Property market and values after Covid-19
We do not know yet as to how the property market is going to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic — in Bermuda or elsewhere. What we can be certain of is that there is an immediate economic impact, with people losing all or part of their incomes, government bailouts, and even those who retain their incomes feeling the effects as economies slow down and readjust.
The seriousness of the effects on the property market will be in part dictated by the reaction of the major lenders, the banks. Since the financial crisis of 2008, the banks in Bermuda have tried to work with those people who have been struggling to meet their mortgage and loan repayments. Where possible they have agreed loan restructuring to assist those in need.
One must bear in mind that the last thing any lending institution wants is to have to foreclose on its customers and repossess their homes, as such assets struggle to achieve market value. Significant numbers of foreclosures undoubtedly would have dragged the market down.
Now we are facing a potentially more serious situation, and the way in which the banks respond will have a huge impact on how the property market reacts. We have already seen the Bermuda lending institutions waiving interest on existing loans for limited periods, but obviously they cannot keep this up indefinitely — nor will the waiving of interest be of much assistance to those parties who have lost their income and cannot make their repayments.
We are yet to see the scale of the problem, as the majority of borrowers will have made their March repayments because that was before the shelter-in-place and this will have changed in April. How the banks react to this is crucial if we are to ensure that there is not a collapse of the property market.
Another way the banks will impact the market is their willingness to grant loans and mortgages in these uncertain times. Our ongoing discussions with the institutions on this point have been positive.
Banks will want to continue to keep lending because it is an important source of revenue and it is in their interests to keep the market as buoyant as possible. But to do this they will need confidence in this asset, and will need to be advised as to its value.
To this end, it is vitally important that all parties involved in the property market are as transparent as possible, and provide as much information as confidentiality will allow into the market arena. This will need to include details of any sales and rentals, plus feedback from potential buyers and sellers, so we can try to get a grip on the market sentiment and make informed judgments as to property values.
The property sales information before the pandemic is a useful starting point, but stakeholders must regularly look to update their guidance as the marketer transitions. It is also important that we do not overreact. Yes, there will be some who will be forced to sell their property, whether it be their homes, investments or second residences.
However, since the lifting of restrictions, we have seen strong demand from both renters and purchasers alike, who are still looking to move and have been unable up until recently to view properties other than online. We have even seen people making rental offers on properties sight unseen.
Things will eventually return to “normal”, whatever the new normal is, and we are blessed to live on a wonderful island, for which there will be demand always.
Our government could assist in both the flow of market information and activity by trying to speed up the time taken to approve licences for overseas purchasers and permanent resident's certificates. This would enable the sales data to be released earlier as well as provide much needed income to the Government from licence fees and stamp duty. It may even consider reducing the licence fees to encourage such purchasers.
Of particular importance is our ability to be flexible and adaptable to change to meet the future demands of customers. In the short term, we will need to cater more for our own needs, whether it be retail or leisure with more uses of modern technologies such as retail website offering better online shopping and dining opportunities.
Unless our borders are open soon, we will all have to remain on “the Rock” for the summer and will need therefore to entertain ourselves with the plentiful and wonderful resources we have here.
Hopefully, this will enable us to replace some of the jobs lost and bring much needed income back into our households. In the long term, we will need to maintain this flexibility and listen to the demands of our potential visitors, and international business, while looking inwardly to generate more employment for Bermuda.
As some of the Caribbean jurisdictions have already realised, we may need to look at relaxing the restrictions on foreign property ownership, which is always a political issue and is not always easy to resolve. However, it would mean greater demand for property which can only be good for the property market, as well as generating additional income for our retail, catering and service industries.
In short, it is essential that the banks remain as flexible as possible, working with those who find themselves in distress owing to no fault of their own. Furthermore, we will need maximum disclosure of pertinent market information so as to try to ascertain where the market stands. We must not panic and start selling off what is, for most, our biggest investment and our homes.
We will need to be adaptive and resilient, but above all remain positive. We will get through this, and if we work together, we will get through it in even better shape.
• Steve Bowie is a chartered surveyor and registered property valuer at the Property Group, with more than 11 years' experience of the Bermuda market and more than 33 years in the international arena
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