ICD Property's Alice Smith discusses the future of Australia's property industry after COVID-19

ICD Property's Alice Smith discusses the future of Australia's property industry after COVID-19
Olivia RoundApril 23, 2020

Recently we had a chat to ICD Property's Development Director Alice Smith about how ICD is adapting as a result of COVID-19, advice for buyers looking to purchase in the current market and the future of property in Australia once COVID-19 is over. 

Urban.com.au: What are the key changes ICD Property has noticed in the market as a result of COVID-19?

Alice Smith: As COVID-19 continues to develop as do the changes we’re seeing in the property market. For instance, due to Government restrictions that came into place quite early encouraging people to stay home, one of the first changes we noticed in the property market was lower foot traffic in display suites and sales centres. 

Due to more people staying indoors. In response, however, online property listings started experiencing an upward trend of visitation. Similarly, project websites and requests for information online such as brochures, pricing lists, etc. have become more popular and seen more demand.

U: How is the business pivoting its strategy to account for the current restrictions surrounding social distancing and isolation requirements?

AS: The number one priority for us at the moment is the health and safety of our staff, partners, consultants, and purchasers. And we’ve taken appropriate actions to protect all these groups whilst upholding the Government’s social distancing requirements. For instance, last Wednesday 15 April marked 5 weeks of all ICD Property staff working from home. 

The leadership team decided quite early in the best interest of our staff and those we work with, we would implement a few rules including: a travel ban eliminating staff requirements for any domestic and international work-related travel; and indefinite work-from-home for all staff. We also immediately transferred all in-person meetings with partners and consultants to digital video call meetings to protect those we work with too. In relation to purchasers, we minimise the number of people in our sales centres and display suites at any one time by changing their opening hours to be by private appointments only. 

On top of increasing the cleaning of these sites to include regular additional hospital-grade sanitation. We’re now focusing on doing everything we can to ensure we’re fully able to service our purchasers and other stakeholders with the best remote customer service experience as they would experience in person. Another way we’re doing this is by offering purchasers video-call conferences with sales agents across all our projects so they’re able to still take them through marketing brochures, available stock, and find the perfect future home.

U: What advice do you have for buyers who are considering buying property in the current market?

AS: Of course there’s never one umbrella piece of advice to apply to everyone, so I think my biggest piece of advice for buyers right now would be to assess what is right for them in their situation. Short, medium and long term. Of course, the record low RBA cash rate cuts that we’re starting to slowly see be passed through the banks means purchasers at the moment can take advantage of some of the cheapest mortgage interest rates we’ve ever seen. Or that we’ve seen in a long time. 

It can be enticing and further assist those who are wanting to purchase their first property by cutting a bit off their monthly repayments. It’s also advantageous to those wanting to refinance their current home or investment property. Staying on top of market news and having a good understanding of your own personal position is my best tip for property purchasers at all times, not just in this new COVID-19 environment.

U: What extra precautions is ICD Property taking to ensure the health, safety, and wellbeing of their staff and clients?

AS: As previously mentioned, we are enforcing social distancing by implementing indefinite work from home. However, of course, we understand working from home can be difficult for some people who lack the right equipment or perhaps have children. To help transition staff into their new working environments, ICD Property’s incredible HR team Hayley Randall and Laura Burgess quickly conducted formal work-from-home surveys to assess the functionality and safety of each staff’s environment. They then went on to provide additional equipment such as monitors, keyboards, mouses, ergonomic chairs, internet, etc. to those who needed it.

On a company level we’ve cancelled all corporate events including training, speaking opportunities, marketing events, and the like. It’s important to us that if we aren’t asking our staff to attend business travel and events, then we aren’t asking our consultants to do the same. We’re also ensuring all our construction sites stay up-to-date with Government guidelines such as social distancing rules. Which is something that continues to change and we monitor each day.

Acknowledging that this time can be tough for some and lead to feelings of isolation and being disconnected, we’re implementing a lot of things to keep up staff morale, culture, and mental wellbeing including:

  • Bi-weekly confidential phone call check-ins with HR
  • Online group training sessions with experts in the fields of resilience, stress management, health, and the like.
  • Replicating an in-office setting as much as we can with the online program ‘Discord’ which allows us to set up virtual rooms and have casual online conversations like we would in the office (for example, we have created a ‘Kitchen’ room for people to have their morning coffee in and most mornings you can find multiple staff in their having a morning chat before they go on with their work).
  • Maintaining one of our oldest traditions which is doing The Age’s daily super-quiz in the kitchen by now doing it every Monday – Friday on video conference together and sharing lunch.
  • Friday 5pm virtual games and drinks to ease into our weekend and catch up. We also use this as an opportunity to share positive news across the company such as milestones, achievements, and praising one another.
  • Encouraging all staff to once a week get on a phone/video call with someone else in the office just to catch up and keep one another company.
  • HR team doing lots of surveys across multiple fields such as the safety and user-friendliness of each staff’s home office (and providing equipment where needed such as monitors, wifi dongles, etc.), mood/mental wellbeing of staff, etc.
  • Regular updates from the leadership team to reassure staff of the company’s position and create some transparency and certainty for staff

U: What support are you hoping to receive from advocacy groups such as the PCA and UDIA, and the Australian Government?

AS: It’s difficult to pinpoint any one outcome as the situation is constantly evolving. What we’d hope to see is advocacy groups and the Government working hand-in-hand for the best outcome of all Australians. Which we’re already starting to see the beginnings of with advocacy groups and Government meeting regularly and sharing their mutual interests to stimulate the economy and keep people in jobs as much as possible. ICD Property’s Deputy Managing Director, Sal Quah, is actually a Property Council of Australia member of their Future Directions committee and hopefully through that relationship ICD will be able to provide some assistance and leadership to the industry as needed.

U: What are you planning as a business once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted?

AS: To date, we’ve been business as usual (understanding that times are very much unusual) and of course, there have been necessary pivots and methods of adapting, but we will continue to be flexible to the changing environment and innovate our approach as needed. I’m sure once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and it’s safe to return to work and we’re in a safer environment, ICD Property will have all staff get together and share many high-fives to celebrate coming out the other end of this stronger.

U: How do you think this experience will change the way the property market in Australia operates moving forward?

AS: Although this is a challenging time for all Australians, it’s also an opportunity for us to band together and grow stronger. Companies are demonstrating their strength and resilience and Australians are, in our very quintessential Australian way, rallying behind businesses. In property specifically, a lot of developers right now are looking into providing as much online material to purchasers as they can. Due to the stay-at-home restrictions. Where we previously might not have seen all projects have display suite videos or virtual apartment tours online, we’re seeing an increased demand for this from purchasers. They want to access information online from the convenience and safety of their homes. Although this is obviously a current trend in response to COVID-19, it may be something that continues into the future. I think the overall heavier use of technology and innovation will be one positive thing that affects our industry into the future as a result of COVID-19.

Lead image: Render of ICD Property's latest redevelopment project, City Tattersalls Club in Sydney.

Olivia Round

Olivia Round is the Features Editor of urban.com.au. Olivia specialises in news reporting, in-depth editorial content and video + podcast interviews with industry experts.

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