Inclusive design and social inclusion in real estate – interview with Mei-Yee Man Oram

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In April 2021, houzen’s Sustainability Lead, Eashita Saxena, has conducted an interiew with Mei-Yee Man Oram, an expert in inclusive design. Making properties more “green” and sustainable means also making sure they are fit for any tenant – hence making a property “inclusive” might sometimes require some surprising improvements. Here’s a short summary of our interview with Mei-Yee.

Q- What’s your incusive design journey been like so far?

A: I studied Arts and history and architecture at the university. The thing which was of particular interest was the social aspect of architecture and how architecture can integrate people,connect people- help enhancing their relationships. That was of particular interest, which is why after graduating, the role of inclusive designer in the industry- 1of the key thing is really pulling it back, user centered considerations to know about who we are designing for, thinking about, not only thinking about current populations but thinking about how the demographics are going to change that we should be taking into consideration as well to make sure who we are designing for, what we are designing is suitable for people from different generations as well and throughout the lifetime of the building. Recognising the fact that within every community we have got such diversity of different age groups, different gender identities, different cultures, different races, different access requirements from physical perspective, from sensory perspective as well, just trying to think perhaps making sure we think about all of those requirements, making sure that’s captured within any stakeholder engagement that we adopt as well to make sure that the design and proposals are really reflecting the people that we are representing.

 

What would you say the role of a community advisor is?

A: Within WELL advisory, I joined community advisory, with bringing the expertise of inclusive design, my role has essentially been to look at the work WELL building has been doing in relation to new features relation to updating existing materials ( guidance, documents, collaterals) very much with inclusive design lens, see how we can expand further and how to maximize the opportunities and initiatives to encourage people within the built environment to encourage them to do good things.

 

What do you think about social value? How do you see it from the perspective of existing housing stock in the UK?

A: From the inclusive design side of things, integral to what we do as a team, everything that we are doing, advising clients and design teams with the objective of improving things, society as a whole, medium audience within the building and also future opportunities that might lead to as well. From a design perspective, I am very focused on inclusive design. That’s probably the biggest area where on a day to day basis and that’s where the biggest impact is. As a firm generally we get involved with other things as well which include reaching out and working with local communities to see how schemes can benefit on a wider scale, outreach programs to local communities, schools to provide education, to offer opportunities and to get people involved and encourage them to get into the profession as well in the engineering profession- a wide range of initiatives that happen across the firm.

 

In terms of housing, what measures can be taken to enhance social value and create a better environment to live?

A: In relation to housing what comes first to my mind is when looking at now, there is a big gap in terms of what is currently been provided and what is required, if we look at social housing as an example, still gaps that currently in place that need to be addressed, if we look toward the future, some things are emerging such as population is aging, correlation between aging and disability, future projection that are emerging, we really need to start thinking about it and access if the current housing stock is suitable for those future generations? There’s a lot of talk at the moment about the balance, during the pandemic, there’s a lot of people that are working from home at the moment, so going forward, whether those patterns are likely to become much more normal, day to day? Again how we have been designing residential housing whether that needs to change to reflect the work patterns as well. There’s been discussions about 15-20 minute neighbourhoods and how that can be designed on a much more broader scale to reflect some of those behaviour changes that people might be expecting going forward.

 

Do you see any emerging trends in the industry?

A: Pandemic and its impact on the industry, huge impact from inclusive design perspective as well. People are much more aware and willing to spend time how they can be better in the inclusion and diversity sphere as a result of pandemic. Going forward, I am hopeful, positive changes building more flexibility to accommodate those changes in terms of how people use the space? Being more considerate about the diversity of people and how that can be balanced within a single building or single area and having much more flexibility in terms on how spaces are used generally is going to be a big thing. Again the pandemic has proven people can work remotely and they don’t have to be in office so going forward this will affect how the future of office and homes is going to look like has to reflect that.

 

About houzen 


houzen is an online trading platform for “highly rentable homes”. It allows users to buy properties exceptionally fast – 98% of the property buying process is done online, using automation and AI, boosting the speed of the process. houzen takes care of the end to end property lifecycle: recommends properties, generates reports, offers live video viewings and assistance with mortgage and admin of the buying process, all the way to selling it. 


