was non-existent until the fall of the Soviet Union. Similar to the economy, the real estate market required structural change to create a competitive marketplace to attract participants across all sectors. With a population of 2.5 million people, Tashkent is the largest city in the region. Considering that a number of buildings have remained from the Soviet era, the city has long been ripe for modernisation.

The government is seeking to achieve this by improving connections through a number of infrastructure projects. The initial introduction of high-speed rail between Tashkent and Samarkand is planned to extend to cities such as Bukhara. Likewise, there are plans to build a new airport in Tashkent by 2022, which is expected to increase annual throughput to 10m people. These infrastructure investments are supporting ambitious real estate projects in the country and Tashkent itself is currently undergoing a construction boom, as the government seeks to create a new hub for Central Asia.

In April 2020, the draft masterplan for the redevelopment of Tashkent by 2041 was published. According to the plan, the government plans to increase the size of the city 33,000 to 41,500 hectares to support population growth which is set to reach 3.3 million by 2041. However, the spearhead for this transformation is the Tashkent City project - an 80-hectare redevelopment of the city centre that is split into eight zones to provide including a new business district, high-end residential living plus new retail and leisure offering. Each zone is being funded by a different investor and developer and is due to fully complete by Q4 2022.
We analyse each zone:

Zone Name  Sector Anticipated
Completion
Comments
 1  Gardens Residence Residential Q4 2022 1180 apartments across 9 buildings across 280,000 sqm. Includes kindergarten, sports complex and parking for 1482 cars plus accompanying retail and food stores. 
 2  Central Plaza Mixed Use Q4 2022 To provide three 21-storey residential buildings, two buildings to accommodate Park Inn + Radisson, Grade A office space plus 4-storey shopping mall. 
 3  Hyper Partners Centre Mixed Use 2022  4 buildings: 3-storey shopping mall across 224,000 sqm, 28-storey serviced residential tower, 31-storey 5-star hotel and 27-storey Grade A office building across 57,635 sqm. 
 4  Nest One Mixed Use  Q4 2022  Mixed use residential, hotel and office project to provide 187,000 sqm across 5 buildings and one central tower – Tashkent’s first skyscraper at height of 267m.
 5  Hilton Hotel Hotel and Conference Centre  Part complete Hilton opened in 2019 and provides 258 rooms. Conference centre adjoining the hotel. 
 6  Financial Centre
 Office 2018-2022  4 Grade A office buildings to create new CBD. Set to release 269,000 sqm of space to the market. Phased completion.
 7 Boulevard and Hotel
 Mixed Use 2022 9 buildings each across 7 storeys, providing 1342 apartments, business centre and two hotels operated by Holiday Inn and International Hotels Group. 
 8  Parkland Green Space and Entertainment  2022
 18.6 hectares of parkland in the centre of the project, cinema, museum and planetarium.

 

The real estate boom by sector

This construction boom is being felt across all sectors and this is impacting the real estate market by vastly increasing existing supply. Focussing on residential, office and retail, we examine the impact on each sector below:

Residential

Previously residential property in Tashkent has been characterised by Soviet-era apartment buildings and detached single-story houses in which 45% of the urban population lives. As part of Tashkent’s masterplan, developers are seeking to grow existing stock significantly. Currently standing at 47.5m sqm, the plan is to increase this to 71.6m sqm through raising housing density in urban areas and reducing the share of low-rise housing. Tashkent City itself is set to deliver 480,000 sqm. This is demonstrated by the recent JV between Murad Buildings and BI Group – the largest developers in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan – in which they plan to build 500,000 sqm of new space over the next few years. Their first project, the Oybek residential compound, will provide c. 500 apartments across 66,000 sqm.

As a middle class emerges, growth is being felt in the luxury residential sector. For example, the construction of Golden House’s new Mirbad Avenue development has driven pricing in this sector. Normally, the price for high end residential has ranged between $1,100-1,300 / sqm, but prices here are being quoted in excess of $2,000 / sqm.

However, to enable residential investment the government has loosened controls on the purchase of real estate and in Q1 2020 legislation was introduced allowing non-residents of Tashkent to purchase real estate for the first time. This is expected to increase investment in the sector as individuals seek to purchase new build housing. In turn, there is likely to be a growth in pricing as a result of increased demand.

Office

Until recently, there was no standardized classification of offices in Uzbekistan; often the building class declared by Landlord did not correspond to reality. This is changing as new developments are being designed to international standards to attract a diverse tenant mix. Due to varying standards of offices, rental rates range between $10-40 / sqm / month with c. $30 / sqm / month and above being achieved on good quality Class A space. The average occupancy rate for Class A and B office space in Tashkent is in the range of 80-90%. At the same time, the occupancy rate in the highest quality buildings with the best location is 95%.

