I recently caught up with a college friend who majored in anthropology and is an articulate and keen observer of the human experience. After sharing anecdotes of how our lives have changed over the course of this year, he remarked that my bearded face was liminality personified. My academic background is in environmental sciences, so my muddled mind sprang to inland bodies of water, placid and beauteous. But that is obviously not the relevant reference. Anthropologists will tell you that liminality is a state of transition from major stages in life. It’s an in-between period, typically marked by uncertainty and often involving symbols or behavioural change. In other words, my decision to cultivate hirsute glories wasn’t about slothfulness, or trying out a new look after all. Rather it is a recognition, or maybe even a desire to signal to myself and others, that what we are currently living through is far from normal.
Clearly a lot has changed over the course of the year. It’s been highly uncertain, even scary at times, and has dictated behavioural change. Living, learning, working and playing has morphed and our relationship with the built environment has been profoundly altered. It’s logical then that some tenants are still not paying rent, why transactional activity is resulting in asymmetric sector pricing and why a ‘pencils down’ mentality still pervades for many investors. And of course, it’s why so many furry fellows continue to pop up on Zoom.
I share the concept of liminality because, like many, I wonder how lasting behavioural change will be, especially with respect to real estate. When mobility impediments have disappeared and we are able to return to our early 2020 selves, will we?
Future of office surveys suggest we won’t, though this needn’t be net negative for demand. Respondents are indicating that they want less time in the office, greater flexibility and space that fosters wellbeing. Furthermore, there is a belief that the function of the office will shift away from traditional work processes to a more collaborative use to meet the social needs of a Covid affected workforce.
The proven power of meeting virtually suggests that business travel will be slow to recover. In fact, our current forecasts for the hotel sector suppose occupancy rates will not return to 2019 levels over our five-year forecasting horizon. But leisure travel may offer an important fillip in certain destinations as the attraction of the staycation has long lost its appeal.
And finally, the thesis of ‘beds and sheds’ has gone mainstream and is supported, at least superficially, by the fact that we’re spending more time at home and buying more stuff online. Clearly supply and demand dynamics are more nuanced, but it is right to expect both sectors making up a greater share of property portfolios.
Liminality can be frightening, but it can also offer a chance to reflect and refocus. So which behaviours and rituals will remain as we move out of limbo and back into normality? And when will those shaggy silhouettes be shaven?