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Opinion A corona led shift in housing in all shapes and sizes



The currency of real estate is space -- space to live, work and socialise. The entire industry has been built on people's need for space. Coronavirus has swept across the globe, turning the economy, lifestyle and the way people work upside down. Being described as nothing short of World War III, coronavirus is going to result in permanent changes to life as we know it.

Unlike other investment products like stock market or gold, real estate is not prone to knee-jerk reactions leading to spontaneous spot purchases or liquidation. Success in real estate is a marathon, not a sprint and if social distancing is the key prevention for such pandemics, then real estate will hold the key to this.

If the current lockdown measures have taught us anything, it is that no one is immune. Most people will now contemplate whether their homes truly meet their needs. This evaluation comes from the change in how homes are utilised during the current lockdown. People are having to adapt to working from home, with so many people turning their hand to remote working, this could mark a shift towards less office spaces and more companies building a remote workforce. This will require dedicated space within the home, away from the main area of the house with room for secure files or equipment.

There will be a rise in home schooling, either from the probability of future lockdowns or simply adverse weather conditions. This will call for those with children looking for increased space for a learning room and prevent sharing of rooms amongst kids.

Some homeowners will now be assessing the true value of family and having those loved ones close. The coronavirus pandemic has hindered families being able to meet up, as they used to and those concerned with the possibility of future lockdowns may be planning to move loved ones into the same household or next door. This will be very relevant and practical in case of older parents.

With regard to running of households, those fearing the spread of infections have drastically reduced their use of staff, unless they are quarantined with the family they serve. The impact this has on real estate is people will be looking to increase their use of gadgets and technology to support their families changing their need for space and how they use it.

These points lead to the following predictions to how residential real estate will change post pandemic:

It is almost definite that many people will be re-evaluate their living spaces and will look at bigger homes. This will trigger transactions in the secondary and some limited primary market segments.

Those who may decide they need a bigger property but have lower income/ financial opportunities might be open to buying in lower rated areas leading to increase of market interest and also potential to increase demand in suburban areas and satellite towns. Reduction in frequency of office commute will support this purchase.

Families who currently rent their homes may find themselves with opportunities to buy homes if interest rates reduce significantly in response to the pandemic.

Families who can afford to, may look at buying a second home away from the cities in locations which are unlikely to become hotspots.

In conclusion, after any life changing event, there is a settling period where life finds its new way of moving forward. The impact on real estate post coronavirus will be no different. For the real estate industry, it is likely to be a period of 9-12 month where people start to assess their need for change. This could be a risk period for real estate companies where there may be less interest or purchases and they may struggle to survive as despite the demand for space increasing, the economic conditions and uncertainty of devaluation may lead to a fall in prices.

To manage this and make the nation more robust and future ready to handle such war like situations, it is required that the government creates a taskforce to steer the real estate industry. ‘Housing for all’, a key initiative of our Prime Minister, now assumes a whole new dimension and should now be taken up on a war footing.

The author is Managing Partner at Relia Management Solutions LLP.

Vineet Relia