Women Shine in Real Estate: CREW Network 2020

The virtual convention from Sept. 15-17 brought together both newcomers and executives from across the industry.
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Women in commercial real estate continue to make moves, from construction and architecture to property management and development. The CREW Network’s virtual convention took place from Sept. 15-17 and brought together both newcomers and executives from across the industry that all have two things in common: real estate and the passion for advancing women in the industry. Initially, the conference was supposed to take place in Austin, Texas, but due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, was moved to a virtual platform. 

The convention covered a range of topics including diversity and inclusion, sustainability within multifamily, virtual tours of projects in Connecticut, Minnesota and Chicago; as well as an industry keynote by Heitman’s Mary Ludgin and closing remarks by actress and director Diane Keaton. 

Multifamily opportunity 

One of the breakout sessions titled “Multifamily: Seize the Day!” focused on the importance of health and wellness within apartments, especially among dealing with COVID-19. Panelists included Laurie Baker of Camden Property Trust, Ginger Bryant of Sares Regis Group and Erin Hatcher of AMLI. The big question was are residents demanding more? The answer was yes, but most think these wellness features should be automatically included. Some of these features include energy-efficient appliances, updated HVAC, green spaces throughout the community, outdoor amenities and cleaning stations placed around the property. 

If experts in the multifamily sector knew coronavirus was coming, some of the changes they would’ve made were implementing virtual leasing, flexibility in common area spaces and more outdoor accommodations. “Health and wellness has become even more important to our residents now, given everything that’s happened with COVID-19,” mentioned Hatcher. 

The future of real estate 

Data courtesy of Heitman

Heitman’s Head of Global Investment Research Mary Ludgin shared the firm’s latest research on the state of the industry. Remote work due to the coronavirus is reducing demand for office space now and into the future. Heitman’s latest data shows a slowdown in market activity, now driven by lease expirations. Vacancies are up 50 basis points year-to-date, the industry’s highest level in five years. However, remote work shows to have been increasing before COVID-19 began. According to a survey by JLL, 20 percent to 44 percent of people prefer to work in an office, whereas 12 percent would prefer to remain remote. 

For what areas of business have been most impacted by COVID-19, those polled at the conference mentioned operations, profitability and revenue; client relationships and branding; and stabilization of key partners, providers and suppliers.

Taking a look at the retail sector, there are both positives and negatives impacting the industry. Some things to watch out for were the accelerating demise of tired retailers and centers, increased e-commerce penetration, and experiential tenants that were previously a strength and now are most at risk. However, some upsides for the retail sector are stores being used as fulfillment centers, consumer confidence, and increase in foot traffic and the possible renewal of government stimulus payments. 

Construction dilemma 

Slide courtesy of Baker Tilly Virchow Krause

“We are deemed an essential business. But how do you work safely when construction is all about people? There are so many logistics to put in place on job sites,” Lynn Stith Bennett of Coakley Williams Construction said during a breakout session titled: “Construction: Management, Trends and Changes.”

Some of the biggest impacts to construction projects over the last six months include building materials not being available or delayed and workforce stoppages due to COVID-19. “The lack of availability, time, and progress brings us to, ‘what do we do next?'” shared Monique Holley of Clark Construction, in regards to supply chain disruptions. Despite difficulties caused by the coronavirus, some positives for construction include prefabrication and modular, collaborative software, and building mock-ups that are helping to complete projects at a faster and safer pace.