Buying property in the time of Covid-19

With Covid-19, there’s going to be a need to tweak the way things are built. Even existing buildings will have to have a sanitation area, a foot bath, and people will have to exercise distance.’

You’re about to demolish a giant bag of popcorn while binging on Netflix movies in bed. So, how else are some people coping with being under “house arrest” in the time of Covid-19 ? Well, some housewives are swapping recipes online. Some are taking up assorted hobbies offered online while others are trying to flatten the curve (that is, the curve around the belly) by joining aerobics or dance classes on YouTube.

Still others are attending webinars, like Lamudi’s Developer Webinar Series which recently tackled the topic “Housing in Lockdown: Buying Property During the Pandemic.”

Three on housing in lockdown (top to bottom): Cebu Landmasters’ Jose Soberano III, Torre Lorenzo Development Corporation’s Tomas Lorenzo, and AboitizLand’s David Rafael

Caught in the Web

For the third episode of its webinar series, Lamudi, a real estate marketplace, invited three of the industry’s well-known figures: David Rafael, chief executive officer of AboitizLand, Inc.; Tomas Lorenzo, CEO of Torre Lorenzo Development Corporation; and Jose Soberano III, CEO of Cebu Landmasters.

The three speakers are confronted with this challenging question: With Covid-19 not easing up anytime soon, how is the property industry coping with the new normal?

Fact is, while working from home, real estate professionals can sell a house or property and provide value to clients with the help of technology. Cebu Landmasters’ Jose Soberano III stresses that while the coronavirus has deeply impacted the real estate industry, the focus now is on adapting to the changing customer preferences during this pandemic and adopting new, creative ways to provide valuable and relevant products and services. He relates that some of his teams are working remotely while a few are in construction sites with safety officers, even nurses, to make sure nobody is infected. Workers also stay in bunk houses close to the site.

Soberano believes that property developers must not lose sight of the reality that like so many past crises (the Asian financial flu in 1997, the SARS outbreak in 2003, the world financial meltdown in 2009), this pandemic will be over eventually and the industry will definitely ride out this one. “This is not going to last forever. When things normalize, we have to gradually make sure we’re ready for addressing that market that will come in.”

As for Torre Lorenzo’s Tomas Lorenzo, Covid-19 is just another challenge, a “pause button” so that they can really take stock and catch up on all pending work, especially in designing. He reiterates, “The nature of the real estate business is that it’s a long-term game. Plans should be relevant to the kind of world people will be living in five to 15 years from now. Planning should never stop.”

Wanted: A building with a foot bath

Lorenzo likes to sit down and talk to his buyers, who come from all over the world, and listen to their concerns and issues. ” I really get a feel of what people want, and what their dreams and aspirations are. With Covid-19, there’s going to be a need to really tweak the way things are built. Even existing buildings will have to have their (sanitation) area. It will be like an agricultural enterprise, where there’s a foot bath and people will have to sanitize and exercise distance.”

Soberano stresses the crucial role of property management and advises developers to consider strengthening health-related efforts in communities. “Is it the right time to put nurses in your villages or condos? Can you ‘culturize’ being health- or sanitary-conscious?”

The shift in buyers’ preferences is the focus now. Pre-pandemic, buyers would want a property near where they work, meaning limited space in a high-density neighborhood (although there will still be a market for this). With this pandemic, people are looking to getting property that may be outside the Central Business District with more open space (so they’re not cooped up) in a lower-density neighborhood, which means better living conditions during a crisis.

Indeed, developers must ramp up efforts to be proactive in building healthy communities.

For his part, AboitizLand’s David Rafael gives this friendly advice, “Be creative and resourceful, maximize technologies and tools available.”

Picture this: Pre-pandemic, property seekers are dazzled with fliers and billboards. Now, with the pandemic, it’s online. Gone are the usual open houses, virtual tours are the new normal. No more face-to-face meetings in restos or coffee shops. Now, it’s face mask-to-face mask video conferencing. And when the buyer is ready to pay, says Rafael, there are various platforms that can be availed of — Acquire, where you can pay using a credit card; automatic debit facilities. “Once done, the reservation agreements, whatever documents are required, can be done online. You can send in the reservation agreement and he (buyer) can sign it through e-signature.”

The right time to buy and ask about safety

Lorenzo agrees with Rafael on operating on online platforms. He adds that there are always four key things people look for when buying property, whether there’s a crisis or not: location (location, location), track record (of developer), quality, and value for money.

But asked if now is the right time to buy property, Soberano replies, “The need for a home has never been pronounced until this crisis came about. Many people are now staying in their family homes, perhaps cramped with siblings and other relatives. Many may be considering moving out and finding their own place.”

Soberano adds that now is the right time to ask how the developer/property management is maintaining the safety in the premises and engaging with the community.

Lorenzo elaborates that with Covid-19, ensuring the safety of residents is even more important. “We always post in our social media pages how we clean, how we sanitize our hallways, our common areas, and how we take care of people who are isolating.”

Wanted: Empathy

With everybody anxious and conscious about finances, people are holding on to their money, given the economic uncertainty brought on by this pandemic. A lot of people lost their jobs and small businesses are struggling. Money is spent only on essential goods, people will think a dozen times before buying property. And the challenge is not just in the fewer resources but the uncertainty of those resources. Thus, developers have to be very flexible in the payment terms they offer. They have to devise more creative payment schemes to accommodate their clients.

What Aboitiz does, Rafael shares, is to give buyers incentives, such as discounts. This is extended to the sellers as well, adjusting their commission fees, as a tribute to their being “frontliners” in the business.

Soberano’s team has been assisting buyers financially, extending payments for those who acquired pre-selling units, as well as reassuring clients that the prices are not going to change. Soberano always reminds buyers that this crisis is temporary and some businesses may outsource in the future, thus creating job opportunities.

So, when should the real estate industry expect to recover from the effects of Covid-19?

Our resource persons agree it will be a U-shaped recovery (slow and gradual). Property developers, brokers, agents, sales teams can’t wait to buckle down to work and turn that U into a V (quick and sustained recovery).

Amid this pandemic, with our robust real estate industry, V-Day can’t be far behind.