'Some Companies Are Better Placed Than Others To Be The Front-Sprinters (Walking And Running Are No Longer Options)'
Mariya Tsvetkova is an investment manager at NREP, a Northern European investor, developer and operator focused on making real estate better through innovation in sustainability and creating lasting positive social impact. Tsvetkova is the current chair of the ULI UK Young Leaders Group. She is also one of the UK Green Building Council’s 2020 Future Leaders in Sustainability.
Bisnow: Do you believe that we are in a unique period of transformation for the built environment, or has there always been a steady state of change?
Tsvetkova: The industry has been in a steady state of change at least since I started my real estate journey in 2015. Initially, we were talking about not having dedicated desks and removing private offices. Then, it was about creating a new investment class (at least new for the UK) — build to rent, private rented sector, multifamily — and even arguing about what to call it. Then, logistics came back on the horizon as a balancing act for retail, and alternative residential concepts started to emerge for those who were outpriced in the traditional BTR space. The year before Covid, the industry woke up to the idea that sustainability and social impact are important for the business case. And then Covid came and accelerated the adoption of these trends by the real estate community by five to 10 years. So now, whether you are innovative or not, you have to respond to these changes and of course some companies are better placed than others to be the front-sprinters (walking and running are no longer options).
Bisnow: What skills will be essential to succeed in the real estate industry in the future?
Tsvetkova: I would say there are three areas where we need upskilling: ESG, operational capability and people skills (I am excluding technology as those are experts in a different industry that we will be working ever more closely with). ESG is an obvious one — we need to start translating all of these net-zero commitments into actions. Operational capability is required due to the shift of real estate from a B2B to a B2C business model — branding, marketing and communication, revenue management, feedback loops are all areas that the hotel experts know about. Now, we all need to know a thing or two about what our customer wants (no longer a tenant with a 15-year lease commitment) and how to address it. General lack of people skills — how to structure an organisation, how to attract and retain talent — is common in the investment and development world as internal teams are small and investors rely on an army of external partners and consultants. Managers know how to manage deadlines and budgets, but not people, as being a client is a lot easier than being a boss. In real estate, we have always been content that we need to understand buildings and numbers, not people. But with a dispersed workforce, fight for talent and vertical integration (having operating platforms is more human resource intensive), real estate professionals will have a thing or two to learn from corporate and management consultants.
Bisnow: Will new roles exist in real estate in 2035 that don't exist now; and conversely will any current roles disappear by then?
Tsvetkova: This is a pretty difficult question. I don’t think there will be new roles or that some will disappear, but rather the nature of our roles will change. As an investment professional, you might no longer mainly be using Excel, but there could be flexible new tools that feed from other systems and calculate returns, and data would be much more readily available and easily digestible. Thus, investment professionals would have a more strategic role, drawing on trends, relying on systems, thinking and judging soft factors that tech cannot. An asset manager might have to get used to reporting not only income per square foot but also carbon footprint per square foot. We might have to go to the office not to work, but to meet and socialise. Agents will probably have to be pretty tech-savvy with virtual reality viewings, online listing platforms and blockchain contracts.
Bisnow: How does technology support your current role, and what additional tech do you envisage for the future?
Tsvetkova: I wouldn’t say I am particularly tech-savvy, despite being a millennial. I am humble enough to recognise that Gen Zs, and following generations, will adapt more easily to new technology and tools and we should be comfortable to let them drive this innovation. Practically speaking, I am impressed to say, that since I started at NREP a year ago, I haven’t used a printer once (partly because I have no access to one at home or in the office). I could have never envisioned also that I would be working for a Nordic company, part of a London team, responsible for European growth, while physically being located in Bulgaria for the first five months of my job. I went through onboarding, meeting the team and deal sourcing all remotely. I recently learned what an NFT is, so if art can be created, bought and owned all virtually, then anything is possible. We should just embrace change and not let ourselves, due to fear of change, cling onto bad, inefficient habits.