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Post-lockdown resolutions from Thibault de Saint Vincent, President of BARNES

News

01/05/2020

Thibault de Saint VincentThibault de Saint Vincent, President of BARNES, shared his post-lockdown resolutions from his office in Miami, Florida.

 

 

Living in Miami during COVID-19, has it been practical work-wise?

Yes! Florida doesn't have a strict lockdown restriction, but rather is relying on recommendations and individual responsibility. No obligations laid down by the Governor of Florida and no police controls on the streets, we are free to come and go as we please. I’m speaking to you from my office in the Brickell neighbourhood, open to consultants on a drop-in-basis. However, we are not open to clients, and sales have slowed. We have completed two remote sales and a dozen rental transactions since mid-March. Sales can be counted on the fingers of one hand in France as well for all offices. Out of the 250 ongoing sale agreements, we have recorded a less than 5% withdrawal rate. In Paris and its region, some 120 sale agreements are pending, with 5 withdrawals. Relatively modest numbers, given the good resilience of the high-end property sector.

What about real estate indicators in the US?

They differ greatly from one state to another. Here, the rental market remains relatively active. There a certain number of uncertainties surrounding the reopening of shops and restaurants, and employees have suddenly found themselves out of work. They receive almost no support. There is no social crisis management in the US. Telework has clearly come out of this on top, with American experts estimating that it now concerns 38% of office workers, compared to 18% prior to the crisis. Americans are fighters, with an entrepreneurial mindset. They are on the starting blocks, ready to get back to work as soon as possible.

Might you have to close some agencies?

Not one! They are physically closed for now, but the teams (representing some 500 people in France and over 300 internationally) are operational. The consultants, whether employees or self-employed, are working from home, although naturally on a part-time rather than full-time basis. As for the ‘support functions’ (communications, marketing, finance, legal and business development departments), we have had to introduce temporary layoff measures for 85% of staff. However, most should be back to work at least part-time as of 11 May.

How are they preparing for the release from lockdown?

With a different organisation to incorporate health safety measures. All of the offices will be disinfected, our receptionists will have a Plexiglas screen on their desks, and staff and clients will be provided with masks - we have already ordered 15,000. We plan to continue with teleworking for half of the teams to protect those working in open-space offices. Masks, gloves and gel will be provided for clients coming to the offices or viewing properties. They will also systematically be offered a virtual viewing via video call, although they can still choose an in-person visit. What’s more, all of our listings will include a 3D visit using the Matterport system.

How will your uniqueness shine through in the coming months?

The priority will be placed on our clients. We will provide global support to help them choose between countries and destinations thanks to proven local expertise, whether in Geneva, Paris, London, Saint-Tropez or Miami, including financial assistance and works supervision. This is key, and provides reassurance notably for our foreign clients.

Will luxury property prices fluctuate?

I don't think that this crisis can be compared to that of 1992, as real estate was not considered a safe haven back then, or to the 2008 crisis marked by speculation in financial markets. The context is different in 2020. There won't be a ‘clearance sale’. We have noted steady price confidence as luxury real estate is now a safe haven on all fronts, something that clients have recently come to realise when taking refuge at their primary residences and holiday homes. What’s more, they’ve discovered that it can also act as an annexe to the office, and so comfort is a must. Residential real estate seems to have come out on top, while office space has fallen down the rankings.

Isn't there a limit to virtual viewings?

They primarily substitute an initial viewing. Some buyers who know what they want make a quick decision, in which case virtual viewings can save them a huge amount of time. Of course, they won't buy without having been to the property, but they can save time by only visiting the property in person once they are sure.

In what way are your ‘webinars’ a useful tool?

These video-conference/seminars are reserved for professionals, clients, buyers, vendors and media, and are highly effective. 4 or 5 speakers take turns over the 45 minutes, covering specific topics. One is scheduled for 5 May to discuss the London market after release from lockdown, with a state of play overview and our perception.

Living abroad, are you proud of the property sector in France?

France has been shaped by centuries of history and know-how, an art de vivre and a certain elegance. This is very important to us, and is something we endeavour to promote internationally.

Will you be scaling down your commitment to the artistic scene?

We will continue to support artists, whether emerging or experienced, in Paris, London and Geneva in order to give them greater visibility. It’s in our DNA, and our corporate investment in this field represents 1% of our agencies’ turnover, i.e. €1 million per year worldwide.

© Magazine-Belles-Demeures - published on Barnes International Realty on 01/05/2020

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