COVID-19 highlights need for sustainable real estate: Architects

Shaimaa Al-Aees
10 Min Read
Hesham Helal, Founder and CEO of Criteria Design Group (CDG)

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has created a real opportunity for both real estate developers and architects alike to rethink the needs and requirements of their customers.

Since the February emergence of the pandemic in Egypt, customers have altered their requirements, taking into account a variety of human and environmental considerations.

Greater focus is now placed on the sustainability of properties, as a key solution to face continuous environmental changes that affect the nature of real estate products over time.

A recent round table entitled “The future of the real estate product post COVID-19”, organised by the Realty Catalogue magazine, placed a consideration on the effects of the global pandemic on real estate needs.

Participants added that the coronavirus crisis was an opportunity for customers to rethink their needs in terms of the type of real estate unit they are looking for, and which meets their ongoing and future requirements.

Real estate developers also stressed the importance of real demand and its role in preserving the local real estate market’s good performance during the COVID-19 epidemic compared to many global and regional markets. This features as an essential element to maintain continued sales despite the crisis, even if it is less, in relative terms, compared to normal times.

The coronavirus pandemic has provided Egypt’s real estate developers with an opportunity to reconsider purchasing trends and the new needs and demands customers have for their properties. It also brings into sharpened focus the role of architects, who now need to think more in terms of converting those needs into actual designs that real estate developers can implement.

Hesham Helal, Founder and CEO of Criteria Design Group (CDG), said that property sustainability is the key solution to face continuous environmental changes that affect the nature of real estate product over time. Because properties are fixed for long periods of time, this requires their continued validity over those long periods.

Helal added that the issue of sustainable building has become a key concern recently, as they have proven their ability to withstand and face environmental changes over decades.

This is takes into account the unit’s design based on scientific and real environmental principles, with good ventilation and natural lighting important features, as well as other environmental requirements in which the property is located.

The COVID-19 epidemic has showed up several problems in the environmental and architectural design of buildings. This is due to some raw materials used in interior or exterior designs not meeting sound standards and principles of ventilation and sanitation, he said.

The problem lies more with the architect, because they are responsible for determining the identity and general shape of the project, as well as for facilitating the real estate developer in achieving a balance between cost and return, he added.

Ahmed Gabr, CEO and Principal Architect at GAF Design Studio

Ahmed Gabr, CEO and Principal Architect at GAF Design Studio, said that the recent crisis presented clients with the opportunity to study and reconsider, in depth, their real estate needs. This meant that clients also took a closer look at their short-term and long-term requirements before making a real estate purchase.

Gabr also said that the architects have now had to shift their focus, taking into account the health and environmental standards available at the unit. The available spaces within properties must be reconsidered and redesigned to enable their optimal use, and to achieve greater benefit at the lowest cost.

He added that customer requirements for commercial properties have also significantly changed as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. There is now the greatest demand on small spaces that are designed in such a way that allows maximum benefits for customers without incurring a higher cost.

“Following the coronavirus crisis, the customer is looking for a commercial unit with less space, as he has become aware of optimal design and decoration with larger ventilation holes,” Gabr said.

He anticipates that the nature of residential activities will change in the coming period, as some customers are currently buying furniture suitable for small areas. This is in an effort to reduce space and achieve maximum benefit at a lower cost.

Gabr noted that the post-COVID-19 changes in real estate requirements will also significantly affect medical units. With customers afraid to remain in confined spaces, particularly for potentially extended periods of time, clinics and medical units are set to make their own changes in the coming period. This will see these units take up larger areas, to take into account social distancing measures.

Cairo Capital Developments Chairperson Ahmed Selim

Meanwhile, Cairo Capital Developments Chairperson Ahmed Selim said that the COVID-19 pandemic has provided developers the opportunity to understand the new trends and demands relating to the local property market. They have now had to identify new customers’ needs and thus meet these requirements in existing or future projects.

Selim added that the coronavirus crisis has led to the emergence of clients looking for a unit with a well-rounded living experience rather than just as an investment opportunity.

He pointed out that the epidemic helped in ensuring there was a general reassessment of real requirements among targeted customers, and the re-introduction of products in proportion to customer requirements.

Selim added that those customers who purchased units before the coronavirus outbreak will not see any changes to the form, design or use of the unit once they receive delivery of their purchased properties. However, for those who have purchased units in the wake of the pandemic, there will be a change in the design not exceeding 10%. 

El Attal Holding Chairperson Ahmad El Attal

He noted that there has been an increasing local and international demand for medical properties during the coronavirus crisis, due to the high demand in this sector created by the crisis.

El Attal Holding Chairperson Ahmad El Attal confirmed that property remains a safe haven for investment, especially during times of crisis. This has been most succinctly confirmed by the COVID-19 pandemic, with Egypt’s real estate sector successfully maintaining existing sales despite the difficult economic circumstances.

El Attal pointed out that, since the start of the pandemic, the market has seen a 70% decline in sales. Starting from last June, however, there has been a gradual uptick in demand and purchase of various housing units, and face-to-face dealings between customers and developers have resumed.

The importance of technology in developing real estate projects has also come to the forefront in recent months, highlighting just how important this element can be in helping developers overcome crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gasser Bahgat, Founder and Chairman at Najma Properties and Amaken Development

Gasser Bahgat, Founder and Chairman at Najma Properties and Amaken Development, said that the COVID-19 crisis is similar to other crises the world has previously faced. He noted that it will also not affect companies or customers, except in the medium term.

Bahgat said that the pandemic was a good opportunity for real estate investors to benefit from financial facilities provided by the Egyptian government and the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE). These were put in place to support the Egyptian economy, and to ensure that the country’s real estate sector did not suffer, particularly as the government has an interest in the development of new urban communities.

  “The COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to a change in the architect’s way of thinking, as administrative spaces will be smaller, and housing unit developers will have to take into account the presence of additional space for home office facilities,” Bahgat said.

He also disclosed that Egypt is likely to see a change in real estate products, whether in terms of housing units or whether they are commercial.

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