What was said to be a booming real estate industry at the start of the year suddenly came to a deafening halt when the pandemic was declared just before the first quarter ended. Condo building projects were halted when the government declared the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in March. People had to reckon with staying home due to the lockdown. And just like that, the world relied and thrived on the digital world for business transactions, for work, for personal engagements, literally for everything.
On 15 June, under the general community quarantine (GCQ), private and public construction projects were now allowed by the government to resume. According to Harry Roque, presidential spokesman of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases, revised guidelines are now permitting priority infrastructure projects to operate again. Housing is among those that got the go signal.
But with the real estate industry seemingly just warming up to a new-normal beginning, stakeholders and clients are taking a cautious step when it comes to getting back the same hardy confidence everyone had at the start of the year. What happens now in the next normal?
Jose Mari Banzon, president of premier real estate group SM Development Corporation (SMDC), tackles the concern every condo dweller and buyer has on their minds right now in an exclusive interview with Daily Tribune.
Daily Tribune (DT): As industries are getting into the new normal, what changes do you think will SMDC implement generally so it could progress its projects while practicing protocols like social distancing? What new strategies will SMDC implement in selling and marketing its properties?
This so-called ‘new normal’ has been our ‘normal.’ Real estate pundits say that the future of development is toward integrated developments. But we were already there. We had our sights set on this kind of development from the very beginning.
As such, we expect a continued vibrant demand for our products the days to be ahead. Whatever adjustments we will henceforth make will be minimal.
First, let’s look at our product. Our developments have built-in commercial establishments or an SM Mall right beside them. During this pandemic, this has become a saving grace for our residents, who have easy access to food, medicine, banks or ATMs, service centers and other essentials.
Our units are designed to allow ample lighting and natural ventilation, which are conducive to a productive work-from-home (WFH) set-up and economical energy consumption. When the ECQ is lifted and we will be allowed to open our common areas, our wifi-equipped lobbies with open-air lounges and co-working spaces will provide the perfect setting for a WFH environment that strictly adheres to social distancing.
In addition, our properties are situated in major CBD and near transport hubs, providing easy access to offices, schools, hospitals and major thoroughfares, thereby allowing minimal personal movement, which will be a requirement in the ‘new normal.’
Second, we belong to the SM Group, which allows us to build complete communities that have a mall, a school, offices, a hotel, a convention center and a church. Ours is a sustainable ecosystem that integrates work, life and play within one district.
Finally, our company has proven to be agile, forward-looking and quick to adapt. Our company culture encourages thinking above and beyond the conventional, always mindful of customers’ ever-evolving needs.
We already had strong online operations before the lockdown. But with this experience, we will be relying even more heavily on digital technologies and cloud-based solutions to data management issues. Our strategies will be aligned to that operational transition so that we will be able to work from anywhere.
We have seen that we can continue operating efficiently in a WFH environment, so we are looking at a strategy to adapt to this set-up and ensure the safety and wellbeing of our employees and our other stakeholders.
As a company, we have had the experience of working remotely even before the lockdown. We have already set up satellite offices outside the country long before COVID-19. That is something we will expand as we adapt to this so-called ‘new normal.’
DT: What do you think will be the impact of COVID-19 to SMDC’s ongoing projects in terms of its specific markets. For example, the market for SMDC Premier (Lush, Red, and Sail Residences) and the SMDC properties?
Judging by the performances of the first four months, there really has not been a major change. We have consistently met – and in some months even surpassed — our sales targets.
Of course, one might say that those numbers are not reflective of the current situation because the market reaction to our industry usually has a time lag, and these are pre-ECQ efforts. The 2nd and 3rd quarters will be telling but we are confident that we will remain on track.
We expect a continued vibrant demand for our products for a number of reasons. One, we fulfill a basic human need, i.e. shelter. In the Philippines, we are looking at a housing backlog of approximately six million, so there is ample market that needs to be served.
Second, the make-up of our developments has proven to be very convenient for our residents during this lockdown. Our commercial strips have become a saving grace for our residents, who have easy access to food, medicine, banks or ATM, service centers and other essentials. Our developments have either built-in commercial strips or an SM mall right beside them.
Third, with the pandemic experience, people are all the more realizing the value of condominium living. Even when people are left alone in their units, being in a condominium gives them a feeling of connectedness, of community. And they have peace of mind knowing that there will always be someone — the property management — who will take care of them should any emergency arise. Of course, being situated in the CBDs provides easy access to hospitals, government agencies and other key establishments.
DT: With the new normal and amid a shocking industry, what is SMDC committing to its partners and buyers?
SMDC will continue to build world-class properties that address the ever-evolving needs of the market. This experience with the pandemic has been a great learning experience for everyone, and, while our properties have proven to be life-savers in these times of limited personal movement and social distancing, we will endeavor to continue to produce products better than the last development.
The public can rest assured that their investment is safe and that their communities will continue to be protected.