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Business Around the World with COVID-19: Stability in international rental management markets

A year into the COVID-19 pandemic, real estate managers globally are still facing many of the same challenges they were in 2020. In February, the IREM® Hawaii Chapter hosted “Business Around the World with COVID-19” a panel discussion with the goal of assessing the state of the pandemic in international real estate markets.

The panel included IREM Immediate Past President Cheryl Gray, CPM®, from Toronto; Sao Paulo Chapter President Fernanda Lisboa, CPM®; IREM Japan VP Hidekazu “Eddie” Sakihara, CPM®; and Korea Chapter President Edward Yusuk Kim, CPM®.

Hawaii Chapter President Kristi Hirota-Schmidt, CPM®, opened the event, and Hawaii Chapter VP of International Relations and Past President Michelle Wong, CPM,® ARM®, hosted and moderated the discussion.

The group began by looking at effective COVID-19 mitigation strategies and the vaccine roll out. Canada, Japan, and Korea all cited good compliance with mask wearing and limiting social gathering, although their approaches have been different. Gray noted that Quebec invoked a curfew “that’s proven to be quite successful for them,” while Sakihara said that Japan is legally unable to require businesses to close. Instead, the government has provided subsidies to companies that comply with a request to limit business hours during an emergency order, which was announced in January. The Japanese government recently announced that the emergency order will be lifted on Monday, March 22, and the request to shorten business hours, along with subsidies, will gradually be rolled back.

Korea has been most successful with contact tracing efforts; the government sends contact tracers to interview infected patients and also uses information from GPS, CCTV and even credit card usage to determine who may have been exposed.

Brazil has faced a recent wave of new cases and the country’s social structure, “a conjunction of the laws of Belgium and social reality of India,” Lisboa said—has made it difficult to control the outbreaks.

The panel also examined how real estate will change as an industry moving forward and what some of their goals are.

Sakihara said that Japan’s rigid business hours are likely to change. “We will try to eliminate these rules as much as possible.” As long as employees at his company work a set number of hours each month, they will be free to set their own hours and to work from home or the office.

In South Korea, companies are focused on minimizing the reduction of services. Staff are divided into groups that don’t come into contact with each other, and meeting times are being spread out. Kim noted, “Owners need to reconsider who their tenants are, what their demands are, and how to respond on a timely basis. We are here to answer those questions.”

As in the U.S., the housing market in Canada is “exploding.” The average home price in Toronto is now $1 million CAD, but other property types may be facing challenges. Gray highlighted a few questions that Canadian property managers will need to answer: “How do we repurpose the retail side? How do we deal with the explosion in demand for industrial?”

One reassuring note is that residential property management in particular seems to be well-suited for many different market conditions. By and large, management companies have continued to operate around the world. As Sakihara noted, “Rental housing management can maintain a high level of stability even during an emergency situation. We have not suffered any fatal damage, such as a significant drop in rent or extreme decline in occupancy rate.” Lisboa, similarly, highlighted the need for property management services.

Participants also cited the limitations of virtual training and education, although the event itself highlighted the potential that virtual platforms have to bring people together. We’ve learned that as we continue to adapt to our changing environment, sharing best practices with IREM members around the world helps all of us move forward.


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