Foreign investors use REITs to catch the cycle in Southern Europe, says Savills

The Southern European markets of Spain and Greece have seen a significant rise in commercial real estate investment in 2014 with half-year figures representing 88% of last year’s overall investment volume total, according to agent Savills.

Following an active year in 2013, Italy and Portugal markets had a slower first half in 2014, but are expected to match or even exceed last year’s volumes.

Research from the international real estate advisor shows that investment levels in Southern Europe have been underpinned by buying activity from new and established REITs in these markets. In addition, Savills confirms that these investment vehicles have provided a platform for international buyers to achieve exposure in Southern Europe through indirect investments with figures showing that €820 mln and €2.55 bn were invested in Greek and Spanish REITs respectively by international investors in the past 12-18 months. 

‘REITs have provided a safe and efficient investment structure for overseas purchasers to enter the Southern European commercial real estate markets,’ said Eri Mitsostergiou, director of European Research at Savills. ‘In some cases, these investors do not know the local market well and the REIT vehicle provides them access to domestic players that are better positioned to expand and deliver effectively.’ 

Spain has reported the largest growth in investment activity, which increased by 168% in H1 14 compared to the same period in 2013 and this is set to continue with the country predicted to report a year-end figure almost double that of last year at more than €5 bn. Of the transactions completed so far in 2014, 21% was dominated by the new Spanish REITs (SOCIMIs) which have this year invested 44% in retail, 42% in offices, 8% in hotels and the remaining 6% in industrial. Madrid accounted for 52% of the SOCIMIs’ investments with Barcelona seeing 35%. 

In the Greek market the REITs, known locally as AEEAP, have accounted for 38% of investment activity over the past 18 months with offices representing 84%, retail accounting for 12% and the remaining 4% allocated to industrial. 

In Italy just two REITs (SIIQs) currently exist; however Savills indicates that a change in regulation in the country promoted by the ‘Unlock Italy’ initiative as well as a focus on attracting foreign investment into the Italian real estate market, may spur IPO activity and the creation of more REITs, similar to the Spanish market. This increase in Italian REITs could open up opportunities for those international investors that may consider Italy to be a complex market to enter.

‘REITs across Southern Europe have firmly established themselves as key and important investors in the commercial sector and this is something we expect to increase as these markets continue their recovery. We also foresee the demand from international investors using these vehicles to indirectly invest in these markets to maintain momentum,’ Mitsostergiou concluded.


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Foreign investors use REITs to catch the cycle in Southern Europe, says Savills

British buyers top inquiries for first time on Italian property website

Interest from UK property buyers on has overtaken US demand, where one-third of searchers have an Italian surname, on the website for the first time since it was launched in 2007

For the first time, British buyers have overtaken United States investors looking to buy property in Italy, says a leading specialist website.

Britons top the list of inquiries for Italian properties on during the first half of the year with 14.5%, followed by the United States with 13.3%, France, 10.6%, Germany, 8.5%, and Belgium, 6.6%.

Walter Di Martino, Head of Communications at tells OPP Connect, “Brits have always been attracted to Italian lifestyle and its natural and artistic beauty. In recent decades other countries suffered an indiscriminate construction activity that ruined their landscapes. This has never happened to Italy which has preserved its heritage.

“USA has always been at the top of the list, since 2007, when was born – and there are two other reasons that make the overtaking even more significant: First of all, the Americans are numerically greater than Brits. Secondly, about 35% of enquiries from USA come from potential buyers bearing an Italian surname, so they’re interested in investing in their country of origin. This is not the case of Brits.”

Leading players in the property market are coming together to help create strategies to attract British buyers. For instance,, in collaboration with the Italian Chamber of Commerce & Industry for the UK, is the official sponsor of the Italian Pavilion at A Place in The Sun Live consumer property show.

British interest in Italy as a permanent destination has risen 11 year-on-year in the first six month of 2014, and the 2013 level was 31% up on 2012.

UK citizens who are thinking about Italy are doing so mainly to improve their quality of life and take advantage of better weather, rather than escaping Britain. Other popular reasons are concerned with educational and professional advancement, a lower cost-of-living (particularly in suburban and rural locations), and romance, says Mr Di Martino.

