Experts warn that the retail property sector faces a bleaker future than it did in 2008 at the height of the global financial crisis and that “hundreds” of distressed assets could come to market at bargain-basement prices.

A number of shopping centre owners and lenders have recently accelerated plans to dispose of assets at a fraction of their former values. Last week, Natwest Group launched the sale of a distressed commercial property loan portfolio. The bank appointed PwC to explore sale options for £550m of loans secured against assets, most of which are understood to be shopping centres.

Also last week, RDI REIT sold West Orchards Shopping Centre in Coventry at auction for £4.85m, a fraction of the £37m it was valued at eight years ago. Meanwhile, Tristan Capital Partners has kicked off a selling spree of three shopping centres, including White River Place Shopping Centre in Cornwall. The centre, which was bought in 2012 for around £25m, is being sold via BidX1 with a guide price of just £4.65m.

Retail property values and rental income have nosedived in the past year. The crash in values has coincided with a number of high-profile retail failures, with the recent purchase of Debenhams by ASOS and Arcadia’s brands by Boohoo dumping more than 15m sq ft of retail space back on the market.

One senior industry source told Property Week that there were worrying parallels with the global financial crisis. “In 2008, there was a banking crisis, but there was still some degree of occupier market and people were paying rent, whereas now, there are hardly any retailers left and nobody’s paying rent,” said the source.

“A lot of properties have empty rates liabilities and pretty much no income, if any. The whole [asset] is therefore a net liability, which could cost you millions of pounds a year just to own.”

The source predicted that hundreds of distressed retail assets would hit the market. “There are already around 120 schemes looking for refinancing over the past year, but none of them will get it,” he added.

Peter Cosmetatos, chief executive of CREFC, agreed that many assets would be repriced, but said he did not think the sector was likely to resort to panic-driven fire sales.

He added: “Lenders are increasingly going to be looking to take action and make choices about which assets and borrowers they’ll support and which they won’t.”