Adiós 2020 by Will Rowson

23 December 2020

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As we pass the shortest day of the year in the UK and hear about the new COVID variant whilst being located in ‘tier 4’, it’s hard to believe what 2020 has brought to us all across the globe. A year that looked so promising for real estate with low interest rates and a stable economic environment - ‘lower for longer’ was the buzz phrase and that is probably the only thing that has proven correct!

What is very clear in the real estate world is that there are now clearer winners and losers from both the pandemic but from the ways societal behaviour was already heading. ‘Beds, sheds and meds’ were doing well in 2019 but nobody could have predicted how 12 months would have accelerated their pre-eminence and performance against the more traditional real estate sectors.

The world of student housing has had an unpredictable year dealing with the lock down on international mobility, the rapid spread of COVID through the student community, especially in the UK in the autumn, and some universities continuing to teach virtually only. However, there is room for optimism in the sector as even in the toughest year student housing has seen in its 30-year existence, many of our schemes around the world have seen very strong demand with those in the best locations or allied to the best universities sold out. The sector also saw its biggest ever transaction globally – the sale of the IQ business in the UK – so the global capital markets are very supportive.

The demographics around the future number of 18-year-olds in the UK and elsewhere internationally, which bottomed out in 2020, are set to recover rapidly over the coming years. Align this with the growing desire from students (and their parents) to get the best education available domestically and internationally plus the economic benefits to their chosen host countries and this trend is unlikely to reverse again once borders re-open.

At GSA we see these trends as global and we will continue to expand our international portfolio within student housing markets where we can achieve scale, that are inherently liquid and where the domestic and international student numbers are rising.

So, adiós 2020, a year for learning lessons and battening down hatches but we are optimistic for 2021 and beyond!

Will Rowson is CEO at GSA