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Visiting an apartment in Istanbul, Turkey
Visiting an apartment in Istanbul, Turkey
Carl-Johan Karlsson

Real estate markets are starting to stir from their Covid-induced slumber. After months of plummeting listings and frozen transactions, new deals are finally being made and prices have begun to recover.

But the extent to which real estate will share the longer-term pain of a global economic downturn is still unclear, with some predicting that a momentary rebound will vanish when the effect of government stimulus packages wears off and housing loans become inaccessible. Beyond the depth of the crisis, there are also signs of lasting changes brought on by the pandemic, from telework-adapted homes and urban flight to a whole new calculus for office space and retail.

Here is a quick tour of the real estate landscape in the rubble of COVID-19"s first wave:

Flexible Homes City living is often about making a choice between features, including outdoor and indoor floor plans. But the lockdowns have shown the value in having a home that can do it all.

  • In Madrid, houses with a terrace, garden and spacious common areas are suddenly in high demand as real estate transactions resume. After three months of confinement, Madrileños are searching for "multipurpose" homes which are adapted to teleworking,La Razonreports.

  • Design and construction agencies have been forced to quickly adapt to this new trend, with one major real estate developer reporting that 25% of client demands now revolve around adapting living spaces to a potential future crisis.

  • These new trends have led to speculations that prices for second-hand homes could drop while new buildings could become more expensive.

Urban Flight The first trend that appeared on the real estate market after lockdowns were imposed was a rush to rural, as people decided where to spend their confinement months.

  • In France, a market analysis by Notaires de France shows that 17% of urban dwellers relocated to their country homes once the pandemic arrived.

  • Rural living offers bigger homes with green open spaces, and real estate agencies speculate that this trend could translate into a spike in prices on countryside property that extends even after the pandemic.

  • Still, French analysts are skeptical to a full recovery of the market as a whole in 2020, especially as national real estate saw record investment volumes in 2019.

A real estate agency in Barcelona — Photo: Paco Freire/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Retail Recession The retail sector has felt the full force of the pandemic. COVID-19 lockdowns came at a time when online shopping was already posing an existential threat to brick-and-mortar stores around the world.

  • In the UK, market intelligence firm S&P Global describes the retail sector as being on "life support" after months of little or no income. This is especially true on high streets with jacked-up rents.

  • Most indicators point to the dynamic continuing, and the sector now faces an ominous combination of a prolonged squeeze on consumer spending coupled with a further acceleration of e-commerce.

  • Naturally, the service-oriented establishments that simply cannot move online — like cafes and hairdressers — have taken a serious hit throughout the pandemic. Yet, with much better chances of recovery, they will be an important stabilizer for real estate prices and rents.

Office Boom Or Bust The shift towards telecommuting was well underway before the pandemic hit, with studies showing that the average global worker is at her desk only 40% of the time. It is widely believed that the impacts of COVID-19 will drive more people towards working from home, which means office space will lose value.

  • Office real estate is a historically resilient market segment, partly due to the large share of prime office space in core downtown areas in major cities, where location brings important benefits like networking. There is also the long-term nature of office leases which mitigate downside risk amid recessions.

  • Traditionally stable markets have so far retained low vacancy rates, like Tokyo at a stable 2%, or Melbourne and Sydney with a vacancy rate of 3.4% and 5.6%, respectively.

  • Two other factors to consider: first, offices are evolving with our needs, becoming more efficient and smarter spaces and may not become outdated; secondly, some believe that this period of imposed teleworking will rather drive us back to the office, as stated in a recent report from the Kenan Institute: "Everything we've learned in the last 20 or 30 years has suggested that increased use of technology actually raises the value of face-to-face interactions."
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Society

How India’s Women Are Fighting Air Pollution — And The Patriarchy

India is one of the world's worst countries for air pollution, with women more likely to be affected by the problem than men. Now, experts and activists are fighting to reframe pollution as a gendered health crisis.

A woman walking through dense fog in New Delhi

*Saumya Kalia

MUMBAI In New Delhi, a city that has topped urban air-pollution charts in recent years, Shakuntala describes a discomfort that has become too familiar. Surrounded by bricks and austere buildings, she tells an interviewer: "The eyes burn and it becomes difficult to breathe". She is referring to the noxious fumes she routinely breathes as a construction worker.

Like Shakuntala, women’s experiences of polluted air fill every corner of their lives – inside homes, in parks and markets, on the way to work. Ambient air in most districts in India has never been worse than it is today. As many as 1.67 million people in the country die prematurely due to polluted air. It is India’s second largest health risk after malnutrition.

This risk of exposure to air pollution is compounded for women. Their experiences of toxic air are more frequent and often more hazardous. Yet “policies around air quality have not yet adequately taken into account gender or other factors that might influence people’s health,” Pallavi Pant, a senior scientist at the Health Effects Institute, a nonprofit in the U.S., told The Wire Science.

“It’s unacceptable that the biggest burden [rests on] those who can least bear it,” Sherebanu Frosh, an activist, added. People like her are building a unique resistance within India.

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