Capital Markets Corporate

November 16, 2020

RESI Conference, November 2020

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The RESI convention was, like much of 2020, a little different this year. The virtual agenda sadly meant no travelling to Celtic Manor, no face to face networking and no breakfast chit-chat while nursing a hangover and the strongest coffee possible.

But despite the changes, some things remained comfortingly consistent. The speakers and agenda were top quality, reminding us all that the pace of change the sector is undergoing is substantial and we should not rest on our laurels.

Lawrence Bowles from Savills set the scene perfectly to show that while housing activity is at heightened levels currently, we’re in for a fairly volatile 2021 with 0% house price growth forecast. Thereafter though things begin looking far more rosy once again, rising by 4% in 2022 and 6.5% in 2023.

Housing Secretary, Robert Jenrick, meanwhile was at pains to point out the importance of the construction sector to the wider economy and the efforts made by Government to not only keep it open during this second lock-down, but to offer support packages to stimulate activity and maintain momentum. With housing transactions up 16% year on year, it does appear to be one of few sectors that had remained successfully operating despite the impact of Covid19.

As always though, it is what goes unsaid that often raises the most eyebrows and there were very many hairs raised and questions posed by the audience who noted the absence of some very important industry issues. These included why the recent planning white paper omitted any mention at all about Build to Rent or Senior Housing and how exactly Local Planning Authorities would be able to produce development plans in just 3 years. The absence in his speech about fire safety and that any efforts were being made to find solutions to the ongoing issue of EWS1 forms also left some bewildered. Instead, he re-emphasised his commitment to banning the practice of leaseholds and conceded that the planning system was often too lengthy and complex and that he hoped the current planning proposals would resolve this in the future.

Much of the agenda at RESI focused on radical disruption and indeed, this is where our very own Mike Barry provided real food for thought on the subject of corporate responsibility and ESG. Mike spoke at length about how the built environment was earmarked as the next sector to be transformed, led largely by changes to legislation, investor appetite and citizens demanding more social and environmental responsibility.

Research shows that at least 80% of citizens now want to be engaged on social and environmental issues but in different ways, so understanding their motivations and needs is essential for businesses to thrive in this important area. Although investors have largely been absent from this debate for the last couple of decades, they are now moving quickly to integrate ESG into how they interact with the corporates that they invest in. And the opportunity for businesses, particularly those in the real estate sector, is significant. Partnerships are emerging to help companies tackle systemic sustainability challenges together and many well-known companies are now taking bold steps to become sustainable. When considering how to respond to these new pressures, companies need to ask themselves three questions:

  1. WHY do I need to become more sustainable?
  2. WHAT do I commit to do to become sustainable?
  3. HOW do I integrate these promises into a busy and complex business dealing with many, many headwinds?

Post Covid, companies are facing unprecedented short term challenges, but the only way to face into them is to find a fundamentally different relationship with society and nature.

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