Covid-19 could bring some positive change

Jason Arden (pictured) is chief executive of Eastbank, a property company that manages, develops and retains a portfolio of residential properties in East and South London

In recent months, we’ve all had to rethink how we do business, but, we are now starting to see significant changes in how people live and work and, this could bring around positive change.

Lettings are on the rise for us right now. Sure, the interest rate is at an all-time low, but, mortgages are still hard to come by; therefore, people are turning to the rental market to find a home. The lockdown restrictions might also have flagged up a problem in living arrangements and, with people being stuck together under these circumstances, it has maybe been the cause of unexpected splits among families and couples. It has perhaps forced people to address their current home lives and whether they want to live alone or aim to find somewhere bigger or smaller to live. Plus, importantly, with more and more people working from home now, and likely to continue, people have had to reconfigure their property to accommodate a home office and some houses won’t have the space. They might also realise that living in a pricey prime location close to their office is now unnecessary and they could live a little further out from the city – getting a bigger property that won’t cost quite as much. Lockdown will have also flagged up the issue of a need for outdoor space. People in flats and towers will have undoubtedly struggled during lockdown and, as we’ve seen from this pandemic, people need gardens. Ideally, it would be good to see more respectable social housing or affordable new builds that offer accommodation with individual gardens rather than communal outdoor space.

We already see changes in the way people do their jobs, i.e. effectively working from home without any interruptions to productivity and I think we will continue to see much more of this. Many industries have shown that they operate remotely with no problems so there is no need to have thousands of people commuting on public transport or causing congestion on our roads – which can only be a good thing!

That thought made me wonder what will happen to all these large commercial office blocks in the city that could, in theory, be lying empty if companies decide that everyone can efficiently and logistically work from home permanently. I’m sure lots of organisation have come to realise this during the lockdown and if they can cut those costs going forward. Thinking from a social responsibility point of view, surely it would make sense for these unused buildings to be converted into social housing, which would ease some of the accommodation shortages in London and across the UK. Turning commercial office space into social housing would be a massive plus. However, it does depend on how the units would be split. As I mentioned earlier, we’ve seen from this pandemic, people need outdoor space so this would need to be factored into any reconstruction or modifications to these buildings.

Who knows, it could be viable or it might not but it’s food for thought.

Additionally, if people around the UK have lost their jobs locally, they might have to consider moving elsewhere if the work they do can’t be done from home. There’s also a whole new generation of graduates looking to get their careers off the ground and who will be eyeing up a move to the bigger cities, especially the capital. London is and always has been the hub for young professionals because it’s perceived as the place to be and where careers are grown.

Are we going to miss out on the skill and talent these people can bring to the city if there aren’t decent, affordable places for them to live?

In the meantime, I, like many other landlords and developers in the country, simply have to plough through these uncertain times, help where possible and offer the best solutions I can.