The Impact of Covid on Property Trends
Are you bored of Covid related articles yet? We certainly are. But there’s a real paradox when it comes to them; tired as we are of reading about Covid, we’ve all got an immense appetite for reading about it. And that’s hardly surprising: if there’s one thing we’re desperate for, it’s information, sense of certainty, an ability to plan based on concrete knowledge.
Well, unfortunately, at Jackson Sims, we don’t exactly have a crystal ball. But we do have a fair amount of insight when it comes to issues relating to property. So whilst we can’t be certain of anything, we can at least offer our ‘best guesses’ on the way that Covid might impact all things property related, both in the near and further future.
Thinking long and short
The real problem in talking about Covid and its impact on the future is that we still don’t really seem to have an idea on how long it is going to maintain a presence in our lives. When countries across the world first went into lockdown, there was a general feeling that six weeks later we would all be able to return to normal, blinking as we emerged into the light. Six months later, not only are we all exhausted about maintaining vigilant efforts against the disease, but our timeframes are looking even more hazy. People are starting to wonder if it isn’t just 2020 we have to endure…
What this means from a property perspective is that we have to ask: are we talking about changes to tide us over the next six months, six years, or six decades?
We’d argue here that it’s impossible not to think in the long term. Even if this time next year, Covid has gone, how much will it have engendered a mindset shift in the property market as a whole? How much will fear of resurgence, or some entirely new crisis, now impact our decision making?
It’s this that we really want to focus on. Because obviously, there are immediate short term impacts that we can concretely point to: for instance, the economic impact of job losses, furlough and employment uncertainty which all have immediate and tangible impacts on the property market and peoples’ appetite to buy and sell. Or alternatively, the very apparent changes that have been made to how property sales are now practically conducted – with the rise of online viewings meaning that estate agents and sales negotiators are now having to add a number of different skills to their sales toolbox.
But these short-term, immediate changes are tangible to us; we’re witnessing them as they occur – and any number of other people have written extensively on them already. So we don’t feel the need to chime in on these issues.
What we do want to talk about is where we might be five years down the line. Two major things stand out: the nature of the properties that are desired by the market, and the nature of the job roles that accompany these properties.
Changes to what we want in a property
‘Location, location, location’ had always been the rather clichéd mantra of the property world. Even we, immersed in the property world as we are, can’t help but occasionally be stunned at the price tags associated with particular postcodes. Or laugh (/grimace) at properties which seem to be little more than windowless cupboards, but which command eye-watering pricetags simply because of their desirable location.
But for some people, these type of properties make sense. Or, perhaps made sense, in a world where they were mostly at their jobs, or out socializing, or enjoying the opportunities of the city. When those elements are taken away though, and the four walls around you become the essence of your existence, this compromise on space and comfort becomes more pressing.
Perhaps, when we finally crawl our way to the end of 2020, we’ll never have to lockdown again. But the fear that it might become a more common phenomenon will certainly be at the back of the mind of many. And this will naturally impact the type of property they seek.
Moreover, if you examine the recent development of the market anyway, there is evidence that this mindset change was already occurring. Even before Covid, there was a steep rise in remote and flexible work, and a significant deterioration of town and city centres. The space versus place divide was evening up.
So what will new requirements for desirable property look like?
Access to personal, outdoor space is likely to be one of the most important. The rise of outdoor sports and hiking, the desperate battle to visit the park during lockdown, the online phenomenon of Joe Wicks, these things all showed us that our connection with the outdoors, exercise and the sunlight was perhaps more important than we’d ever realized.
Internal space is also increasingly important: but this doesn’t just relate to square meters, but the way in which these are divided and utilized. Where open-plan living was once all the rage, we are now coming to realise that when we are forced to live in close proximity to our loved (and less loved) ones, there’s nothing more valuable than a door. Being able to delineate space for various purposes helps to support a conceptual divide that is often key to mental health; making a workspace different from a living space, which itself is separate from a sleeping space and a cooking space. And for those able to afford the luxury, being able to devote space to hobbies might become increasingly important; be that a gym, studio, workshop or garage.
Self-contained units within a bigger space may also become more important for multi-generational households. When one member needs to isolate, the luxury of being able to do so in a small, self-contained ‘granny flat’ lightens the impact on their family around them. Conversions that include these types of features will become increasingly desirable.
Of course, these evolutions in desirable property cover the situation for those who feel lockdown has brought them too close to the people around them, but what about for those who felt too isolated?
Analysts are divided on whether social isolation is likely to motivate an increase in the desirability of co-living. Those that believe that co-living will become more appealing point towards the idea that for single people there is a ready-made social circle in place (like an extended version of flatmates) – not to mention ‘in bubble’ elements such as gyms, offices, bars, gardens and pools which would otherwise be inaccessible outside of the bubble.
However, those on the other side of the fence stress the complexities involved in multiple disparate people living in close proximity - essentially constituting overlapping bubbles, rather than one big bubble. They argue that the very nature of these setups actively precludes the possibility of living a Co-vid life in a Co-living space. Much will depend on the way that social distancing and ‘bubbles’ are constructed, and how hygiene and health and safety practices evolve.
Which leads us to…
Change in property management roles
So we’ve talked about how there may be significant changes in what people want, property wise. But this will also have a significant knock-on impact on the job roles associated with property. For instance, we already mentioned above that sales negotiators are having to become significantly more creative and tech-savvy in the way they market and sell properties.
For property managers – who already need to be aware of vast reams of Health and Safety law – the addition of Covid will really shake the role up. Property managers have had to scramble to introduce Covid management plans in their properties, but the uncertainty and lack of precedent mean that these are still often half-formed and in flux. Management plans for Covid – and for pandemic conditions and lockdowns in general – will increasingly become a standard feature of property management roles, and best practice and academic discourse on the matter will continue to evolve. This represents a whole new field for property managers to get to grips with.
Moreover, the best practitioners won’t merely know the law and regulations on the matter – they’ll also be able to develop plans strategically and creatively, working within the rules whilst maximising utility and wellbeing for their residents. They’ll also be flexible, adaptive and reactive to changing circumstance: the perfect balance between proactive and reactive property management.
A further property role topic that could form the subject of its own blog (and indeed, may well do, watch this space) is the idea that because of these paradigm shifts in the working world (with the volatility of high-street business and decreasing need for office space in light of the trend for working from home), property roles may see an increasing move from the commercial to the residential. The two areas require different sales and management skill sets: will retraining be in order?
None of these things are certain, but they are certainly things that are feasible. And if there is one thing we can be certain about, it’s that whatever changes occur, Jackson Sims will have their finger on the pulse.
Jackson Sims Recruitment is a property management recruitment company operating in London and the UK. Should you be a candidate or client working in property management we have a multitude of recruitment services they can be tailored to you. Please visit www.JacksonSimsRecruitment.com for more information.
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