Most look to live in small-towns rather than cities and want “elbow-room”, with 83% of inquiries coming in for single-family homes versus just16.7% for apartments

Britons are more likely than anyone to take on a renovation project, with a quarter saying that they are willing to refurbish a property, compared to only 16.5% of French, and 15.5% of Americans.

The average price that British home seekers are looking at is (€280,000) is significantly lower than the world average (€480,000), as they often forecast additional costs of renovations works.

Puglia is the most popular region of Italy under consideration at (17.8%), followed by Tuscany at 16.3%, Abruzzo, 11.9%, Liguria, 11.4%, and Lombardy, 5.7%.


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Italian property third most popular in the world

Italian property is now the third most popular in the world, according to The property portal´s latest Top of the Props report reveals that Italy climbed two places to reach third in the April 2014 chart, receiving more enquiries than both Spain and Portugal.

Italy´s real estate has enjoyed a strong start to the year. After a slight dip in popularity at the end of 2013, the country re-entered´s top 10 rankings and has since seen its share of enquiries on the site rise to 4.52 per cent – enough to leapfrog fourth place Portugal and fifth place Spain.

Portugal´s share of enquiries has stayed steady at 3.92 per cent compared to 4.22 per cent last month. Spain, on the other hand, has seen its share of enquiries fall, accounting for just 3.81 per cent of enquiries last month.

France also saw its share of enquiries dip month-on-month from 8.4 per cent to 6.6 per cent, although it retained its runner-up spot behind the USA. US property has now been the most popular market on for 10 consecutive months. Aside from Italy, America was the only country in the top five to see its share of enquiries increase.

Brazil: Boom or bust?

Demand for Brazil continued to fall in April. The country slipped two spots into ninth, its second month of decline in a row. Brazil now accounts for 1.83 per cent of enquiries compared to a peak of 5.61 per cent in January 2014.

The decrease occurs just before the 2014 World Cup, when attention from investors, tourists and football fans alike is expected to be strong. Nonetheless, in real terms, the country has seen enquiries increase 43 per cent in the first quarter of 2014 compared to the fourth quarter of 2013, suggesting that South America is still high on buyers´ shopping lists.

Investors return to Thailand

Investors have also returned to Thailand,´s research reveals. After several months of low interest amid political unrest, rising demand for Pattaya property helped attract investors last month, taking the country back into the portal´s top 10.

Buyers also looked as far afield as the UAE. The area´s economic recovery has turned the emirates into an appealing market for overseas investors. That appeal has now seen the UAE climb seven places to reach 12th in´s chart, the highest ranking the country has ever had.

La Dolce Vita

While Canada, Thailand and the UAE all enjoyed rising popularity, many buyers were looking at more familiar European markets. Cyprus climbed up’s rankings for the second month in a row, hopping over Greece to become the 11th most popular property market on the site. Bulgaria enjoyed an even bigger rebound from 13th into the top 10 for the second time in the past six months.

Spain’s share of activity dwindled significantly but in real terms, enquiries for Spanish property only dipped 3 per cent in Q1 2014 from Q4 2013, highlighting buyers’ ongoing interest in the country’s famous Costas.

The pull of affordable lifestyle homes, though, was evident in Italy most of all. In real terms, the number of enquiries received by Italian property rose 7 per cent in the first quarter of 2014 compared to the previous three months. In April 2014, the low price of La Dolce Vita saw the country become the third most popular country among house hunters, a record high.

“Italy has been pressed into adopting tough austerity measures to try and get its economy in better shape,” explains Paul Belcher, MD of Ultissimo, who specialise in Lake Como property.

“Property prices have declined as demand has slumped and so Italian property represents much better value now than for the best part of a decade. International buyers are increasingly confident that they will see an upturn in property prices and many don´t want to miss the current opportunity.”

The agency also argues that Italy´s property market is a relatively stable safe haven when compared to some other countries.

“France’s government is causing investors and the domestic population alike considerable uncertainty,” adds Mr. Belcher. “Many French property sellers have yet to become realistic about pricing, so neighbouring Italy has become relatively much more attractive. Those who look carefully will find a sound property registration and legal system in Italy, property values tied to the Euro, and many good buying opportunities.”

Filippo Zeni, Co-Founder and Broker at i-RES, agrees that the time is now to make a purchase: “The market, overall, is at a good 25 per cent below 2008 without being overvalued. It is a moment of great opportunities – we truly believe that living the Italian dream is now more accessible than ever.”


