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Real Estate sector: e-commerce and smart working the two unknowns post Covid
September 2020

Real Estate sector: e-commerce and smart working the two unknowns post Covid

Interview with Maurizio Cannone, director of monitorimmobiliare.it

E-commerce drives logistics; smart working creates new appeal for the residential sector, in particular for the multifamily segment, but at the same time represents the unknown and a transformation for the office sector. The great enigma of the hotel industry that passed quickly from being a great promise to a great patient. Where is the real estate sector heading after the impact of the pandemic that promises to have long-term consequences alongside the visible short-term ones? "The quiet after the storm" is the title of the latest outlook on Real Estate carried out by “Scenari Immobiliari” institute, which estimates in Italy investments for only 5 billion euros this year and a return in 2021, to the averages of the last decade. It seems a difficult but not catastrophic picture: is it so?

For Maurizio Cannone, director of monitorimmobiliare.it, a specialized real estate online newspaper, it is a terrain where mostly the big players, patient thanks to their broad shoulders, will know how to take advantage of the opportunities.

«The Coronavirus is a crisis that is new in its form, but it is still just a crisis. We don't know how long it will last, what effects it will have, but we know it will end. As in any crisis, the big players, the companies that have the financial means and the skills to wait for the sector to restart will come out stronger than before. Small companies, as well as large ones, that do not have sufficient capital available, are doomed to fail. With the obvious exceptions, I am quite confident about this prediction».

Real estate and Covid, let's start from the hotel industry given the impacts of the lockdown on transport, travel and holidays.

What picture do you expect: distant investors and falling prices or once the health situation has stabilized will there be many opportunities for those who want to buy? «Without tourists, it is clear that the hotel industry cannot exist. We must remind ourselves that the world has changed since January and any business plan implemented up until the first month of this year must necessarily be radically changed. Up until that date, the hotel industry was a growing sector, in Italy as in much of Europe. Today, the rule mentioned in the introduction is applicable: the large groups in the sector can wait and afford to endure even important losses, the small ones are destined to fail. We have two examples in this first part of September: Covivio, the former Beni Stabili, has formalized the purchase of 8 hotels for over 500 million euros, on the Milan Stock Exchange it capitalizes 6 billion and can therefore afford to wait for the sector to restart again, but who did it buy from? From Varde Investment which had taken over the Boscolo Hotel chain fallen into disgrace».

What do you think will be the type of asset that will start again first, always in the hotel seg-ment?

«I don't think anyone knows. Apart from the fact that it will start again as soon as it is possible to travel safely, I believe that there is no visibility on the single types. The structures designed for business trips will suffer for some time, while the tourist structures in the well-known locations will have an easier time».

Savills’ latest survey indicates that logistics should be the most dynamic segment in the coming months. Will this also be the case in Italy? Why?

«Undoubtedly yes. The interest lies entirely in e-commerce. The acceleration of e-commerce in Italy also involves the physical delivery of goods. Without an efficient logistic base and close to customers, it is certainly not possible to deliver within acceptable times. And all sectors must adapt. For example, in these days, the CEO of Poste Italiane announced the creation of two maxi hubs in Rome and Milan for the delivery of parcels. Logistics at this stage is crucial for any company».

Smart working and its impact on real estate: a temporary change, destined to finish with the end of the emergency or an epochal change?

How are office and home prices being affected or will be affected? 

«According to the data gathered by various research institutes, house prices are not falling. We must consider that the sector was not in great health even before the pandemic. New constructions do not have great difficulties while old properties are in great crisis. And the pandemic is selecting the market even more. Locations well served by transportation and services are fine. It is no coincidence that prices in Milan are actually increasing. Almost impossible to sell properties in underserved areas. For offices, however, there is a big question mark. Also in this case, no one can seriously make predictions: there is no doubt that it will take time for the offices to become populated again. Once the vaccine is available, the fear should disappear. But companies have seen that most of the spaces can be reduced, saving such important amounts that they will probably take advantage of the trend. Here too, with the question mark linked to the productivity and quality of smart working. We will have many surprises and I’m afraid not all will be pleasant.

Re Italy January 2021: for the next edition can we already outline what the focuses, the problems and the projects it will focus on? Will this also be a physical event like the last one?

«The world is changing and will continue to change. What does not change is the need for people to physically meet their interlocutors. Re Italy will always be a physical event only. Webinars are good for our children as a teaching aid, they are great for business training, perfect for explaining a product. But when it comes to investments, sectors to focus on, opportunities, no one is so reckless to not meet his interlocutors. The proof is that the investors have suspended all negotiations due to the pandemic. No professional investor has trusted to buy a property seen only on Zoom. Without a field verification and direct contacts, nothing is signed. At Re Italy we will try as always to provide ideas and meetings to understand sectors and opportunities, with the main operators in the sector. Physically present, as always».