After a tumultuous 2020, property’s leading figures share their hopes and expectations for 2021 as the year gets off to a rocky start with yet another lockdown.

Paul Danks

President, SIOR Europe

Despite the challenges we have faced over the past 12 months, I believe the property industry has shown its true and best colours and that it will emerge as an industry more prepared (and able) to adapt, to collaborate and to evolve than ever before.

As counter-intuitive as it may seem to point to the upsides of a major global pandemic, I believe it has accelerated a number of positive trends. The collective response required to deal with the impact of the pandemic has demonstrated the importance of landlords and tenants collaborating and working in partnership – a trend that must continue as we navigate out of this crisis.

Despite widespread reports of ‘Zoom fatigue’, I think virtual meeting tools are here to stay and will certainly become the norm for routine meetings and reporting, alongside office-based activities that prioritise activities that are good for profitability, fun and safeguarding employee wellbeing.

We may not have solved everything, but it seems the property industry did a lot of growing up in 2020. In 2021, I think we can expect to see it move further away from the analogue era and truly embrace the digital future.

Miles Dunnett

Senior consultant and fund adviser

This is hard for me to say, as I am naturally an optimist, but I expect more pain as we enter the perfect storm of business rates becoming payable again, deferred VAT and tax return payments falling due, and short-term personal and business loans starting to bite.

All of this will follow the traditionally sluggish top-line early in the year, fuelled by the shadow cast over the retail sector by the unwinding of furlough schemes

However, my hope is that we can tackle these issues together, openly, constructively and with more than one eye on battling through into brighter days of profitable collaboration. Pragmatism from all occupiers, asset owners and lenders will continue to be central to making this happen – one of the many lessons we all learned in 2020.

James Spooner

MD, Triadic Labs

The world really switched online in 2020 and accessible virtual reality became paramount. We have been plugging away to demonstrate how a better online reality gives purchasers and renters greater confidence when choosing property. The pandemic has accelerated this requirement, with current health concerns and government guidelines meaning physical viewings have been restricted.

As a result, our viewing platform, which offers an immersive, accurate and customisable experience for prospective customers to view properties from their living room, has increased the likelihood to buy by 150%.

We think 2021 will herald a more savvy, conscientious consumer, who will expect as standard a more savvy remote property viewing experience to support their buying decisions. We also believe agents, developers and architects alike will invest more in virtual technology than ever before to provide this experience.

Toby Pentecost

Toby Pentecost

Co-founder, Candour

I hope climate change and environmental impact through organisations’ real estate decision making remains front and centre during the recovery phase. Momentum has been gathering in this existential mission – I hope we make every effort to ensure this momentum is not lost.

I also hope we all remember to balance hard work with wellbeing every day. Our most valuable organisations will be valued in a more holistic way: how they treat their teams, deliver diversity and inclusion initiatives, approach their environmental impact and what they offer other non-financial stakeholders will rank alongside shareholder returns when board performance is measured.

I expect the recovery will be challenging for the workspace sector. The return of confidence will be key and will require a collaborative effort between the government, transport officials and employer groups.

Richard Ward, Head of Research, StuRents


Richard Ward

Head of research, StuRents

Faster testing turnaround times and people adapting to living with Covid-19 should increase confidence in the sector. While there are challenges distributing vaccines, progress on this front should further boost the market.

The 2021-22 season started strongly, with students undeterred from house hunting, particularly for clusters and HMOs. If confidence grows, demand will increase. Internationally, UCAS has recorded growth in acceptances from students outside the EU and operators will hope that this translates to occupancy levels on a par with pre-Covid levels.

Investment in student accommodation should bounce back as the outlook for the sector becomes clearer, although lenders are likely to be more rigorous in their appraisals than before. Investors will focus on primary towns and cities, especially higher-tariff or more prestigious universities, with granular, impartial data becoming more important than ever.

Virtual viewings will become common in the lettings market for both the PBSA and HMO sectors. While confidence is expected to increase, PBSA faces a more uncertain lettings cycle. Some are trying to attract a greater number of domestic students to hedge against any potential shortfall in international numbers. Meanwhile, more flexible tenancy agreements and less onerous cancellation terms will be utilised to provide confidence to students.

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