Trend preview: from smart home office, virtual tours, to out-of-town living

Published March 26, 2021, 8:54 PM

by Len Amadora

The real estate sector is one of the industries that the post-COVID-19 world has changed. Filipinos who have been staying at home for one year (to date) and who have learned to perform their most vital tasks within their private residences are experiencing a shift in behavior and preferences when it comes to their living spaces. For many, the countryside with its freer, less polluted environment is a second home, and no longer a vacation spot. Meanwhile, a smart home office is also becoming a requirement for business owners and working professionals who have accepted the work-from-home (WFH) arrangement as a semi-permanent status.  

Anthony Leuterio, the President and Founder of the Cebu-based property development company Filipino Homes, gives us a preview of the trends transforming the real estate industry.

Rise in property demand, especially in affordable housing. While numerous global industries have been greatly affected by the pandemic, nationwide residential property prices in the Philippines recorded a 27.1% growth in Q2 2020, according to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. The highest growth rate recorded since the first quarter of 2016, the numbers indicate that the industry remains aggressive and competitive. 

Leuterio recounts how Filipino Homes fared last year: “There is a lot of demand in the areas of suburban residential developments and affordable housing. Our six operational sites in different cities receive 10%-20% new inquiries from people who want to transfer to another house where they can have a home-office.”

He also names a few emerging markets who are keen to invest in cost-effective properties: “OFWs are a strong market. Then you have local buyers who want to change homes. In the medical field, many professionals want to invest in the country.” 

Digitization is driving demand. The health and food sectors were not the only ones that sought support from digital platforms to survive during a grueling year that compelled the population to stay indoors to prevent further COVID-19 transmission. As hungry, anxious consumers discovered the advantages of telemedicine and on-demand deliveries, real estate brokers also went online to reach out to customers who were looking for home and office alternatives. At the same time, these potential homeowners as well as corporate decision-makers browsed the net as they searched for safe spaces. 

Leuterio expounds: “Technology innovation and sustainability will be key drivers for value in real estate.  We need to embrace digitization as we have really seen a big change in the real estate sector from various parties like developers and the market side. We need to understand how COVID-19 changed the buying habits of our target market.”

Leuterio’s challenge is timely as the shift in digitization gave birth to another game-changer. 

Virtual tours and online roadshows. Why travel personally to a potentially investment-worthy property and risk COVID-19 infection when the sights, sounds, and other attractions of that site can be seen and virtually experienced?  Webinars and virtual conferences are just a tip of the iceberg when it comes to the way that virtual and augmented reality are slowly reshaping the communications in all industries. While the Philippines just hovers at the fringes of those innovations, its workforce has been pushing boundaries. Online roadshows and virtual tours give interested buyers a detailed yet vibrant, interactive up-close-and-personal look of the condominium or townhouse they are considering. Expounded on by the broker running the tour, these virtual events give them an idea of what they can experience if they purchase that property. 

Leuterio explains that these new trends are an aftermath of the pandemic: “With social distancing as the norm, these online marketing strategies are now must-haves for developers and agents alike.”

Smart office-homes are here to stay and can even grow.  Millions of Filipinos had to adjust to the WFH arrangement suddenly and with little preparation once the quarantines were enforced. This phenomenon is here to stay, although the gradual economy reopening is bringing back onsite working as well. As of July 2020, according to the Global Statshot, more than 50% of Filipinos expect that WFH will become more of the norm than the exception. 

At the end, the workforce might have to choose a hybrid form where they work at home on certain days and in their respective offices during others. Filipinos who prefer the homebound experience, though, will want to improve their current conditions, such as a reliable 24/7 internet connection or a room that is secluded from the occasional interruption by a family member or kasambahay

Leuterio points out, “A lot of homeowners discovered that the house they once comfortably lived in can no longer serve their needs today. Now that they have to spend more time in their homes, they are looking for other options like a house that is more ECQ-friendly with a smart home-office and a backyard garden.”

Balik-probinsya is back. The quarantine also reinforced to many city dwellers the not-so-pleasant realities that they now want to avoid, such as traffic gridlock, cramped streets, noisy neighborhoods, and thickening pollution. As a result, many are seriously considering investing in or moving to nearby cleaner, friendlier provincial towns and cities. The opportunity in this trend is not lost on developers who, Leuterio says, “are expanding to far-flung areas and buying affordable provincial lands to develop economic socialized areas. People want to live in the province.”

A year after COVID-19 has invaded our consciousness and our way of life, Leuterio looks forward to a more agile era where a more health-conscious, privacy-prioritizing public have more choices in home and office ownership—and enjoying a happier, healthier lifestyle.

Filipino Homes President and Founder Anthony Gerard Leuterio