Beyond covering this important area of Germany, the German consultants work alongside the European team in the London office effectively recruiting real estate professionals across the Benelux region. The difference we are finding between this area of Germany and the Benelux region, though, is marked.

The strength of the German economy and property market is well documented. Throughout the first Quarter of 2011 German investors have continued to demonstrate real optimism and commitment that has translated into recruitment requirements. The North Rhine-Westphalia region has typified this and is generally perceived as an attractive place for real estate investments.

Real estate agencies predict that transaction volumes will rise up to €25 billion in 2011 in Germany (compared to 20 billion in 2010 and 11 billion in 2009). Equity is certainly available, particularly amongst the institutional investors and, as a consequence, there has been a demand for investment managers with acquisition experience.

Of course, such levels are never going to be reached over the borders considering the size of the Benelux markets. However, it is unlikely the rate of increase in investment volumes will be reached either. It is apparent that Benelux is not dissimilar to most of Northern Europe in that the value of assets in the market have not yet sufficiently corrected to attract investors back to the bidding table. With equity around there are buyers in place looking for “the deal” but the margin between their expectations and vendors still needs to close.

The result from a recruitment perspective is that we are being instructed on the types of investment related roles in Benelux that we were seeing in North Rhine-Westphalia probably 18-24 months ago. Typically, these are analysts at all levels as our clients look to gather information on their markets and identify the best opportunities. Obviously there is less demand for the investment manager than we are seeing over the borders.

A common theme in Benelux and North Rhine-Westphalia is that investors demand that greater value is extracted from assets and so asset managers, specialising in all commercial sectors, continue to be sought after.

Project development remains behind in both regions caused by the strict equity requirements for credit financing from the banks. Construction processes are running but there are few new schemes (beyond refurbishments) that are being launched. However, Cobalt is seeing in Germany a greater demand for project managers with experience in technical due diligence – a positive sign.

It is no surprise that there are fundamental differences in the recruitment requirements in North Rhine-Westphalia and Benelux despite geographical proximity. Perhaps something that is less widely recognised by those elsewhere in Europe, though, are the differences within Benelux itself.

Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg are distinctive in all ways. Whilst we are able to generalise about regions of Europe and how these areas are improving at different rates; we are unable to recruit in such a broadly regional manner. It has become increasingly obvious in the last 2 years that as greater security, diligence and detail is required, so local expertise is ever more important. Admittedly, pan European funds who are looking for a geographically diverse portfolio will recruit those with more generalist skills. However, in turn, they will rely more on the local talent than previously to provide them with absolute comfort about investment/development opportunities, how to add value to assets, how best to manage them, local planning issues etc.

High calibre real estate professionals who know their specific markets well and have a strong personal network and reputation are increasingly becoming valuable talent. This is no more evident than in Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

By Ben Ingram