November 16, 2020 real estate

Top experts to discuss key Covid challenges for real estate sector


Challenges facing the real estate sector, both at home and globally, will come into sharp focus in a range of keynote speeches and sessions featuring top industry experts at Cityscape’s Real Estate Summit this week, a one-off edition of the annual event organised by Informa Markets in partnership with the Dubai Land Department.

The summit will feature over 100 hours of powerful keynote speeches, presentations and tactical talks covering industry and market analysis, with focus on all asset classes - from residential to commercial, industrial, retail and hospitality – over two days, and will be held free of charge to help the industry get back to business.

Assuming a primary role in the conference, and spearheading discussions on positive and lasting change for the industry, officials from Dubai’s Government will host pivotal keynote presentations led by Sultan Butti bin Mejren, Director General of DLD; Helal Saeed Al Marri, Director General of DTCM; and Major General Mohammed Ahmed Al Marri, Director General, GDRFA.

Despite the obvious challenges, experts at global management consulting firm McKinsey, who will be speaking at Cityscape’s Real Estate Summit, believe there are ample mid- to long-term real estate opportunities.

“The pandemic has affected real estate, with challenges yet also opening up or expanding new opportunities,” said Pierfrancesco Rocca, Associate Partner, McKinsey & Company’s Middle East office.

'While market actors wrestle with the short-term threats, it is critical to take a step back and take a fresh look at RE as an investment class. How is it expected to evolve, in the mid- and long-term? How should investors best position themselves against it?,' he stated.

Rocca pointed out that the pandemic had caused sudden shifts in our lifestyle and fast adoption of new habits.

'This has reflected in a significantly different consumption of real estate. Different real estate asset classes have responded differently: some have faced significant headwinds, for example retail and hospitality, while others such as industrial and telecom are still seeing strong tailwinds,' he noted.

'On these grounds, real estate is witnessing an evolution in its risk-return profile, especially when looking at asset and sub-asset class level. Understanding the future evolution of real estate as an investment class will require to look at its fundamentals and stress-test each of them,' he added.

Delivering a virtual keynote presentation, Royal Institute of British Architects CEO Alan Vallance said it will explore how the architectural profession has been affected by the public health and economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.

RIBA, he stated, has worked to support the economic viability of the profession, maintaining the health and wellbeing of architects and those who build and occupy buildings, and working towards a green economic recovery through the RIBA Recovery Roadmap programme.

'2020 has been dominated by the Covid-19 pandemic and the architecture sector has been no exception. Instead of looking at the past, it is now critical that all professionals, especially architects, tap into new systems for the future,' said Vallance.

'There have been delays to projects and a hit to confidence, but the sector has proved remarkably resilient,' noted Vallance.

'Despite a year of disruption, RIBA remains focused on the single biggest issue facing the profession – playing our part in a green economic recovery and the role of the built environment in dealing with the climate emergency,' he stated.

'Whilst we will face some economic challenges, the outlook for architecture and construction across the globe remains positive - provided we utilise our skills to deliver buildings and cities that are adaptable to changing living and working arrangements,' he added.

Participating in another panel session, Dr Harpreet Seth, the head of Architecture Studies for Heriot-Watt University Dubai, will reflect on the role smart cities will play in mitigating the negative impact of the pandemic.

'The immediate impact of Covid-19 on our cities’ infrastructure and resources has exposed vulnerabilities that in turn has forced us to rethink how we design, build and run our future cities,' explained Dr Seth.

'The smart city discourse has conventionally revolved around the aspect of sustainability. While it is important to remain focused on our original objective of creating smart cities that are efficient and sustainable, it is also important we reconsider our understanding of cities and reimagine how we live, work and play in a post-pandemic world,' he added.

Dr Seth will also share his perspective on how cities and the built environment can develop more resilience in the face of such adversities as well as thoughts on the need to rethink the approach to smart cities to incorporate health crisis preparedness and wellbeing of residents.

'We need to rethink how our cities can embrace changes in response to housing, mobility, work, and recreation so that we are more prepared in thwarting or managing future crises,' he observed.

'Smart city technologies can help us make our cities more habitable, resilient, and sustainable – and this is exactly what we need to create a safe and prosperous future that is responsive not reactive,' he added.

Dr Seth pointed out that lockdowns and restrictions have, no doubt, had an instant impact on most sectors, but 'these setbacks are temporary in nature and can in fact provide new opportunities for growth.'

'One of the real estate trends I foresee is the integration of sustainability and health and safety standards in new projects that will elevate the responsible real estate agenda in Dubai and the region in 2021 and onwards,' he added.

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