Indeed, there is currently c. 200,000 sqm under construction – the majority of which is part of the Tashkent City project and include new buildings such as Nest One, Central Plaza and Hyper Partners Centre. Their delivery is estimated almost double current stock and in turn will help to attract international companies to Uzbekistan. This is already being demonstrated by the return of KPMG, as well as the arrival Tenge Bank and TBC Bank, naturally increasing demand for quality space. This is in addition to the other corporates that already operate in Uzbekistan, such as EY, PwC, Cisco, Toyota and General Motors.

This trend is expected to continue as Uzbekistan’s economy grows and we expect there to be strong demand from international companies for quality space. In turn, this may create a widening in the market between high-quality and low-quality space but it will seek to establish a modern office market that is attractive to new entrants.

Retail

Historically, Uzbekistan’s retail market has been underdeveloped compared to other countries, as a lack of stock has prevented retailers from entering. Low purchasing power and the low penetration of international brands have contributed to a lack of development of Uzbek retail. To illustrate this, the availability of retail in Tashkent equates to c. 35 sqm per 1,000 inhabitants but in Kazakhstan this is on average 10x higher.

Efforts are underway to solve this, as over 100,000 sqm of retail space is set to come to the market, significantly increasing market volume. As part of Tashkent City, the construction of the largest shopping centre in Uzbekistan, City Mall, is set to complete in 2022 and will form part of the Hyper Partners Centre mixed-use project. This follows on from recent completions outside of Tashkent City such as Compass Shopping Mall in 2018 (GLA - 30,000 sqm) and the partial completion of Rivera Shopping Mall in 2019 (GLA 40,000 sqm).

Underlying new development, reforms by the government such as enabling free currency conversion simplification of the tax system and liberalisation of customs and tariff policy have allowed international brands to enter the country. For example, major Russian retailers such as Shokoladnitsa have entered the market, as well as Sportmaster who opened their first store in March 2020 and possibly Detsky Mir. Likewise, German brand Tom Tailor has opened a store, as well as KFC and Baskin Robins. McDonalds and Starbucks are expected soon.

Change is also being reflected in the wider food sector. Reforms to land legislation, namely the ability from 2019 to bring non-agricultural land into private ownership, has given impetus to the development of other Big Box stores. This has been exemplified by Carrefour’s recent entrance to the market as it intends to open 7 stores in the country by 2022, creating 2,500 jobs.

This is significant as it will provide greater diversification and sophistication in the market. It is expected that this trend will continue across the sector as retailer seek to take advantage of consumer growth.

A positive outlook for the future

As reforms continue, there is still a long way to go before Uzbekistan fully modernises. Prospects are positive; research by the UN forecasts population growth will not peak in Uzbekistan until 2061 at c. 45 million people, in contrast to forecasted population decline in Europe. Indeed, these strong fundamentals are being proven by the country’s resilience to the COVID-19 pandemic thanks to an economy which is more diversified in terms of exports and less reliant on Russia than its neighbours. According to both the EBRD and EUROUZ, GDP growth has been adjusted to 1.5% in 2020; whilst weaker, it is still the strongest in Central Asia, as the region as a whole is forecast to have negative growth of -1.2% this year. 

So far, construction in the real estate sector has been the visible face of progress in Uzbekistan. Projects such as Tashkent City will serve to increase interest in the market, as will further reforms to encourage investment, infrastructure projects and a burgeoning middle class help to grow it. This will attract new participants to a market previously treated as inaccessible by many investors. Whilst headwinds such as systematic corruption remain, concerted efforts to tackle this will encourage a growing number of international corporates and retailers as they seek new opportunities.

CBRE

Through our affiliate office in Kazakhstan, CBRE is the market leader in Central Asia and the only real estate firm with a presence in the region. It holds a unique position the market with an experienced team that is able to provide advice to corporates and investors alike looking to undertake business in Uzbekistan.

The office benefits from the wider CBRE global network and works closely with the International Valuation & Advisory team in London. CBRE's International Valuation and Advisory Network is the largest of any of its competitors and focuses exclusively on cross border instructions. The local market knowledge of our teams coupled with access to a global network means we can guarantee accuracy and efficiency across the globe.

Stay tuned for further blogs in this series over the coming few weeks.

Operational real estate investment has crossed the Rubicon

Operational real estate investment has crossed the Rubicon

At last, real estate and operational businesses are working together.