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Italian Property Market Sees Foreign Investments Double During 2013

Findings from property agent CBRE reveal that the cross-border property investments in Italy picked up twice as much last year upon their 2012 investment transaction values. The increased interest shown by foreign investors is expected to continue in 2014. Meanwhile, local investment activity has assumed a depressed pace in the recent past. Analysts predict that local investors may re-surface into the property market in the coming two years. Also, analysts are concerned by the resurgence of the Italian real-estate market through capital instead of fundamentals.

Overseas investor appetite in Italian real estate market improves

A CBRE report claims that the cross-border investment values hit €3.6 billion during 2013. The report also reveals that North American investors accounted for about €1.3 billion of the transaction amounts while European investors accounted for transactions of a similar order as well. Investors from Asian and Middle-eastern countries contributed some €900 million of the net transactions with Qatari investors alone contributing €787 million.

Foreign investments in the Italian real estate market seem to be continuing on an upward swing through 2014. During the first quarter of 2014, nearly 48 percent of the €700 million transactions made in the the commercial property market in Italy, came from overseas investors.

Tight lending rules inhibit local investor activity

While overseas capital has been performing well in the Italian real estate market, the tight lending regulations are withholding the activity of local investors. Prelios’ Corporate and Institutional Business Development Head, Luca Turco says that local investors had the complete support of Italian banks earlier. Italian banks are now more focused on clearing out old debts, while foreign banks have begun to show a pronounced interest in the Italian market.

Foreign banks are careful with their credit ratings and lend their support to foreign investors in Italy, he explains. However, local investments are expected to return and cause the property prices to shoot up. Turco says that local investors who are currently out of the property market radar will step back in the coming two years. He predicts that local banks will be ready to tender new loans in two years time. The current period is the right time for overseas investors to make aggressive opportunistic investments, he adds.

Analysts voice concern over capital backed revival of Italian real-estate

Property investors warn that the new wave of investments in the Italian property market are backed by the capital rather than changes made in fundamentals. Ron Rawald, European real estate chief of Cerebrus, a private equity group in the US, says that the fundamentals are not as appreciable and the capital can only be solely accounted for the revival seen in the Italian property market. He reports that there has not been any reduction in the vacancy numbers, or an increase in the tenant numbers in Italian real estate. He adds that the inflow of new investments from capital rather than fundamentals puts the market in a worrisome position.


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ITALY BRIEFING: Foreign investment in Italy doubles in 2013

Italy saw €3.6 bn of cross-border property investment in 2013, more than twice the amount in 2012, CBRE told the PropertyEU Italy Investment Briefing.

More than €1.3 bn came from North America and a similar amount from within Europe, according to CBRE data. 
Almost €900 mln came from the Middle East and Asia, with Qatar alone spending €787 mln. 
In May last year, PropertyEU revealed that Qatari investors had bought 40% of the flagship Porta Nuova mixed-use development in central Milan from Italian fund manager Hines.

The trend for foreign investment appears to be continuing into 2014, with 48% of the roughly €700 mln in commercial real estate deals done in Q1 coming from abroad. 

For the opening presenatation and videos of the event, click on Italy Investment Briefing


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IPD Italy Annual Property Index: full year results to December 2013

The IPD Italy Annual Property Index, released today, recorded a total return of 2.5% over the full year 2013, 90 basis points higher than that achieved in 2012. Although the capital growth continued to tread in negative territory (-3.1%), Italian real estate confirmed a stable and robust income return, at 5.7%.

Private unleveraged property investments compare unfavourably against traditional asset classes, as equities have recorded a 12-month return of 16.1% in 2013, followed closely by real estate stocks, at 15.8%. Bonds posted a total return of 8.7% over the same period.

Looking at the longer term, direct property recorded an average total return of 2.8%pa over 3 years, 3.1%pa over 5 years and 5.1%pa over 10 years, outperforming both equities (1.4%pa, 3.5%pa and 0.8%pa respectively) and real estate equities (-11.3%pa, -4.9%pa, -5.2%pa respectively), and scoring higher average returns than bonds (5.6%pa) over a 10-year horizon.

