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Vampires and Bowie

Tuesday April 13, 2021

In April 2020 if you said we would still be talking about the strange new bat-bug in a year’s time I would have demonstrated a double positive can prove a negative by saying “Aye. Right”. But here we are. Maybe light at the end of the tunnel and everyone saying they cannot wait for things to get back to normal. Newsflash. They will not.

Yes, restaurants and venues will reopen, and we will be able to quaff a tankard of foaming ale in a sunny beer garden, but ‘normal’ has put on its walking shoes and jammed down the road. Nowhere more so than in the property sector.

There are gaping holes in our high streets where the giants of retail have crashed or had their life blood sucked by online vampires. Bad news for employees but in the long term, perhaps a new, more vibrant inner-city landscape? Something a bit more interesting than the bland shop fronts that have dominated our streets for decades.

Analysts predict that in the coming years our city centres will transform. A vibrant mix of apartments, leisure and retail. As ever, Heaton is ahead of the curve. Affordable rents and a young, professional demographic have resulted in a swathe of small, local start-ups. Within walking distance of my office, we have an artisan bakery, fresh fruit ‘n veg, a craft beer shop and a Zen pilates hammam (no, me neither). Not to mention a dozen restaurants trying something new and succeeding.

Our retail spaces will change and eventually thrive. Napoleon called us ‘a nation of shopkeepers. I prefer a nation of entrepreneurs. But we cannot all be entrepreneurs. Many of us do the nine to five in an office. Even that predictable environment will not get back to normal.

Lockdown has made us Masters of Zoom. Employers have discovered that, far from bingeing on Netflix, people are more productive working from home. Employees avoid the nightmare commute, reduce their carbon footprint and can spend all day in their jim-jam bottoms. They are finally in control of their work-life balance. Not good news for office block owners or the pensions many of them manage.

In the residential property sector, a big beast has entered the fray. Lloyds Bank has announced it will become a major residential landlord with something called ‘Project Generation’. Bankers are up there with burglars in public perception so expect a social media backlash. But this is good news for tenants because Lloyds will do it right.

Lloyds will employ the best management teams and being bankers, will know that maintenance and improvements to their estate shows a healthy return on their balance sheet. Interesting that Lloyds name their move ‘Project Generation’. An admission that ‘generation rent’ is here to stay and that investment in residential property is a sound long term investment?

The Spanish have a lovely saying when parting from friends. “Que no suceda nada nuevo”. Let nothing new happen. These days I prefer a quote from an old chum back when I was a musician, David Bowie who said, “Turn and face the strange changes”.

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