With the number of coronavirus cases not slowing down, the property industry copes with the new normal: real estate professionals working from home, providing value to clients with the aid of technology. Most of the focus now is geared towards understanding and adapting to changing customer preferences during this pandemic.
In a recent Lamudi’s developer webinar series, experts shared their insights on how they’ve been adjusting.
Jose Soberano III, chief executive officer of Cebu Landmasters, Inc. shared that while some of their teams are working remotely, a few have been able to carry out normal operations, such as construction activities, despite the lockdown in Visayas-Mindanao regions.
“it’s important for property developers to not lose sight of the reality that the pandemic will be over eventually,” he said. “When things start to normalize, we have to gradually make sure we’re ready for addressing that market that will come in.”
Tomas Lorenzo, chief executive officer of Torre Lorenzo Development Corporation, noted that for him, “COVID is just another challenge we’re given. Sometimes I think it’s a pause. It’s a pause button given to us so we can really take stock and catch up on all the work that has been pending, especially in terms of designing.”
He reiterated the nature of real estate business, 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. That’s why for me, planning never stops,” he said..
Being creative, engaging clients
For David Rafael, chief executive officer of AboitizLand, Inc creating value in services means being creative and resourceful, which meant maximizing technologies and tools available. “The basic process [of property-buying] has remained the same. It’s the medium where that process is implemented that is different,” he said.
Pre-pandemic, seekers get information from flyers or billboards. Now, they learn online. Pre-pandemic, open houses are the norm. Now, virtual tour is the new normal. Pre-pandemic, face-to-face meetings happen in restaurants or coffee shops. Now, it’s through video conferencing tools.
Lorenzo agreed with Rafael and mentioned that their company has been operating in online platforms as well to cater to the needs of clients. Expanding on customers’ needs, he pointed out that from experience, there are four key things people look for when buying a property, regardless of the times, whether there’s a crisis or none: location, track record, quality, and value for money.
He explained, “In terms of location, even in a quarantine situation, people virtually go places. They look at Google Maps, Google Earth. Even the Lamudi site, it will show where the property is. Secondly, track record. They look for a developer who has finished projects, who has already a track record of finishing that kind of project.”
Buying property in the time of COVID
Soberano said that the need for a home has never been so pronounced until this crisis came about. “There’s no better time for [people to realize] the need to have a home or a condo unit [than now],” he said.
Pointing out that several people are now staying in their family homes, perhaps cramped with siblings and other relatives, Soberano said that many may be considering moving out and finding their own place.
Helping property seekers
The highest level of customer service is needed during this time, one that exercises empathy. People today are anxious and conscious about finances. Rafael recognized the fact that many are holding on to their money, given the economic uncertainty the pandemic has brought.
“Some have been laid off, while others are struggling in their own businesses,” he said. “When money moves out, it’s only spent on basic goods. Since property purchases are a long-term commitment, it’s understandable that there’s some hesitation on the part of buyers.”
What Aboitiz does, according to Rafael, is give property buyers incentives, such as discounts, to help them in their financial need. They extend this incentive scheme to sellers as well, adjusting their commission fees to honor their being “frontliners” in the business.
Banding together as developers
Asked how property developers can unite to address seekers’ needs, Soberano said: “don’t wait for orders to come in before you build.”
The shift in buyers’ preferences, meanwhile, is what Rafael thinks developers should focus on. “With this pandemic and the possibility of something like it happening again in the future, there’s a possibility that people are reconsidering their default preferences, looking on to the possibility of getting a property that may be outside the central business district, but provides more open space, located in a lower-density neighborhood, if that means better living conditions during a crisis,” her mused.
While acknowledging Rafael’s insights, Lorenzo said that there will still be a market that will be keen on being near key establishments, especially offices. He noted the fact that people find it inconvenient to travel across barangays now, as there are required quarantine passes. For professionals who need to report to the office despite the lockdown, living near their place of work is a huge benefit.
“It’s still really what people’s aspirations are and what their needs are at that moment,” he said. “The needs of a 24-year-old single person, a 39-year-old married person, and a 67-year-old retiree are different. Developers should try to fill those needs.”