Luigi Pischedda, Senior Associate and Head of IPD Italy commented: “IPD’s latest Italian Index confirms recovery trends already observed in our latest publications, the Biannual Property Index and the Property Fund Index, which are characterised by a lower rate of decline in the market values and by stable income returns.”

Across the main sectors, industrial property recorded the highest total return, of 3.3%, followed by retail at 3.1% and office at 1.8%. Capital value declines were least dramatic for retail assets, with a -2.7% 12-month capital value growth; office values decreased on average by 3.2%, whilst industrial properties took the hardest hit at -3.8%, despite yielding the highest income return of 7.4%. The income return for retail and office was respectively 5.9% and 5.1%.

Luigi Pischedda continued: “Property fundamentals continued to convey mixed signals: we recorded yet another 12 months of declining rental values across the board and high vacancy rates especially in the peripheral area of Milan, but also lower yields, which have moved in for most segments at the December 2013 snapshot.

“Although the question about whether the market has finally bottomed-out is still unanswered, we are able to report two useful pieces of information. Firstly, the decline in values since the crisis has well surpassed in magnitude the growth we have recorded up to 2007. Secondly, most of the sale transactions we have monitored in 2013 achieved a price in the +/-10% range compared with the latest valuation. In more than half the cases, the price obtained was higher than the latest valuation, which is a noticeable result in a buyer’s market.”


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Property prices expected to fall further in Italy this year

Property prices in Italy are expected to fall further in 2014 with a weak domestic economic outlook affecting the residential real estate market.

House prices have declined in real terms by 5.8% year on year since 2012 and the trend appears not to have stabilised, according to the latest analysis report from Fitch Ratings.

It points out that figures from Nomisma also show that the real estate market has also contracted in terms of the number of sales by about 8% year on year.

Fitch expects the current housing market cycle to be driven by the slow economic recovery, which will take time to reflect in stronger and increasing houses prices. Fitch expects further nominal house price declines of about 4% between now and the end of 2014.

The Italian economy is expected to have exited recession in the fourth quarter of 2013, although any recovery is likely to be slow, the report points out. ‘The private sector entered the crisis with a healthy balance sheet, although the rising unemployment and the tight credit conditions are still potential threats and individuals’ purchasing power is weighed down by still tight credit conditions as well as fiscal headwinds,’ the report says.

The agency believes that the mortgage rates are likely to remain stable, although significantly higher than in the core European Union countries. However, the persistent stress on employment and real wages will continue to affect mortgage affordability.

It adds that the interest rate on new mortgage originations is expected to remain stable over the next few years. New trends will depend on the ability of banks to re-price their maturing loans and reduce funding costs.

But it also points out that the average interest rates on new mortgages has remained rather stable over the past 15 months at 4.7% as of the third quarter of 2013 compared with 4.8% in the second quarter of 2012 and the European Central Bank policy rate is expected to remain low.

However, mortgage arrears are still increasing, though to a lesser extent. They increased by 8% year on year in 2013 compared to 9% year on year in 2012. ‘This confirms the persistent constraints on borrower’s incomes created by the general macroeconomic and unemployment challenges, although some sign of recovery is likely in early 2014,’ the report says, adding that a medium term rise in rates is likely to result in an increase in arrears.

Fitch expects 2014 lending volumes to remain subdued as the domestic recovery, expected to take place in 2014, is likely to be weak. However, the agency believes that the residential mortgage volumes should slightly expand, thanks to the lower cost of credit of loans to individuals compared to other borrower segments.


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News analysis: Italy’s real-estate prices still declining but at slower pace

By Marzia De Giuli

MILAN, Italy, Nov. 29 (Xinhua) — With the Italian economy still mired in recession, real-estate analysts expect further declines in property prices but foresee less unfavorable developments in the market.

The outbreak of the global financial crisis in 2008 and the consecutive debt crisis in 2011 led to credit freeze and decreased household income in Italy.

But differently from other European states, where prices reached unsustainable levels and then plunged, construction companies and banks in the Mediterranean country were keeping prices artificially high.

Such price rigidity in Italy resulted in a sharp decrease of transactions which fell from some 869,000 in 2006 to around 407,000 expected this year, according to a report from the Bologna-based Nomisma think tank.

The trend is continuing, but a real-estate bubble is unlikely to occur in the final phase of the crisis, Nomisma Managing Director Luca Dondi explained. “Repricing in Italy is taking longer than in other markets,” he told Xinhua. “Here the bubble was smaller, we let the air out little by little.”

