COVID-19 is not just an episode of struggle and negativity. It has also provided the homebuilding sector the opportunity to become a catalyst and accelerator of change in the business of building new homes for Vancouverites and British Columbians.
The pandemic isn’t over yet, and we’ve already seen how it has challenged industries like retail, tourism and food service.
Real estate can be different.
Local housing sales volumes are down compared with last year. Prices, for now, remain steady, suggesting we’re in a stage of the market in which many buyers and sellers are waiting on the sidelines to see what happens. What I do know is that people will always need a place to live and that Vancouver needs more diverse housing options.
This crisis is a reckoning and an opportunity: adapt or fail. COVID-19 should prove to be an accelerator of changes that were already taking place in how we design, build and sell homes and where and how we live.
There are sign posts that we can read to make sure our industry, our community and our economy survive and thrive.
Homebuilders must read the signs, understand how this crisis has changed the market and our lifestyles, and then chart a path to success so that we can continue to build homes that Vancouverites want and need and feel comfortable in.
So how do we do this?
How we build, market and sell homes has changed dramatically in a matter of weeks. With people trapped at home, the in-person real estate show-and-tell process halted. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Successful new home selling will require partial, or entirely, digital and virtual sales and presentation processes so that interested buyers can immerse themselves in a 3D tour, meet online with sales experts and even purchase a home online with unprecedented convenience. The tools are available but must be embraced to strengthen our business well into the future. A hybrid sales and presentation model will likely remain in place.
Rethink what we need
Developers must reconsider what people value in a home. Our homes have become our everything in 2020. We need more thoughtful floor plans that accommodate more diverse family arrangements and provide comfortable, professional workspace for homeowners who will continue to work remotely.
We must also rethink the locations we select for our homes. The health crisis has increased our sense of value in being within walking or biking distance of large parks, vital shops and services – and groceries. We need more access to green space, either at our sites or in the immediate neighbourhood.
Having a space like Queen Elizabeth park as your backyard is a lovely prospect.
We also need to design spaces that promote community and neighbourliness. Yes, we’ve been keeping our distance and living apart this year, but that has only accentuated our need for togetherness and community. Central, open, fresh air gathering spaces will be a priority when people are shopping for a new home.
The phrase “we’re all in this together” has been repeated constantly through this experience. But if we’re truly all in this together, then we should be acting like that. And in our industry, that means bringing people together with particular skills, professions and bright ideas.
Why not team up with a local chef to design your kitchens? Or perhaps join forces with a local bicycle shop to devise your bike storage amenities?
If your project includes a gathering space, why not fold in a local event planner to get to the heart of the space’s purpose and concept?
Local businesses of all types are facing remarkable challenges, so let’s find ways to push our bright ideas forward together.
The bottom line is my team and I remain confident in the Vancouver housing market, if we adapt in the right way.
Our city and country will remain welcoming to new residents from around the world, and perhaps most importantly, Vancouver will continue to be the most beautiful and livable city there is, and that’s something that will never change. •
Graham Carter is a co-founder and principal with Vancouver-based Vertex Developments. He was named one of BIV’s Forty Under 40 recipients in 2018.