We are pleased to present to you our 2021 annual report, in which we account for our financial and non-financial performance.
The COVID-19 pandemic continued to have an impact on Vesteda and our stakeholders in 2021. As in the previous year, our staff worked from home most of the time and travel and face-to-face meetings were limited, except during the summer. We maintained close communications with our stakeholders and we learned from our tenants by asking for their feedback through our surveys. We felt the impact from the pandemic, but also saw how resilient and flexible we are as an organisation. We could continue our business operations and processes, almost as usual.
We continued to support our tenants, together with the other members of the IVBN (Dutch association of institutional property investors). We offered custom-made solutions to tenants in immediate financial difficulties, providing flexible payment arrangements. Furthermore, we did not evict any tenants during this pandemic, we did not charge collection costs, we extended temporary leases and we moderated our annual rent increase.
The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic did impact our financial results, albeit relatively minor compared with some other sectors. We experienced higher tenant turnover and increased vacancy rates in the high rental segment, especially in Amsterdam. We hired additional sales staff and we made additional investments to rent out these homes. Although the pandemic is not over yet and the culture, tourism and leisure industry is still suffering, the overall economic recovery has been strong and we saw strong upward revaluations in our portfolio. Our solid performance enabled us to support tenants in financial difficulties, without making use of any subsidy from the Dutch government.
New housing regulations
Continued housing shortages and rising house prices has further increased the pressure on the affordability of homes. The Dutch government announced measures to stimulate additional housing production. Furthermore, young first-time home buyers are now exempt from transfer tax, while the transfer tax rate for investors increased to 8% from 2%. And finally, the government imposed a one-off rent freeze in the regulated (social) segment, together with a three-year maximum rent increase of CPI plus 1% for the liberalised segment.
Currently, several Dutch political parties are suggesting additional measures, such as the extension of the WWS points system and/or a cap on the fiscal WOZ value. After a long formation period of the new Dutch cabinet, they recently announced a summary of the new plans, which include aiming at lower rents for lower income households in social housing, some form of rent protection for mid-rental contracts, accelerating the sustainability of homes, the repeal of the landlord levy, and a possible additional increase in the transfer tax rate for investors to 9% from 8%. At the same time, they recognised the importance of institutional investors for building affordable new homes and emphasized that it should remain profitable to invest in these homes. We are actively involved in the affordability debate, together with the IVBN. While we are awaiting more details about the plans from the new cabinet, we will continue with our strategy of investing in affordable and sustainable homes.
Residential real estate market
Vesteda’s Housing Market Indicator (HMI) remained steady at around 7.2 in the first three quarters of 2021, driven by positive economic developments and strong market fundamentals for the housing market. Price levels on the owner-occupied and rental market continued to rise, mainly as a result of the scarcity. We also saw high (post-pandemic) economic growth in combination with low unemployment. However, the HMI dropped significantly to 6.5 in Q4 2021, due to the sharp increase in inflation, mainly driven by high energy price, which will have an impact on the affordability of housing and is reflected in the negative consumer confidence.
Overall tenant satisfaction declined slightly to 7.0 in 2021 from 7.1 in 2020, but still outperformed the benchmark, which also declined by 10 basis points. We managed to get the occupancy rate back at pre-COVID-19 levels (98.8%), despite a higher turnover rate, especially in the high rental segment.
The construction of pipeline projects continued during the pandemic, mostly as planned, and we added five new complexes and the 3D-printed Milestone home to our portfolio. We signed contracts for four new-build projects and we sold two complexes and several individual homes. We completed several large renovation and sustainability projects, reducing the carbon footprint of our portfolio, while at the same time maintaining affordable product with above average value growth potential. GRESB again awarded Vesteda a five-star rating, and our overall score put us 4th in the European real estate sector.
Our organisation showed its flexibility and we made investments to support hybrid working. We would like to thank our employees for their continued hard work during sometimes difficult circumstances and we are proud that we scored a higher HPO score in such a challenging period. However, we do need to pay more attention to employee engagement and collaboration between teams. And finally, the resilience of our funding structure was rewarded with a rating upgrade by S&P to A- from BBB+.
Realised result came in at €212 million in 2021, compared with €191 million in 2020, driven by the inflow of new-build homes as well as increased result on property sales due to higher sales prices and the sale of two complexes. The realised return as a percentage of time weighted average equity increased to 3.2% in 2021 from 3.1% in 2020. Strong market fundamentals and continued housing shortages also resulted in strong revaluations of the portfolio. As a result, the total return on time-weighted average equity was 22.0% in 2021, compared with 7.6% in 2020.
Russian invasion of Ukraine
On 24 February 2022, we were shocked by the tragic news about the war in Ukraine. While the fighting continues, many Ukrainians flee their country, looking for a safe place elsewhere in Europe. Together with the other IVBN members, we are investigating how we can help refugees in the Netherlands. The first step is that we allow our tenants to accommodate refugees in their homes. Furthermore, we are identifying opportunities to provide temporary housing. Vesteda does not have a direct exposure to Ukraine or Russia. However, the war in Ukraine does impact our tenants, for example due to the rising energy prices.
COVID-19 was an unexpected event and showed us that forecasting market developments remains difficult. We consider two developments as very important to us for the coming years: affordability and climate change. The affordability of housing is under pressure, primarily due to the housing shortage that is driving up house prices, plus the increased cost of living, driven in part by rising energy costs. We expect continued attention from the government and municipalities to solve this problem. This is expected to lead to additional housing sector regulations, also for the mid-rental segment. Vesteda is committed to keeping rental homes affordable and will moderate its rents increase in 2022, as in previous years. Finally, to mitigate the impact of climate change and to achieve its Paris Proof goal in 2050, the government is planning to raise national sustainability targets. Mitigating any threats and building on opportunities will make us stronger in the long run.
We will continue our strategy and aim to be the best landlord in the Netherlands. We are proud of what Vesteda accomplished in 2021 and we want to thank our stakeholders for their continued commitment and support. Our reappointments give us the trust and confidence to continue to pursue our long-term goals together.
Vesteda Management Board
Gertjan van der Baan (CEO) and Frits Vervoort (CFO)