There have been a lot of changes in how US businesses operate since the pandemic hit in March. Office workers have stayed at home, and retailers have closed their doors.
But if widespread vaccinations happen in the first half of 2021, one observer doesn’t see dramatic changes to urban offices.
“We probably can get through this pandemic without a major impact to urban office,” says Paul Fried, head of equity capital markets at Greystone Capital Advisors. “Most tenants have continued to pay and have not picked up stakes and left.”
Instead, Fried sees mainly modest changes from the pandemic. “The long-term effect of the pandemic is the adoption of some fairly modest technologies—touchless stuff, a lot more cleaning and some design changes with the individual spaces,” Fried says. “Maybe we go to a little more use of remote work from home on a more regular basis. But no one I’m talking to is talking about abandoning their office or abandoning their urban office. It may happen, but it’s on the margins.”
Back in March and April, Fried says people didn’t hold the same opinion. “This thing was rolling over us, particularly in the urban centers, and people were working from home and trying to figure out how that would work,” he says. “There was an initial thought that the office would never come back.”
Fried’s firm primarily provides residential loans, but he says these office trends have a significant impact on apartment demand.
“The key is what are the major employers doing in any given market, like New York,” Fried says. “In New York, all indications are that the employers are sticking. So employees are coming back. I just haven’t really heard anyone talk about picking up the stakes and moving their headquarters somewhere else and being dependent on the work from home for the mid and long-term. All the major employers have talked about work from home indefinitely, but eventually, the employees are coming back.”
When those employees come back, residential should also come back. “From my perspective, New York residential bounces back and it bounces back big since employers have not left,” Fried says. “They haven’t left because when the C-suite sits back and thinks about their business, that business requires people to interact. Working from home is a stopgap. It’s nice to have this flexibility.”
Ultimately, Fried says urban residential is “all about the employment base.” He says suburban residential has also held up well in the pandemic.
“There are underlying economic issues impacting it [urban residential],” Fried says. “It’s softness in the economy.”