The Harvard real estate professor – The Property Chronicle
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The Harvard real estate professor

My World 2021

My world: June 2021…

This is part of a series of articles where our contributors describe how they think things will look a year from now.

While a semblance of normality will be more or less back by June 2021, we will retain some of the new and improved ways of working that we’ve learned

Harvard was among the first major universities to cancel on-campus classes, moving everything to the internet. Suddenly 90% of the faculty, including me, who had never taught an online class, were forced to do so. I immediately bought stock in Zoom – three days before the first news reports of ‘Zoom bombing’ caused the stock to drop 10%. Amidst daily press briefings by Donald Trump, with even more than his usual quota of lies and misinformation – fortunately counterbalanced by New York’s Governor Cuomo, who told us what was really happening, and Massachusetts’ Governor Baker who previously had run the Harvard Vanguard and Harvard Pilgrim hospital systems and is a real expert in healthcare – it became clear that we would be living with the impact of the virus for at least a year, if not longer.

Since then, I have become more adept at teaching online and have hunkered down in my home office for the long haul. I have learned not to listen to more than one hour of news a day and tried to limit my television binges to an hour too, am walking three miles farther each day than I used to, talk and Zoom regularly with friends I’m not usually in contact with nearly this often, and am going cross-eyed and exhausted from too many Zoom meetings.

So, what will life be like in June 2021? I’m optimistic that we will have returned to some semblance of normality: restaurants and beaches will be open, conferences will be occurring again, and graduations and reunions will be taking place. However, life will not be quite the same. Favourite restaurants will need reservations because they have fewer tables, spaced wider apart. People will wave and blow kisses rather than shaking hands and hugging, and we will still be wearing masks in public places. Travel will still be much less than before the virus, cruise lines will be offering fantastic deals, and hotels will be experiencing very low occupancy.

What will I be doing differently? For one thing, I will keep well stocked with toilet paper, disinfectant (not for ingestion) and masks. I will also be putting my newfound online teaching skills to more and better use. I will be bringing experts from all over the world to class via the internet, and holding panels with diverse participants who previously never talked to one another. My research will add another critical dimension: how the pandemic has changed people’s views of urban density, where growth is occurring and what type of growth it is, and how real estate development should respond. June 2021 is not that far off and will seem like a new beginning, not just the (hoped-for) end of the pandemic.

Real estate will be very different too. Though recovering, it could face new challenges with vacancies and a potential credit crunch. I do not think we will have a debt crisis, but a drastic rise in bankruptcies and foreclosures is likely, and with it a tightening of credit. Retail closures will present enormous challenges but also some great redevelopment opportunities. Demand for larger inventories will give industrial property a big shot in the arm. Offices will continue to downsize; co-working space will suffer, and not just because it has been overbuilt – more people will be working from home more of the time. Apartments will be even more in demand, especially workforce housing. And hotels – well, I own part of one. Any interested buyers?

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