What do we mean by #RethinkRealEstate?
If you are wondering what your life is about and want to get rather philosophical about it all, there is nothing quite like acquiring a new job title –particularly when you have to make it up yourself. This was my task when I joined the Bartlett Real Estate Institute and it helped me to define our bigger purpose too.
Fashioning my title as ‘Professor of Real Estate’ made me look more closely at the term ‘Real Estate’ itself. I’ve used it widely for a few decades now, sometimes brooking criticism from English colleagues that it is “too American”. But I like it because it is a globally-recognised term for what we in the UK more often call ‘Property’ – an ambiguous term which can also refer to a whole host of possessions like stocks, shares, bonds, gold and chattels. Real Estate is something much more specific and special.
Dictionary definitions vary but agree on the distinction between Real Estate and other possessions. Merriam Webster puts it very simply: “Property in buildings and land”. Collins expands a little: “Real Estate is property in the form of land and buildings rather than personal possessions”.
The ‘real’ thing about real estate is that, unlike other types of property, it is immovable. (The German term, ‘Immobilie’, would therefore perhaps have been a more appropriate job title but in this post Brexit country, such a Europhile title might be a step too far…)
The immovability of real estate is what gives the asset particular and peculiar characteristics. Having spent the last 32 years immersed in the sector and studying it from many different angles within a complex, global industry, I think these special characteristics are often poorly, inadequately or improperly understood, even by insiders. People often mistake land price inflation for a rise in the value of their home, for example. (A rise in land price can often hide obsolescence and depreciation in the buildings that stand on it).