On May 12, 2020, the government announced that Laguna, NCR (including Pateros), and Cebu City will be switching from the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) to a modified ECQ until the end of the month. This means selected industries can reopen with half their workforce, and limited movement of essential goods and services will be allowed. All other places have been put on general community quarantine (GCQ), with hopes that restrictions will be lifted completely in June. The two-month ECQ has changed the routine of most residents of NCR, including their online activities. From a nine-to-five home-to-office routine, they were asked to stay at home, consuming more online content and rethinking their financial and investment decisions.
Comparing March to April, 2020, during the ECQ, Lamudi saw a 20% decrease in country-wide site visits. While this may not seem like an ideal situation, a further look at the numbers gives the sector hope: The overall decrease in website traffic on Lamudi came from a drop in the number of new users (42%), but there was simultaneously a 31% increase in site visits from returning users, which means that those who were thinking about real estate before the ECQ gave property purchase a more serious thought during the ECQ.
Now that we know there is a very dedicated market in search of property, we can look at where they were pre-COVID and how the pandemic has changed their preferences during the ECQ, if at all. In this report, we prepare for the new normal in real estate transactions by taking a deep dive into the market behavior with the help of responses from property seekers, property developers, and real estate brokers and agents.
HOW THE PANDEMIC IMPACTED THE PREFERENCES OF PROPERTY SEEKERS
With property seekers from various fields as participants in the survey, we have gathered insights across different occupations, ages, and income brackets for a more diverse look into the industry. The majority of respondents were in the 26-35-year-old age bracket and have a 10-40k monthly income. Here is a complete overview of the demographics of the property seeker respondents.
Seekers turn to properties outside CBDs
Central business districts (CBDs), the financial and lifestyle hubs of Metro Manila, received a huge portion of activity on Lamudi pre-COVID due in part to the concentration of listings in and near these areas. Interestingly, during the time of the ECQ, the preference in location of property seekers has remained unchanged (67%), though a good 26% is looking in new areas. A further 7% are widening their scope by continuing to watch the locations they were originally interested in while keeping their options open for new locations. As for those that have either changed or expanded their area of search, the pattern is clear: properties outside of CBDs are gaining in popularity.
Property seekers who are exclusively looking for CBD properties during the ECQ were already eyeing properties in the same areas before the pandemic. However, some of the property seekers who were previously only interested in CBD properties are now looking at a combination of CBD and non-CBD properties. From 25% of the respondents considering properties in non-CBD areas before the ECQ, the number is now at 83%. On top of this, 50% are now looking exclusively at non-CBD properties.
Budget remains unchanged for the affordable market segment
Budget-wise, 72% of respondents have not changed their budgets. However, 24% reported a decrease in their spending budget. This change was entirely on the shoulders of the middle- and high-end segments; 100% of the respondents from the low-end segment reported no change in their budgets. In the middle-end segment, 25% of respondents decreased their budgets. In the high-end segment, this was true for 43% of respondents.
In line with the decrease in buying budget, the survey shows an increase in the interest in affordable cities in the NCR. In Metro Manila, certain areas saw large increases in inquiries after the implementation of the ECQ. In particular, Caloocan saw a steep upward trend emphasized after the first week of the ECQ. Other areas in Metro Manila that have seen positive activity during the ECQ are the cities of Manila, Las Pinas, Quezon City, Valenzuela, and Marikina.
Makati, Taguig, Muntinlupa, and San Juan, saw a little bit of a slump after the first week of the ECQ. Muntinlupa and Makati, however, were already seeing a slight increase in views in the second week of April.
The week-by-week change in inquiries received by cities such as Pasig, Mandaluyong and Paranaque, meanwhile, have shown no significant changes before or after the ECQ’s implementation. Pasay, which followed a similar trend, saw a sharp decrease in interest in the fourth week of the ECQ.
A renewed interest in houses
During the ECQ, property seekers have renewed their interest in residential lots. As the property type with an almost steady upward increase after the ECQ, it echoes what property developers have been saying about real estate, that the need for a house is something that does not go away.
As for property types, just over half (54%) of all respondents are considering the same property types as before the implementation of the ECQ. The other half is split between considering the same type along with new types of property (23%) and entirely new property types (23%). Of this latter half (i.e. those that are considering at least 1 new property type), 83% of respondents were previously considering only condominiums.
During the ECQ, 90% of these condominium seekers are now considering houses, with 45% of them exclusively eyeing houses. The remaining 45% are also considering lots (18%), condos (18%) and apartments (9%).
Looking at offer types, interest in rental properties has increased dramatically. These now receive over half of total website inquiries, despite constituting less than a quarter of all listings on Lamudi than for-sale properties.
