Peter Egerton: my five key takeaways from the UDIA Developers Conference

Having recently attended and presented at the UDIA’s 2021 Developers Conference, I was fortunate to hear a range of fascinating insights from other Queensland property industry professionals, as well as some external perspectives. 

While much of what was said was tinged by COVID and the disruption it’s caused, I’m pleased to report that overall industry sentiment is overwhelmingly positive! So, with that in mind here are five points from the conference that I thought were particularly salient.

1.   People want to feel connected, and social media isn’t cutting it

For the last year or so we’ve been running on the fumes of social media, but according to Harvard Professor and economist Edward Glaeser that has never been enough. Our desire for reconnection and socialisation will soon entirely outweigh our fear of COVID.

Glaeser pointed out that because cities grow faster than regional areas and encourage higher population density they are much more dangerous in the context of an airborne virus pandemic. But in areas that have spent significant periods of time in lockdown, people are becoming more desperate for in-person human interaction than they are scared of catching or spreading COVID.

It’ll be interesting to see how this dynamic plays out as things open up and restrictions ease – hopefully, the balance doesn’t tip too far in favour of socialisation with caution thrown to the wind.

2.   The office isn’t quite as dead as some may think

One of the prevailing narratives stemming from COVID has been the idea that people are now glued to their home offices. Working from home was necessary during lockdown, but once restrictions started easing around the country towards the end of last year the prevailing idea was that people would want to continue working from home.

However, Anthony Boyd (Frasers Property Australia), Andrew Whitson (Stockland Communities), and Susan Lloyd-Hurwitz (Mirvac) believe that this isn’t true across the board. It may depend more on how long people spent in lockdown, and how strong their subsequent desire to return to ‘normal’ is.

Rather than committing to one option or the other, they argued that the best thing businesses can do is be adaptable, accommodate employee flexibility, and provide as much mental health support to workers as possible going forward.

3.   An ability to get approvals isn’t an ability to deliver quality

Advertising superstar Dee Madigan made one of my favourite points of the day when she said that developers who are good at getting developments approved are almost never the same developers who deliver quality projects.

She argues that smaller, less established developers are able to present themselves as something they’re not and get approvals that larger, more well-known developers wouldn’t even consider proposing. These smaller developers then cut corners in order to squeak out their projects but end up delivering shonky product. This gives all developers and their projects a bad name in the public sphere.

It’s an issue we can really only address together as an industry. It affects us all – low-quality developments erode the public’s faith in our value and ability, which in turn makes it harder for us to get projects approved and to prove that we can deliver high-quality outcomes for our communities.

4.   Stop development shaming!

It may seem a bit egotistical to include one of my own talking points as a key takeaway, but I firmly believe that we need to work on combatting the stigma surrounding smaller allotments, townhouses, and low-rise apartments. These development tools are essential to urban regeneration in certain areas, but are often viewed as inferior, lower-quality solutions in communities where they’re most needed.

At the end of the day, we should expect all of our residents to understand planning for growth or essentially what a regional plan is trying to achieve and why. So, if we want to fight development shaming, we need to demonstrate to the public what good infill housing can, and should look like. We need to show existing residents what these kinds of developments provide value, and contribute to the sustainability and affordability of our cities and regions.

By working with councillors and established communities to influence policy and public sentiment, we can work towards giving ourselves the room to prove that smaller developments aren’t always rubbish.

 

Tim Lawless from CoreLogic presenting at the 2021 UDIA Developers Conference in Queensland

Tim Lawless from CoreLogic presenting at the UDIA Developers conference 2021

5.   Southeast Queensland is where it’s at!

Tim Lawless from CoreLogic had perhaps the most positive message of the day: ‘Southeast Queensland, Southeast Queensland, Southeast Queensland!’ He was overwhelmingly enthusiastic about the future of our little corner’s development industry, citing the wealth of development opportunities popping up across the board in Brisbane, the Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast. Expansion areas, townhouses, medium-density developments, apartments, you name it - it all looks good according to Tim.

He also pointed out that in the scheme of things, we’re crushing it on the affordability front. The general rule of thumb for economists is that a 6:1 income to debt ratio is the tipping point at which housing stress issues start manifesting, and we’re nowhere near that yet. For comparison’s sake, Sydney’s housing costs are double Brisbane’s, but Sydneysiders only earn about 12% more on balance.

All of this was music to the ears of a room full of property professionals generally inclined to proceed with caution and hedge their bets. Unfamiliar music perhaps, but music nonetheless. Tim went on to note that with interest rates as low as they are, and job opportunities being relatively plentiful, all the different levers are in the right place to support a boom in the near future.

Tim’s message was a positive one, and one generally in line with the sentiment of the day – optimistic - sometimes cautiously so - but overwhelming hopeful.

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