According to a recent report from Italy’s central bank, residential property prices should record a decline of 5 per cent on average in 2013 and a modest rise throughout 2014. But the risk for this projection was downside and real-estate agents expect further declines in prices, the report said.

Dondi estimated further downward price correction during a period up to two years, which will encourage demand. He said he did not expect price appreciation before three to five years.

“Italy’s property market is not in a restart phase though is showing timid improvement and will recovery gradually, if Italy is not hit by other unpredictable economic shocks,” he said.

He highlighted however that the double-digit growth rates experienced by the sector between 2003 and 2007 were irreparably lost with the country’s longest recession in 20 years, and will be “only a memory.”

But why the repricing process has been much slower in Italy than in other European countries? Dondi and other experts pointed out three main reasons.

“The first wave of crisis was very short, so operators thought the property market could recover soon and kept prices high,” Dondi said. Meanwhile Italian banks did not want to mark-to-market their considerable exposure to the real estate sector because they would have big losses, he also noted.

Guido Lodigiani, Corporate Director of Italy’s largest real estate portal Gruppo, added that “Italy is a nation of homeowners, where some 75-80 percent of all homes are owner-occupied.”

“Homes are an essential part of Italian families’ assets, and a significant price reduction would mean feeling much poorer,” he explained to Xinhua.

Lodigiani agreed with Dondi that prices would continue to fall in the course of 2014. He estimated however that the number of transactions could slightly improve for effect of an easing of contraction in loans for house purchase, as also expected by the central bank’s report, assuming a modest strengthening of the economy.

This could be a good moment for foreign players to invest in the Italian real-estate market, especially in key cities like Milan – which will host the next world exposition in 2015 – and Rome, Lodigiani said. “In a basket for investors, the Italian market is a defensive one,” he noted.

According to Real Capital Analytics Inc., a global research and consulting firm, from January through early October, the volume of Italian cross-border transactions totaled 2.7 billion euros (3.6 billion U.S. dollars), the largest amount of foreign investment in the country’s commercial real estate since 2007.

For example, Morgan Stanley, which had not purchased property in Italy since 2007, said it had acquired a majority stake in 13 shopping malls and two retail parks, while Allianz Real Estate’s takeover of two office buildings in Milan and Rome was its first investment in Italy since 2008.


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Commercial Property In Italy Attracts Foreign Real Estate Investors

The first signs of improvement of the European economy are being seen in the form of increased commercial property sales in Italy. The country has traditionally been seen as one of Europe’s weaker markets.

Foreign investment

The data for the period from January to early October says it all. According to Real Capital Analytics Inc. Foreign investors pumped in a total of 2.75 billion euros or approximately 79% of all real estate transactions of a commercial nature in Italy. This is the biggest foreign investment involving commercial property in Italy since 2007. According to Joseph Kelly of Real Capital Analytics, this is only half the year’s total.

Buyer profile

This surge in Italian commercial real estate demand reflects a rise in overall confidence within the euro zone. Investors are now willing to buy into potentially riskier nations like Italy and Spain. It helps that Italy has good quality assets.

It is observed that the biggest investors in 2013 are the ones who had never purchased property in Italy before the global financial crisis. To cite an example, Morgan Stanley snapped up a majority holding in two retail parks and 13 Italian shopping malls for about 635 million euros. The company had made its last purchase in 2007.

Allianz Real Estate’s purchase of two office buildings in Rome and Milan for 90 million euros was its first investment in the country since 2008. According to Mauro Montagner, CEO, Allianz Real Estate Italy, the German Insurance conglomerate is planning more investments to the tune of $500 million.

Europe’s saturated markets

According to investors, one of the secondary reasons for investing in Italian real estate is that prices in other markets like Germany, London, Sweden and Paris have jumped to where they were before the recession. Those markets, therefore, have limited appeal for investors. According to market analysts, yields there are as low as 5%. In contrast, the harder hit markets of Italy, Portugal, Greece and Spain yielded an average of 8.4% for office space and 7.3% for retail space.

