By Sean Keenan

Though the ongoing public health crisis has prompted pandemonium, the novel coronavirus also provides abundant learning opportunities for community leaders. 

In America, among other countries, public officials are finding themselves involuntarily educated on the merits of teleworking, social distancing and more. And the housing industry is no exception.

On Thursday, during a webinar hosted by Bisnow, TriStar founder Margaret Stagmeier and Kaplan Residential president Morris Kaplan discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic has jolted their firms to adopt new practices, some of which could survive long after the mass production of a vaccine. 

“We’re going to get smarter and do things to make life a little easier and learn from this whole situation,” Kaplan said, asked how the pandemic has impacted project timelines and costs. 

He added that, as cities like Atlanta enact practices to keep the planning and development processes chugging along, some changes have made parts of projects easier. “Inspections weren’t as bad as I thought they were going to be,” he said, noting that virtual inspections and allowances for third-party inspectors have kept things mostly on pace. 

Also on the digital front, Morris said allowing would-be tenants to take virtual tours has proved helpful. “Virtual [and self-guided] tours have been phenomenal,” he said. “They have been pretty helpful in terms of getting leases, and our teams have said that, even when things go back to normal, these are things we’re going to maintain.”

Stagmeier backed up that notion: “I think it’s made everything very convenient for our property managers and leasing agents,” she said.

Stagmeier also noted that the economic impact of the virus has, in many cases, reduced the cost of land, construction materials and labor. “What’s really beautiful is interest rates have continued to be very favorable,” she continued. “That drives down the cost of rents, the cost of construction, the cost of new development.”

Additionally, Stagmeier, whose firm specializes in affordable housing, said the financial fallout spurred by the pandemic has boosted the demand for affordable housing, echoing the sentiment housing leaders have relayed to SaportaReport in recent weeks. 

Granted, it’s of course not all smooth sailing in the housing field right now; the pandemic has yielded delays in construction material deliveries, among other development aspects. 

However, the crisis has also forced developers to reevaluate how the design process progresses, meaning the future of buildings, Morris said, could look much more hands-off and spaced-out. 

And officials who seek out the rare silver linings will likely lead the way once America overcomes the hurdles posed by the virus.

(Header image, via Britton Edwards: The Atlanta skyline as seen from Freedom Parkway)

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