The property sector is a very people-driven business

‘The pandemic will see trends such as hot desking being reviewed’ says Michele Jackson, co-owner and Director TWM.

26th November, 2020
The property sector is a very people-driven business

What's your name and what position do you hold?

Michele Jackson – I am a co-owner and Director in a boutique commercial property advisory business called TWM.

What are your day to day responsibilities?

My responsibilities vary from running specific areas of the business and managing the investment team to advising clients on commercial real estate transactions. I focus on the Marketing and PR side of the TWM business and this is very much about ensuring our team is structured and trained in a client-centric way with high standards of service that meet a diverse range of client needs. We work in teams in order to give clients the benefit of very rounded advice and collective experience and we treat these relationships with our clients as the cornerstone of our business. All our senior team members were formerly from big corporate entities and our culture is to deliver the benefits of big firm experience but with the personal service and quick response of a boutique business.

What is your professional background?

I am a Chartered Surveyor and Fellow of the Society of Chartered Surveyors and Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors. I have a Bachelor of Science in Real Estate Management from Oxford Brooks University and I trained and qualified as a Chartered Surveyor with Knight Frank in London.

We could see significant changes in the design and construction of buildings post-pandemic. What do you anticipate will be priorities for owners and tenants?

The pandemic has forced unprecedented changes in behaviour and it would be a missed opportunity not to assess and learn from some of the positive outcomes and what this could mean for both property design and changes in locational demand. The reality is businesses are still digesting the true costs and implications of the pandemic shut-down and it will take time to really assess and understand 2020. In the interim, flexibility will be a priority for tenants to ensure they can respond to change. With a growing population and workforce this flexibility really opens up opportunities for regional and suburban locations to deliver alternative accommodation.

I think campus style business space will offer many solutions with more facilities and services offered to workers on site. More mixed-use developments which shorten commute times would be attractive. The pandemic will see trends such as hot desking being reviewed with a preference for dedicated work stations in the immediate future and also a requirement for generous collaborative working areas. Businesses who were very paper dependent may have discovered it was not essential and will now introduce some long overdue sustainability changes and utilise technology more.

Looking at my own area of business the property sector is a very people-driven business and collaboration, relationships and market information are critical to doing our job and the training and development of people depends on this. We need to physically work together in buildings and the pandemic has reinforced this. However, there is plenty of scope for greater flexibility and working from home and varying working hours etc. The trend in larger business co-locating could offer employees lots of benefits and reduce the pressure on travel times.

Has the volatility sparked by the pandemic led to an acceleration of already existing real estate trends?

The constant change in the population profile and advancements in technology means real estate trends will constantly change and this will vary by sector and location. The retail sector and online shopping was already driving change and the pandemic has forced operators to either embrace this or they will not survive. I was thinking how much ‘click and collect’ shopping had in common with grocery shopping 50 years ago when a shopping list was left to a grocery store and then a bicycle delivered the goods to a home. The reality is consumers want choice and variety with a combination of convenience and social interaction. Much accommodation has been adapted through this crisis with spare bedrooms used as work space and surplus retail space providing storage accommodation for online sales. The pandemic will certainly accelerate the green agenda and sustainability and the reduction in omissions and commuter time is likely to play a key role.

Will certain traditional property strategies require a rethink? Which, if any, real estate sectors run the risk of becoming obsolete?

I think traditional property investment strategies were already changing with demand for relatively new sectors such as PRS (private residential sector) increasing. The pandemic has highlighted property sectors in a new way with a clear awareness now of what is ‘essential real estate’ and what accommodation has needed to be occupied throughout the pandemic. This includes the laboratories, telecommunications, convenience retail, distribution warehouse etc. Depending on the risk profile and specialised nature of a real estate portfolio a review factoring in 2020 occupation is likely to now be undertaken. Whilst plenty of office buildings may not have been occupied this year I think when the pandemic passes businesses will want to get back into office buildings where people can work together and develop talent. Remote working will have a role to play and I think this will be very positive for people’s work-life balance. Change is often resisted out of fear but we now know that the person who works well at home at 10pm at night if needed can also work well at 10am on a Tuesday morning!

Where are the opportunities / risks?

The opportunities will come from the positive behavioural changes by consumers. There is likely to continue to be more demand in regional and suburban locations during the week for facilities such as coffee shops/restaurants etc. There will be an opportunity for town centres to regenerate and provide the services to attract people to live and work locally. Consumers are likely to continue to shop both locally but also online. Online shopping is likely to lead to growing demand for warehouse space and distribution centres with potential for existing accommodation being adapted such as retail warehousing units in locations where there is an oversupply. The risks will be around organisations uncertainty on which changes will be permanent and which will pass and therefore flexibility will be needed by occupiers and with this come risks for landlords when trying to plan their property strategy.

How do you think Covid-19 will affect the market going into 2021? What lasting impact do you see on the real estate sector?

I think Ireland has managed Covid-19 relatively well compared to other jurisdictions and this will bode well for our recovery from 2021 on. The vaccine will take time to roll out and sectors will continue to be affected in 2021, but real estate is a long term investment class and as investors see the pandemic passing, Irish real estate is likely to attract investment both domestically and from overseas. I think there will be many impacts on real estate but the ability to work flexibly is likely to last and organisations ensuring they are ready to respond quickly to any such future event.

Michele Jackson is speaking at The Business Post’s 2020 Property Summit on Dec 9th. For details and to book visit www.propertysummit.ie

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