In 2021 houzen released a new set of services, dedicated to Hongkongers relocating to the UK – offering a full package helping in finding a property, viewing it online and securing all the paperwork and mortgage with ease.


www.houzen.co.uk 


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Not just suits and iPhones: Who are the Hongkongers moving to the UK in 2021?

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According to the 2011 Census, there were 98,724 Hong Kong-born residents in England, 3,517 in Wales, 7,586 in Scotland and 1,906 in Northern Ireland. These numbers have been increasing year-on-year and it seems that 2021 will be a record year in terms of Hong Kongers migrating into the UK.  

With up to 3 million Hong Kong citizens being offered the right to settle in the UK, it is estimated up to a third of them will migrate to the UK. Since January 2021, anyone with a British National (Overseas) (“BNO”) passport and their dependents has been able to apply online for a visa allowing them to live and work in the UK. This mechanism also allows them to apply for UK citizenship after five years. 

 

But who are these people, what are their priorities when moving and what kind of neighbourhood are they looking for? Houzen surveyed more than 400 Hongkongers and asked them about their aspirations and preferences for their upcoming emigration. The below illustrates what they found.

“This will be a hugely diverse group of people relocating from Hong Kong. I’m finding it quite amusing that most articles about Hongkongers showcase business people in suits with an iPhone in their hand. Nearly a million Hong Kong people will move to the UK over the next 10 years – we are talking about the size of the population comparable to Newcastle. It is not incorrect to assume a significant amount of those moving over to the UK will be upper-middle-class business and finance people, however, a big portion of these Hong Kong migrants will require a certain level of social support.” – Benjamin Lee, Investment Director from houzen comments. Lee, being a Hongkonger himself, aims to ease the relocation burden to his friends and clients at houzen.

 

“I’m expecting 2021 and 2022 to showcase a steep growth in the number of UK properties to be acquired by Hongkongers. According to the houzen survey, 45% of Hongkongers are planning to purchase a property to live in. 35% stated they are interested in renting long-term” – Lee reveals.

 

 

There will eventually be a strong need for cultural education – Hongkongers are looking forward to having Brits as their neighbours, however, 24% have never visited the UK, and 28% only visited as a tourist. 

 

 

What about the environment they prefer to live in? With plenty of tempting locations in the UK to choose from, the winner among Hongkongers seems to be a smaller suburban town with 45 min commute to the city (32%) for example, Reading, Guildford and St Albans, followed by a large international city like London (28%).

About houzen 


houzen is an online trading platform for “highly rentable homes”. It allows users to buy properties exceptionally fast – 98% of the property buying process is done online, using automation and AI, boosting the speed of the process. houzen takes care of the end to end property lifecycle: recommends properties, generates reports, offers live video viewings and assistance with mortgage and admin of the buying process, all the way to selling it. 


In 2021 houzen released a new set of services, dedicated to Hongkongers relocating to the UK – offering a full package helping in finding a property, viewing it online and securing all the paperwork and mortgage with ease.


www.houzen.co.uk 


Subscribe to our Newsletter

Join houzen Investments Club FREE and receive a set of deals in your inbox every Sunday:

Data driven DDs in Build to Rent – why real estate investors “need” them?

In 2016, one of the largest American Private Equity buyout funds was looking to fund a large Multi Family / Build to Rent Scheme in the Hillingdon borough of London. The investment sounded quite attractive on paper as it included a juicy IRR% delivery roadmap led by a renowned London based entrepreneur and a solid team. Being new to the sector, the fund started looking around for data on rentals, some benchmarks or comps data to ensure they can write the $200m+ cheque. They spoke to some of the largest estate agencies who seemed to not be geared to be collecting any kind of data. Next, they spoke to the portals and software companies who provided some data – however these datasets were either too generic or not actionable and needed further data stitching, analysis and then presentation in a way that was useful to the investment committee. They then also spoke to some of the referencing companies, who either couldn’t share any data due to protection laws, or their data was again quite high level.

An idea spark over a drink

Incidentally, over a drink one of the directors at the fund spoke to his friend Saurabh, a senior Private Equity executive who had been building a data driven real estate transactions business called “Houzen”, alongside his day job. Through his day job, Saurabh had recently advised a large PE fund on a potential $2b+ investment opportunity into a Western European real estate agency leader, and was fresh off a due diligence into the sector. Saurabh offered to help his friend at the fund, collected some bottom-up data on the local market and presented back to the fund’s director and their Investment Committee – eventually they did not invest.

