View across mowed lawn to historic Oxford University

The Topsy Turvey World of Property

For positive family reasons, It has been a while since my last blog. During this time we have observed the fall out on the property market and how it will affect us moving forward.

The West End is proving as ever resilient. There is slightly more supply – but don’t forget there is less supply generally due to the amount of office conversions to residential from 2000-2010.

In the 6 weeks since being back at the office, I have viewed over 70 properties in Holborn and the City on behalf of clients who do have requirements. It is quite incredible the panic that has set in since COVID came to these shores back in March – almost like that Island (Hashima) in the James Bond film Skyfall where the residents left after panic set in. However, the City is slowly coming back.

Currently, we are all relying on either a vaccine or, learning to live with “The Virus.” – I have no doubt, human nature being what it is, the minute there is a vaccine or other significant step back towards normality, there will be a major transformation in attitude – but how that affects returning to an office remains to be seen. What is clear is that working from home, whilst saving costs (these costs should be looked at in context – it’s likely to be no more than 3-5% of turnover) and travel time, increases mental health issues for many people. It also takes away from a company’s brand, takes people away from feeling wanted and takes people away from being part of building something. Schroders have sent all 5,000 employees home until further notice – yet still invest in offices – work that one out!

The flip side is that Tech is where is should have been back in March and offices need to step up to the mark.

What no one seems to be commenting on is the effect COVID and Tech have had on our schools and Universities. To make a point, if everyone works at home – why not study at home too?

Why do we need to send so many of our children far from home when it can be done online? “What about the University experience” I hear you say – the same with businesses. People need people. Yet, today you could have a class online at 2pm – with pupils from London, Rio, New York, Abu Dhabi and potentially at a push Beijing (10pm). This may increase competitiveness and creates a new experience.

Less travel to classes means less pollution – the end of the local school run clogging up our roads and the air we breathe. Less use of paper, less of everything – less gives us more. In many respects, it could mean those from poorer demographics get access to better education – as they won’t have to go to local schools. In America, the University experience is part of life – but life is changing by the second. Again, if less teens are using road, air and boat to get to Michigan, Stanford, UCLA, Ohio and NYU there is… those two words again…. less pollution which has been a fantastic benefit over the last 6 months.

Our daily world is being turned on its head – the student experience also – tech works 24/7, the human in 8-12 hour cycles waking from 6am-9am and going to sleep 10pm-12am and resting weekends.

What has this got to do with property? Oxford University Hotel anyone? The Bristol University Residencies? Cambridge University Science Park? If the West End of London can go from primarily commercial to residential – Education like every other industry has to look at its property and consider whether a change of use would be beneficial. Our Universities sit on priceless property. Simply, we are not going to be using them or, using them differently – now is the time to consider what’s next for some of these fabulous buildings. As I’ve said before, it’s not about technology now, it’s about tech in 2025 and 2030.

That’s the evolution of property…
it’s a topsy turvey world.