David Allen, director of Holt Commercial – which has offices in Coventry and Birmingham, looks at the effects of Coronavirus on the commercial property sector:
Like just about every business in this sector, we have had to change our work practices almost overnight due to the outbreak of Coronavirus. Personally, I operate from both our Birmingham and our Coventry office so I am used to remote working and access.
For some of the team, this has been a sudden change but we worked very quickly to get everybody in a position where they can operate from home which has minimised disruption and, to our clients and contacts, normal service is resumed where possible.
Again, like businesses up and down the country, we are making use of technology to join video conference calls and while it’s not the same as meeting in person it does help in being able to have this level of communal contact.
What is absolutely clear from this crisis is that working from home is a viable option for many but it relies completely on the quality and speed of broadband infrastructure – as well as having the right set-up at home to do so even just a quiet space with a desk.
Now some might say that this will mean the need for office space will be reduced once the crisis is over and we return to something of a new normal. Perhaps that will be the case to some degree but prior to the Coronavirus we were seeing some firms move towards a mix of home and office working. It will possibly accelerate the move to hot-desking too.
Businesses will still want offices – no question – but the degree to which they decide upon a shift further towards working from home will depend on how the company owners and their staff have found the past few weeks. I wouldn’t rule out the vast majority being quite glad of a return to the office environment (but don’t tell their families!).
To date, we haven’t had any deals fall through due to crisis but we have certainly seen many placed on hold and I am sure that is true for every agent up and down the land.
In some cases, that’s due to interested parties deciding to hold off until the market gets back to normal but, in other instances, it’s just the logistics of being able to get everything done and signed.
Of course, getting anything new underway becomes tricky because it’s so difficult to get anyone out to physically view a property.
As a team, however, we are busy but much of that work is dealing with rents and there have been lots of discussions around deferments or non-payment.
Out of this crisis, we can certainly see a continue surge in the need for more ‘final mile delivery’ space and I don’t think it will have made life any easier for the high street.
We will come out of it knowing what we knew already. That property is, and always was, about people as well as bricks and mortar and square footage.
You’ll know who your good clients are and you’ll know who the good landlords are too. We will, undoubtedly see some bargain hunters in the market place too especially those who can pay cash for a property.
One final thing I would say when it comes to the leisure and hospitality sector that has been hit so hard during this crisis, when we are finally allowed out to play, we might all go out to play with a vengeance!