Moving data from paper to fully optimised online tools

“Due Diligence in real estate has long been a ‘finger in the air’ assumption on another assumption exercise. Due to lack of data aggregation, the residential real estate industry has found comfort with several limitations in the investment cycle” Saxena says. Firstly, the industry actors who are typically custodians of the customer and asset data have not collected the data digitally and at best, have stored it in paper files for decades. Secondly, the industry is so fragmented that even if actors did collect the data, it would need to be stitched together to make investment decisions. Thirdly, all the data that exists today is typically around assets, and very rarely on tenants needs, requirements and willingness to pay. This essentially means that the supply side data is fragmented, incomplete and not voluminous and the demand side i.e. customer side data doesn’t exist. Due to these systemic issues, the entire industry has been making decisions based on assumptions.

The time to change is now

However, the LP needs are changing now. The UK BTR opportunity is real and well established in the minds and IC’s of LPs, however they demand justification. LPs are custodians of public or tax payers money hence they are transparency oriented to reduce their own decision making risk. Several operators today complain that fundraising with LPs is not easy and they are not loosening their purse strings as much as the BTR hype seems to be. The reason is obvious – would we invest even $100 of our hard earned money on promises and not proof?

2019: a true test

Saurabh went on to quit his day job, and built houzen as the fastest leasing engine for the BTR sector. Today, houzen works with 7 of the top 10 BTR operators and investors and includes Invesco, Kennedy Wilson, Greystar, Grainger, Wellcome Trust, A2Dominion et al as it’s clients, and is based out of Singapore and India, and soon China. Interestingly, Saurabh’s entire pre-MBA experience was in the field of advanced statistics which in today’s speak, is called AI. That experience came in quite handy when the backend AI engine of houzen was built. From day one, all the data which came into their platform was not just collected, but the algorithms started learning and started making sense of the assets and tenant matching equations. In 2019, houzen was requested by a number of private equity funds, state owned companies, large BTR lenders and operators to share their data in order to make go/no-go investment decisions on whether they should buy an asset or not, if a certain borough or location is the right one to invest, develop or operate in based on their strategic KPIs. In addition, they would regularly ask houzen to help underwrite rents and their asset management strategy.

Smart DD reports – now available

Houzen has now launched a new service called “Smart DD”, which helps in connecting the dots between assets and potential tenants, potential revenue and operational cost flows. Further it delivers high quality consulting style reports on leasing velocity, asset management strategy, rent appraisals, buy make or partner decisions, IRR and revenue enhancement strategy and execution, asset turnarounds, and BTR operating model strategies.

The team at houzen is obsessed with the topics Build To Rent sector participants are continuing to solve for, and believes that through an intelligent data and tech infrastructure coupled with a finance and execution mindset will help make the industry more intelligent and investment decisions more predictable.

Relocating after Brexit – here’s what you need to know

Source: Forbes
Natasha Cleninngen, article’s author

 

Dublin

Dublin have reported that 28 financial services groups have committed to relocate staff and operations to Dublin since the 2016 referendum. Among them are Citigroup, Bank of America, Barclays, Legal & General and Axa. House prices are increasing and rents in the most fashionable suburbs are as expensive as London and Paris. State school placements are full up, which has led to an increase in fee-paying school enquiries. It looks likely that Dublin’s reputation as a welcoming city for both tech and financial institutions will continue to grow and draw a diverse, multicultural work-force, attracted by the opportunities on offer.

Amsterdam

Amsterdam, a European tech hub which houses the EU headquarters of  “cool” brands such as Netflix and is a mostly English speaking city, is however unlikely to become a banking hub – despite Mitsubishi UFJ relocating there – due to it’s 20% cap on bonuses. Further to that and off-putting to those looking at their relocation options, Amsterdam has also been experiencing growing rental prices. The Municipality of Amsterdam has responded by proposing a ban on new-build properties financed with buy-to-let mortgages, targeting landlords seeking to rent out apartments on sites such as Airbnb. But the measure also threatens to limit the supply of housing for workers moving to Amsterdam.

What is clear is that these cities offer great possibilities and new adventures for those willing and able to relocate. Brexit uncertainty represents an opportunity for city mayors and local and federal governments to capitalise on; political will however will be needed to help the pressure on the cities’ services