Poland has become one of the major providers of real estate investment assets for investors, with the participation of foreign capital in Polish real estate market estimated at around 90%. With a yield of 5.25% in the primary office market and 6.75% in the warehouse market, Poland is powering ahead of other Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries and continuing to attract more and more investment.

Retail sector

Although the shopping mall market in Poland is considered by some to be already saturated, there have been several significant entries onto the market recently, including Vroclavia with 64,000 sq.m. of gross leasable area (GLA) and Forum Gdańsk with 62,000 sq.m. of GLA, indicating more developments are still taking place. Market saturation has resulted in greater investment in smaller, independent retail and service facilities, which are cheaper and less time-consuming for investors and which meet the needs of consumers. As the retail park market continues to develop and be stimulated by developers interested in investing in regional and smaller cities, there are still opportunities for foreign investors to enter this sector.

In addition to investment, we have also seen significant activity related to the consolidation of assets. For example, EPP acquired 19 retail projects, becoming the number one retail GLA owner in Poland. Major acquisitions have also been made by NEPI Rockcastle (12 projects) and Arcona Property Fund (12 projects). South African investors have also made significant acquisitions in the shopping mall market.

Warehouse sector

In 2016–17, investments in the warehouse market increased significantly. According to Colliers’ Market Insights annual report, the supply of new warehouse space in Poland reached over 2.3 million sq.m. in 2017 and the total warehouse area exceeded 13.5 million sq.m. The report also predicted the further development of the market for smaller warehouses as well as build-to-suit (BTS) projects. The most remarkable BTS projects in 2018 included 161,000 sq.m. of warehouse space for Amazon and 130,000 sq.m. for Zalando. The main source of demand for new warehouse projects is the development of third-party logistics (3PL), e-commerce and trade. The logistics sector provides great opportunities for foreign entities that are already active as developers, investors and tenants in Poland.

As well as new investments, there has also been significant transaction activity on the warehouse market. In 2018, European Logistic Investment BV, a company from the Netherlands co-managed by Griffin Real Estate, confirmed the acquisition by Redefine Properties (SouthAfrican REIT) of nine logistics parks developed by Panattoni Europe.

Office sector

Warsaw is the driving force of the office space market in Poland and the main target for investors wanting to increase supply. In 2017, 275,000 sq.m. of new office space was handed over for use in the Polish capital. However, unlike other CEE countries, the Polish office space market is also strongly developing in the regions. In 2017, 455,000 sq.m. of office space was handed over for use in regional cities, 190,000 sq.m. of which was in Krakow — putting it in second place behind Warsaw in the national ranking.

Despite several unique features that need to be taken into account, the legal framework of the Polish real estate market is flexible and accessible to foreign investors.

Developers continue to be highly active, with approximately 880,000 sq.m. of office space planned for handover in 2018. This activity is driven by new companies, including foreign investors, who are - in increasing numbers - setting up operations in Poland, as well as companies already present on the Polish market who are expanding their operations. Transactions on the office space market are also on the rise - in Warsaw alone the total value of transactions in the first three quarters of 2018 amounted to EUR1.14 billion.

Legal framework

The basis of Polish civil and administrative law is similar to that of Germany and Austria. However, its regulations are not as strict or detailed as in those two countries, making them more flexible. The Polish system also has some unique features.

First, there are restrictions related to the acquisition of real estate by foreigners. Foreign investors usually conduct their activity in Poland through their own SPVs registered in Poland or in other EU member states, which means they can buy and sell real estate in Poland freely. However, in the case of investors from outside the EU, the EEA and Switzerland, the purchase of real estate is conditional on prior approval from the Minister of Administration and Internal Affairs. This approval may be refused if an objection is raised by the Minister of Defense or - in the case of agricultural land - by the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Recent restrictions on trade in private and public agricultural real estate, which also apply to foreign investors, are of particular significance to the warehouse market. These restrictions limit the sale of public agricultural real estate, define who may - and who may not - purchase such real estate, and give the National Agriculture Support Institution pre-emption rights to agricultural real estate or to shares in commercial companies that own agricultural real estate.

However, some exceptions in the regulations (eg, trade is possible if the area of a real property is small or if it is designated for non-agricultural use in the local zoning plan) mean that the restrictions do not apply to all agricultural real estate. Despite initial concerns, the regulations have not had a significant effect on the real estate market. Moreover, it appears there are plans to relax the restrictions on trading in agricultural real estate.

Another feature of the Polish legal system is the institution of perpetual usufruct, that is, the right to use and take benefit from another person’s property, which is similar to full ownership. The right of perpetual usufruct is established on real properties owned by the State Treasury or local government units. The right is transferable and mortgageable.

Summary

Despite several unique features that need to be taken into account, the legal framework of the Polish real estate market is flexible and accessible to foreign investors.

Investors have faced a number of practical problems recently, including lack of skilled workers in the construction sector, wage inflation and increasing costs of materials. Nevertheless, with its increasing investment needs and opportunities, Poland remains an attractive prospect.

According to a survey conducted in 2017 by the Polish Agency of Investments and Trade, Grant Thornton and HSBC, 92% of foreign investors who have invested in Poland consider it a good decision and would invest again. With its investment climate rated as 3.7 on a scale of 0–5, Poland offers foreign investors a friendly and stable macroeconomic environment.