Last week the team tuned into the UKAA’s Webinar: Ensuring Business as Usual Post Covid-19 presented by Movebubble’s David Buzzard and featuring Jonathan Pitt of Grainger, Alastair Mullens of Canary Wharf Group, and Nick Woodward of Essential Living.
How is the current market?
David kicked off the discussion noting that Movebubble had recently seen a 30% increase in interest in viewings, showing that there is a pent up demand for prospective tenants who have been unable to move due to the ongoing lockdown in the UK. Discussing the current state of the market, the panel agreed that there had been an increase in interest across the board, and Alastair mentioned that those who were getting in touch seemed to be those who are more serious about moving.
As Canary Wharf Group’s Build to Rent schemes are high end, this will be useful for tenants who are looking to rent more spacious apartments given the circumstances. Following from this, the fact that their buildings are in the heart of Canary Wharf could be very beneficial for those who work in the area as it means they can avoid using public transport and walk to work. Jonathan also agreed that due to most of the public being stuck at home, people have more time on their hands to browse and enquire into potential new homes.
Are we ready for business as usual?
Obviously the lockdown in the UK means that tenants are unable to attend viewings and visit apartments as they usually would. This could be a big problem for Build to Rent operators. Furthermore, as Build to Rent schemes have extensive communal spaces, this means increased operational costs for the operators – a big one being cleaning. Build to Rent operators are looking at increasing cleaning which means hiring more staff.
Alastair also said that with the notion that the public are working from home where possible, this means that there is a much greater need for working spaces within ones home. He suggested Build to Rent operators could look into adapting some of their amenity spaces into more coworking spaces, as this could be the most useful way to utilise these areas. Nick mentioned that operators could discount prices initially to encourage new tenants in the buildings.
How can we use technology to come out of lockdown?
With people spending on average 17 seconds looking at a video tour of a building, the panel discussed the importance of getting video viewings professionalised. Previously, videos have often been used as a last resort, for example of the prospective tenant lives abroad. Jonathan recounted how his team (pre lockdown) had taken iPhone videos of individual units, and this had proved effective. The panel also agreed on this importance of showing tenants videos of not just the building, but the surrounding area. This way tenants who are unable to visit the site before moving in are more likely to know exactly what product they are getting.
Nick said that although video viewings can be extremely useful and commercial, and are indeed necessary in the current climate, there is real value in face to face interaction and building rapport with the customer. The viewing is the start of the customer journey and it is much easier to sell the brand and product face to face.
Aside from viewings, technology can be very key to the fabric of the building. Jonathan noted that in the future, buildings will be designed for much better tech. Alastair agreed that operators will now need to think about more hygienic ways of using the building, such as less touch points, facial recognition etc. Another point added was the ever increasing importance of high quality wifi/broadband connections available as there will be an increase in tenants working from home. Again, this will vastly increase operational costs.
All panelists shared the positive outlook that the market is showing signs of recovery and will bounce back post lockdown. Although tenants’ needs may have altered, companies will be working quickly to adapt when there is more clarity on the changes to daily life.