Real Estate, Property Development, and Facilities Management

October 26th, 2020

The enactment of the Real Estates Agents Act No. 12 of 2020 is expected to significantly impact the real estate and property development sector.

Prior to the onset of COVID-19, real estate activities contributed 1.9 % to GDP (TT$3.037Bn) in 2019 (Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago Economic Bulletin January 2020 Vol XXII No. 1).  The uptick in real estate activities was buoyed by a 1.5% growth in real estate mortgage lending, fuelled largely by lower interest rates. Growth in mortgage transactions was evident in all three areas of the residential lending market.

In 2020, the outlook for residential mortgages does not seem to be encouraging due to the global impact of the COVID-19 contagion.  In the opinion of some real estate professionals, a significant fall-off in the demand for mortgages is anticipated due to expected increases in the level of unemployment and contraction in business activities, which is likely to continue well into 2021. Industry practitioners have pointed to an increase in the demand for residential rentals because of the drop in the demand for residential purchases.

The slowdown in the commercial property development sector experienced in 2019 is expected to worsen in 2020 and completions will inevitably experience delays as a result of the suspension of construction activities, disruptions in the building materials supply chain, and implementation of physical distancing and additional health and safety requirements on construction sites.

Increases in commercial rental rates are expected to be curtailed, as corporate tenants exert pressure on landlords for reductions in rent. Occupancy levels are expected to decrease as businesses fold or scale back operations. The increase in the frequency in working from home is also expected to contribute to the reduction in the demand for corporate office accommodation.

The enactment of the Real Estates Agents Act No. 12 of 2020 is expected to significantly impact the real estate and property development sector. The Act provides for the registration and regulation of real estate agents in order to promote transparency, accountability, and integrity in the real estate profession. The legislation aims to protect and assist persons engaged in transactions with real estate agents and to assist in the detection and prevention of money laundering, the financing of terrorism, and other related matters. The Act covers a wide range of persons and activities involved in real estate transactions. Developers will also be required to register in the Register of Developers prior to undertaking projects.

The Act will come into force on a date to be fixed by presidential proclamation, and upon commencement, practising sales associates will have a grace period of 12 months within which to submit applications for registration to the Registrar General. Real estate brokers, on the other hand, have a grace period of up to 18 months to become registered or to secure a licence to practise.

Facilities Management Tips for Navigating COVID-19

Facilities managers, as custodians of their organisation’s facilities, will need to make their facilities ready for reoccupation within the limits set by physical distancing guidelines and assist their organisations to adjust to a new set of operating norms. Implementing change programmes to minimise the spread of COVID-19 requires professional leadership and represents a great opportunity for facilities managers to demonstrate the added value they offer in bringing together the place, people and processes into a workplace strategy which can enable organisations and individuals to remain productive. The following tips for responding to COVID-19 have been adapted from the Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management (IWFM).

Determine How Many Employees Can Return to Work

Facilities managers should conduct risk assessments to determine the workspace capacity for people returning and how best to keep people safe. This risk assessment should be done in consultation with workers and their trade unions, and should identify the mitigation measures required.

Physical distancing requirements will likely mean that the number who can return to the workplace is dramatically reduced. Therefore, to determine what the operational space is, the facilities manager will have to consider not just the volume of space, but also factors such as access points and lifts, optimising flows, and minimising bottlenecks.

Determine the Workplace Strategy – Who Needs to Be There and What This Means for the Space

Once it is determined how many people the facility can accommodate, the organisation needs to consider who needs to be physically in the workplace and who does not. This will help to prioritise and organise the space into a functional environment so that it can accommodate the right activities.

Remote workers will need to be supported to create workspaces at home that are conducive to productive working, including supporting them with the right hardware and IT solutions, as well as navigating a new working dynamic, including breaks and concentration techniques.

Undertake Essential Engagement and Communications with Employees

Employee engagement is a fundamental part of any workplace strategy, including two-way communication and transparency about the implementation of practical measures, such as cleaning and distancing regimes, which will be top of mind for people returning to the office. Along with employee engagement, open and transparent communications about what the organisation is doing will be important in maintaining trust in the organisation – internally and externally.

Lead the Response to the New Workplace Strategy

Analysis of space utilisation and general building use should inform the post-COVID-19 occupancy footprint and other approaches, including cleaning protocols, as the biggest concerns for people around returning to the workplace are maintaining physical distancing and hygiene.

Measures such as placing sufficient sanitisation stations throughout the workplace, clear displays of health and safety information, and regular communication on measures being taken throughout the building.

Be Flexible and Lead the Ongoing Change Programme for the Next Phase and Beyond The initial return to work is only the first phase in a long transition to a ‘new normal’. It is therefore important for facilities managers to remain flexible in their planning so that they can adapt to rapidly changing circumstances. Facilities managers should ensure solid business continuity and pandemic response plans remain up to date in the event of a surge or a second wave of transmission.