We learn valuable lessons from every downturn

‘The pandemic has accelerated many trends that were occurring anyway’ says Marie Hunt, Executive Director & Head of Research at CBRE.

2nd December, 2020
We learn valuable lessons from every downturn

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

Marie Hunt, Executive Director & Head of Research at CBRE

What are your day to day responsibilities?

No day is ever the same! My main responsibility day-to-day is helping clients of CBRE’s business to navigate various sectors of the Irish property market and providing bespoke analysis to help them interpret trends and underwrite their investment and occupational decisions. My role involves a huge amount of reading, writing and presentation, daily interaction with my research colleagues in other jurisdictions and lots of bespoke consultancy work on behalf of clients.

What is your professional background?

Most people assume that I’m an economist but I’m actually a chartered surveyor by training and a Fellow of the Society of Chartered Surveyors and started my career in property valuations. Coming from a property background is a huge advantage in my role. I also have a post-grad qualification in Public Relations & Communications.

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?

There is no doubt, but that Covid-19 will have a legacy for the market just as we learn valuable lessons from every downturn. I think that building design and how buildings are used was changing anyway but this trend will have been exacerbated by the pandemic we found ourselves in during 2020. I expect that occupiers of buildings have a lot of thinking to do about the functionality of their buildings going forward and I suspect that developers will be focussed on providing buildings that are as flexible as possible to allow for different configurations and incorporating a range of new touchless technologies and microbial finishes and furnishings.

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

Yes. The pandemic has accelerated many trends that were occurring anyway, such as the move towards online retailing and omnichannel, the intensification of building use, the move to more flexible office fit-outs, the move towards the blended workforce with increased incidence of people working remotely as well as increased focus from an investment perspective on new sectors such as healthcare, life sciences and data centres.

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

I don’t think any sectors are at risk of becoming obsolete, but the pandemic has emphasised the need for some sectors to evolve and adapt at a far faster rate than might have been the case otherwise. For example, many retailers have been putting off the decision to move to an omnichannel operation or to repurpose their physical stores but were forced to do so in 2020. This transformation might never have happened were it not for Covid.

One thing that is going to change is that owners of real estate will become increasingly focussed on income security – it is difficult to collect rent from any tenant if their operations are closed on the direction of the Government and they are not in a position to generate income themselves. We may see more instances of pandemic-clauses in leases as a result.

Where are the opportunities / risks?

May sectors of the market have had a very difficult year and in particular the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors of the market. Investors and occupiers have been unable to travel into the country to inspect opportunities and this has impacted on transaction volumes in many sectors of the market. If the country is forced to go into further lockdowns, this is clearly a risk. However, every crisis gives rise to opportunity in some shape or form and I believe that despite the pain of 2020, Covid-19 will have focussed minds and encouraged people to pivot. There will certainly be opportunities in many sectors of the market as a result.

How do you think Covid19 will affect the market going into 2021? What lasting impact do you see on the real estate sector?

We can’t realistically hope that the market will simply switch back on again in 2021. It will take some time for the legacy of Covid to disappear and it will definitely be different for each sector of the market. From a transactional point of view, the ability to get investors and occupiers into Ireland to inspect buildings and opportunities will be key to kickstarting activity. 2021 will be all about recovering from 2020 and starting to rebuild the market and reignite activity.

Marie Hunt is speaking at The Business Post’s 2020 Property Summit on Dec 9. Visit www.propertysummit.ie for details and booking.

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