When asked when they plan to buy, 34% of seekers replied that they are considering a purchase a year or longer into the future. The same percentage of seekers are considering a purchase in 6-12 months. Around 22% of respondents want to keep their timeframe open for now, preferably to find the property that best fits their new requirements. Meanwhile, 91% of buyers do not plan to purchase within the next 6 months.
Around 75% of buyers had viewed at most 2 properties so far, and only 13% had looked at 5 or more properties. In a time when cash is king, the majority of respondents are looking for bank financing (60%), Pag-IBIG loans (19%), or a combination of them (8%). About 91% of respondents are looking for help from property developers in the form of discounts (46%), promos (31%), and a smaller downpayment (23%).
Demand in regions outside Metro Manila
Looking at the week-by-week change in activity on Lamudi from February 17 to April 13, the following regions received over 80% of all inquiries in the Philippines during the 12-week period:
- Davao del Sur
- Metro Manila
With the exception of Cebu and Davao del Sur, Metro Manila and its surrounding provinces constitute the majority of this block. In Batangas, buying took a dip around the first week of the ECQ, and a deeper dip on its third week. Following that, it has seen a steep increase as interest in property purchase was renewed. In Bulacan, both for-rent and for-sale properties started to show signs of recovery after the first week of ECQ.
Interest in Cavite is almost back to its pre-COVID numbers for buying at the regional level. Meanwhile, in Laguna, for-sale and for-rent activities follow a similar trend, with activity slowly returning to pre-COVID numbers by mid-April.
Where the market is headed
As the real estate market switches to a renters’ market, property seekers working with a budget will need stimulus from property developers to pursue their real estate purchases. Gears are shifting towards affordable and fringe cities, where proximity to key areas in Metro Manila is still convenient but the prices allow for the purchase of a house or residential lot fit for a growing family. Now that these cities will have less stringent restrictions on mobility, renters in the fringes who work in NCR can return to their pre-COVID work schedule with relative ease.
Cash remains to be king, which explains the movement from property developers to extend help to seekers in the form of discounts and incentives. Despite the end of the ECQ in sight, buyers are taking their time to make significant purchases, and developers are stepping up to the challenge by presenting investment opportunities at discounted rates to keep the market moving.
THE RESPONSE OF PROPERTY DEVELOPERS TO CHALLENGES PRESENTED BY COVID-19
As the real estate sector faces changes in property seeker demand and behavior, property developers catering to their particular markets have also decided to implement COVID-compliant measures to protect their employees and their clients.
Lamudi interviewed several property developers to understand what areas they are focusing on during such unprecedented times.
Initiating contactless transactions and speeding up the digital transition
For many property developers, there has been an urgent need to reassess their sales targets during the health crisis. With contactless transactions replacing face-to-face transactions, they are still able to close 50-60% of their sales, with some developers providing digital tools as incentives to their sellers.
As there was an immediate need to transition digitally for most property developers, some have made the conscious decision to lower their sales targets. One developer turned to a consultant and stopped selling in the first three weeks to be sensitive to the situation of their clients. Yet another shifted its budget for on-ground activities until the end of the year to its digital transition. A property developer that has been in the industry for over 20 years took a step back from aggressive selling and initiated their business continuity plan.
How developers are extending help to buyers and the community
Property developers prioritized their people during the time of crisis by looking for ways to keep the company operations moving, reviewing policies, switching to a work-from-home setup, and adapting a skeleton workforce.
Some developers also donated PPEs and allowed for the use of their facilities for food donations for health workers.
In terms of business processes, several property developers have taken the stance to offer flexibility to property seekers as everyone works on innovating their digital workflow. As they adapt to the new normal, they have opened payment gateways online for business continuity.
With property seeker respondents turning to more affordable units and with a large majority of them looking for help in terms of payment schemes, many property developers have stepped up to ease the financial concerns of property buyers and investors. Property developers have come up with incentives in the form of grace periods, lighter payment schemes, and additional discounts.
A concerted effort to push the real estate market forward
Property developers now have a surplus of listings and fewer seekers with an urgent need to buy. To keep the real estate market moving, property developers are now offering additional incentives not just for seekers, but also for sellers.
With additional commissions and cash incentives for each unit sold, real estate brokers and agents will see pockets of opportunity in a time of crisis as long as they have ways to address bottlenecks in the new normal of property transactions.
HOW REAL ESTATE BROKERS AND AGENTS PLAN FOR THE SECTOR’S RECOVERY
For property developers, the best-case scenario is for the economy to have a quick recovery within 6 months to a year, with 1-2 months allowance to adjust to life after COVID-19. For now, property developers have come up with different strategies to encourage and help their brokers during this trying time. The general consensus is that sales is secondary to genuine care for their network of brokers and sellers.