According to Alessandro Mazzanti, CEO, CBRE Group Inc’s Italian division, the year 2013 will end with almost two-thirds of Italian commercial real estate buyers being foreign. This is about double the average of the period between 2009 and 2012. Qatar Holding LLC took a 40% stake in Porto Nuovo in May. It is a two billion euro mixed-use development in the Italian city Milan. This is the biggest transaction until now.

Qatar Holding’s bold move has led to other investors taking a close look at the Italian market. Other foreign investors who have expressed interest include KKR & Co, Cerberus Capital Management LP and Oaktree Capital Management. According to Manfredi Catella, CEO, Hines Italy SGR, Cerberus is close to signing two transactions valued at 400 million euros in total.

Blackstone is heavily invested in shopping malls spread across northern Italy and is engaged in talks to purchase the Milan headquarters of the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera for 120 million euros. The newspaper is in deep financial debt.

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Italy Attracts Real-Estate Investors From Abroad

Confidence in Euro Zone Is Prompting Bets on Weaker Markets

Foreign investors are showing a growing appetite for Italian commercial real estate, a sign that the gradual improvement of the European economy is being felt in some of the Continent’s weaker property markets.

From January through early October, the volume of Italian cross-border transactions totaled €2.75 billion ($3.71 billion), or about 79% of all commercial real-estate transactions in Italy so far this year, according to Real Capital Analytics Inc. That is the largest amount of foreign investment in Italian commercial real estate since 2007, though it still is only half that year’s total, says Joseph Kelly, a European analyst at Real Capital Analytics.

With overall confidence in the euro zone rising, investors are becoming more willing to buy into riskier countries such as Spain and Italy, experts say.

“Now that the euro-zone crisis is no longer as relevant, people look to Italy. It has a real economy and good quality assets,” says Stephen Screene, chief operating officer of European capital markets at Cushman & Wakefield Inc.

The buyers in the biggest deals of 2013 are investors who haven’t bought property in Italy since before the global financial crisis, or ever. For example, in early October Morgan StanleyMS -0.37% which hadn’t purchased property in Italy since 2007, said it had acquired a majority stake in 13 Italian shopping malls and two retail parks in a deal valued at about €635 million.


Allianz Real Estate’s acquisition last May of two office buildings in Milan and Rome was its first investment in Italy since 2008. Following this roughly €90 million deal, the German insurance company is planning further investments worth about €500 million, according to Mauro Montagner, CEO of Allianz Real Estate Italy.

Investors say that in havens such as London, Paris, Germany and Sweden, prices have jumped in some cases to prerecession levels, making investments less appealing. Investors buying properties in those markets are accepting initial yields as low as 5%, analysts say.

By contrast, in the second quarter of 2013, yields in Europe’s harder-hit markets such as Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Greece were on average 7.3% for retail property and 8.4% for office property, according to Real Capital Analytics.

By the end of 2013, about two thirds of the year’s deals will have involved foreign buyers, says Alessandro Mazzanti, chief executive CBRE Group Inc. CBG +0.11% ‘s Italian division. This is about double the average between 2009 and 2012, he says.

In May, Qatar Holding LLC, which before 2012 was completely absent from the Italian market, closed on a 40% stake of Porta Nuova, a €2 billion mixed-use development in Milan, the largest transaction so far this year in Italy.

Qatar Holding’s move piqued the interest of foreign investors, says Manfredi Catella, CEO of Hines Italia SGR, the developer of Porta Nuova.

Newly interested foreign investors include U.S. private-equity firms Cerberus Capital Management LP, KKR & Co. and Oaktree Capital Management, Mr. Catella says. In particular, Cerberus is close to completing two transactions for a value that could reach €400 million, according to people familiar with the matter.

Blackstone Group BX -4.13% LP, which in recent months has invested in shopping centers across northern Italy, is in exclusive talks to buy the historic Milan headquarters of the heavily indebted Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera for €120 million, according to people familiar with the matter. Blackstone didn’t respond to requests for comment.

But not everyone in Italy is eager to see real estate sold to foreign buyers. After the announcement of the possible sale of the building that has been Corriere’s home since 1904, the paper’s union of journalists called a strike.

Also, many foreign investors are deterred by an Italian political and economic system that they say lacks transparency and a clear set of rules.

“It is important that the government should adopt laws to erase rules that penalize real estate,” says Massimo Caputi, vice chairman of the Italian real-estate management firm Prelios SpA.


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