The COVID-19 pandemic showcased the resilience, flexibility and adaptability of the Philippines’ property sector, putting it in a good position to emerge stronger from the health crisis.
Although the “landscape” might, or would, change, panelists at a recent Inquirer Project Rebound webinar all expressed optimism that the industry would recover and, to use US President Joe Biden’s slogan, “build better.”
Dean Grace C. Ramos of the University of the Philippines College of Architecture said, “There is reason to hope that better days are ahead [for the property sector]. They can adopt [new things] and adapt fast. There is also a willingness to invest in added features that will enable and empower people.”
This willingness was underscored by David L. Rafael, president and chief executive officer of AboitizLand Inc., and Vienn Tionglico-Guzman, general manager of Rockwell Cebu.
Rafael said the company had actually been shifting its focus from congested megacities to new urban hubs. He said the pandemic brought into focus long-standing problems in megacities like Metro Manila, highlighting specifically the need for green spaces, like parks.
But like other crises before it, COVID-19 opened new opportunities, Guzman said. Rockwell adopted new technologies to continue to serve clients even when physical movements and face-to-face interactions were restricted. “We adjusted fast to the new situation,” she said, strengthening efforts to protect and keep clients safe and secure.
As with most anything these days, technical advances are speeding up and facilitating these necessary and inevitable transformations and adaptations in the property sector.
Tyler Staton, cofounder of Talox, a cloud-based platform for commercial real estate leasing and asset management, said, “The pandemic accelerated many trends that had already started. Demand for digital online information had risen.”
The real estate business, he said, had the luxury of learning from other industries that had to make the transition from physical to digital interactions at a much-faster rate because it was slower-moving than the others.
Ramos noted that the pandemic showed the “vulnerability” and low “adaptive capacity” of many developments. “Subdivisions, for instance, were less able to adapt to the situation compared to more ‘differentiated’ communities.”
But Ramos said there were many windows of opportunity to reconfigure designs to prepare for the next crisis. The dean specifically mentioned “cocreating spaces,” bringing into property designs not just the usual architects and engineers but also people from other disciplines.
While the cost would rise, Ramos expressed certainty people would be willing and ready to pay for quality. “By bringing in more people [to work on the design], you improve livability. [The initiative] will pay for itself.”
Guzman said people were now looking for open spaces. “People realized that living in apartments could be a constraint,” especially if they had to work from home and their kids were learning online. Technology allowed the industry to evolve, with platforms now available for virtual onsite visits and property showing.
“The hybrid arrangement is here to stay,” Rafael said. While closeness to commercial and business hubs were prime considerations before in buying real estate, people were now more open to the idea of living outside major urban centers, as open spaces and better quality of life for families were becoming paramount.
Staton also expected the future scenario to be blended—work done at home and in the office, just as learning would combine face-to-face classes and online sessions. There would be smaller “hubs,” as people got more dispersed.
Emerging needs would create the need for innovation, agility and flexibility.
Rafael said Aboitiz had been moving to new growth areas, offering people more open space for the same price they would pay in the megacities. Guzman said Rockwell had been diversifying its portfolio and was also going into emerging cities. They were providing new products for changing demands.
Commercial developments might have, or would be, downsizing because of Covid-19 but Staton said demand for industrial space was growing. What was currently a commercial shop could become an industrial space, like a warehouse. “Usage might change but the demand for space would stay.”
Ramos said, while the pandemic brought into focus problems in the property sector, “there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Architecture has been able to adapt to changes throughout history.” She encouraged the industry to prepare and plan for the next crisis.
The Project Rebound webinar was hosted by Inquirer Property editor Tess Samaniego and Dax Lucas, Business senior reporter.