Brokers eyeing recovery in 1-2 years
Real estate brokers and agents faced some of the biggest challenges during the pandemic. To get an idea of where they are in the selling process, what roadblocks they are experiencing, and what help they need from developers, Lamudi asked 84 licensed brokers and agents to share their sentiments about the current market. The respondents handle a combination of transactions for sale or for rent, covering areas such as the Makati and BGC CBDs, Cebu, Manila, Paranaque, Pasay, Pasig, and Quezon City.
The majority of them expect the economy to recover within 2 years after the end of the pandemic, a relatively reasonable duration considering that 36% of respondents have been in the business for at least 10 years and would have been working in real estate during the 2008 economic crisis and the peak in 2010 that followed.
Property developer and government support both needed to address market in ‘wait-and-see’ mode
During the ECQ, brokers and agents experienced bottlenecks in tripping sessions, with 42% of respondents saying that clients are waiting until the end of the ECQ to do actual trippings again. For 21% of respondents, lead generation has also slowed down after the announcement of the ECQ, and 21% consider the general uncertainty in the market to be another hurdle.
To address the uncertainties brought on by the pandemic, brokers and agents look for support in the form of digital training and seminars (46%), and materials from developers to aid in virtual trippings (19%).
In this time of ECQ, real estate brokers also need the help of government agencies to keep their business going. One practitioner says, “In my practice as a general brokerage real estate practitioner, it would be a great help if administrative tasks still push through despite this pandemic.” They cited examples of real estate’s essential activities such as transactions with the BIR, transfer of title, or transfer of ownership within the developers.
Particularly, real estate brokers and agents hope for these activities to be available online. “Administrative processes will be made less time consuming, and the safety and health of stakeholders will be assured,” the survey respondent said.
One of the concerns of the respondents is that before the pandemic called for the implementation of the ECQ, there were outstanding real estate transactions halted due to the mentioned administrative tasks. In effect, they have halted the transaction closing process. This has left buyers, sellers, brokers and agents, and even banks waiting for the reopening of administration offices for them to move forward with the transaction. “If only the paused transactions would continue, even at a slower pace, it would help the economy in general,” added the respondent.
The struggle in turning reservations to closed transactions
Real estate agents and brokers agree with property developers that now is not the time to focus on aggressive selling. One respondent mentioned, “We have to focus on the things on hand that would actually move us one step forward. We have to focus on helping distressed sellers sell their properties and actually close them to the point of being paid, and motivated buyers to be able to buy and actually close the deals as well and to actually get possession–without having to see each other and wait for ECQ to be over.”
In other countries, the respondent noted, these administrative tasks are already available online. In the Philippines, brokers are experiencing problems related to signing documents, buyers unable to do due diligence, and Revenue District Offices (RDOs) being closed during the ECQ.
Property developers have extended their hand to both property seekers and real estate brokers and agents in the form of buyers’ and sellers’ incentives as a way to address the roadblocks brought on by the ECQ on the real estate market. However, there are several steps in closing the transaction that require the involvement of government offices. Administrative offices are urged to make these crucial transactions available online to help property developers and real estate brokers and agents to complete their transactions with buyers.
A 360-degree look into the real estate sector during the ECQ
Pain points from the side of the property seekers, property developers, and real estate brokers and agents give Lamudi a well-rounded look into the industry and how things have changed due to the health crisis.
In summary, here’s what we learned:
- During the ECQ, property seekers are looking at fringe cities and provincial areas to make the most of their budget.
- CBD properties in Makati and Muntinlupa took an initial hit, but recovery points to these cities being COVID-resilient after the initial market unease has settled.
- Condominiums, which can be turned into rental properties, take a step back as property seekers look for houses and residential lots that offer flexibility for the family.
- The “missing link” in completing real estate transactions during the ECQ rests on government offices and other face-to-face administrative transactions.
- Industry experts look at the pandemic as a challenge to speed up the transition of the real estate sector to the digital landscape.
- Brokers and agents felt the effects of the general uncertainty in the market immediately after the announcement of the ECQ, but with an optimistic mindset, they focused on building their online presence, mastering online marketing skills, and strengthening their relationship with clients.
- Property developers understand that the recovery of the sector depends on how quickly the spread of the virus can be stopped, and they have done their part in keeping their building premises sanitized, protecting their own employees, and allocating a portion of their funds for frontliners.
Property developers have pushed the envelope when it comes to adapting to the COVID-19 crisis, using digital tools to help their teams and network of brokers, and switching to contactless transactions for the ease of property seekers. All players in the industry are doing their part to come up with solutions to the roadblocks they experience, and if government offices heed the call to switch to contactless transactions as well, the real estate sector will see its new normal in the form of a more agile and digital future that will benefit everyone in the industry long after the ECQ has been lifted.