Navent, a leading real estate and jobs classifieds company operating in Latin America, recently hosted a Latin America-focused real estate conference to discuss the challenges and opportunities for the region post-Covid-19.

The event, which was held in late July, brought experts from verticals like Idealista together with industry players, including agents and developers from Argentina, Ecuador, Peru, Panama, Brazil, and Mexico.

Agents and developers both said the pandemic heavily affected the real estate industry.

“Personally, I think all segments have been impacted. As for the high-end segment, we are all worried about making the right decisions. And we’re not much worried about investments. I think segments at all levels have been affected. The low-income sector has been very affected. All companies had to make decisions to avoid bankruptcy,” said Byron Mora Ordonez, GM at Bentho Constructora, a real estate developer in Ecuador.

But the virus also brought long-term opportunities. “A big crisis presents big opportunities,” said Ordonez. “In Ecuador, the construction segment is the one working to resume economic growth. We’re now selling five real estate projects. And in all them, since the day one of lockdown, we’ve been selling units. There will be a lot of opportunities for the low to mid-income sectors.”

Elsewhere in Latin America, despite Covid-19, investments remain strong. That’s the case of Brazil, said Alexandre Frankel, CEO of Vitacon, a developer focused on smaller and shared space apartments.

“Interest rates in Brazil have declined sharply. Demand and investments are stronger than Covid,” Frankel said. “The market is still hot, which is actually surprising for us. Over 15 developers in Brazil are now going to file for an IPO, which demonstrates how the real estate market is strong in Brazil,” he said.

Frankel argued success in real estate relies on understanding the buyer and trends driving consumer behavior.

“It’s hard to predict how the market will react, as there are still big uncertainties. But the sector needs to know how to use data, and how to interpret the client’s data to define how people will live in the future, for how long and how they’re going to pay for it. Today, I dedicate more of my time with data than engineering,” he said.

The long-term opportunity

Despite the immediate consequences, the impact of Covid-19 in both the short and medium-terms must be offset by the long-run. “Changes should be slighter in the long-term, as compared to the short and medium-terms,” said Martín Boquete, the director of Toribio Achával, a large real estate agency in Argentina.

Boquete said clients should look for more services. “As for brokers and agents, we’re conscious that what’s next are services. So, we’re focused on meeting the client’s demands. Listening to the client is the key virtue one can have,” he said.

Online services to benefit from social distancing policies

Julian Stastny, head of business development at Mexico-based rental startup Homie.mx, said social distancing policies will likely incentivize the use of online services.

“In Mexico City, I see a big opportunity to further grow the still low levels of vertical buildings (apartments). We see real estate that was once focused in vacation rentals is now shifting to fix rentals,” he said.

In Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America, landlords usually require a guarantor and guarantee deposits, a barrier to entry for many renters. Starting with Brazil-based QuintoAdar, real estate marketplaces began offering listings that didn’t require a guarantor and could be completed online. That model has expanded to other markets — Homie, along with Navent-owned Inmuebles24, offers the service under the “Renta Facil” (Easy Rent) name.

“Years ago, nobody would think that one could rent a property remotely,” said Stastny.

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