The Rise And Rise Of Real Estate's New Buzzwords
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Experiential retail. Densification. PropTech. The agile workplace. The language of real estate is ever changing, and particularly in the digital age, new words and phrases are constantly making their way into the lexicon.
Some put an apt name to a phenomenon happening in the real world. Some are ugly. Some are just marketing gimmicks.
Using Google Ngrams, which charts the frequency with which words are used in books going back to 1800, and Google Trends, which does the same for internet searches going back to 2004, Bisnow charted the birth, rise and spread of some of these new buzzwords, and found some fascinating results which provide insight into the way real estate itself is changing.
Placemaking is what all developers of large urban schemes are seeking to do these days, and it may seem like a relatively new term. According to Google Ngrams there are a few references to it at the end of the 19th century, but that turns out to be because it is also a phrase in bell-ringing.
In the real estate sense, it first turned up in 1970, and its use rose steadily until it really began to spike in the mid-1980s. Google Trends shows its online use being fairly consistent until 2008, when it dropped sharply — perhaps developers were more focused on staying solvent in the wake of the crash? Since 2010 its use online had steadily grown before peaking in April 2017.
Where in the world is most concerned with placemaking? Australasia. According to Google Trends, the term is searched for most in Australia and New Zealand, followed by Singapore, the Netherlands and the U.K., with Canada in sixth and the U.S. in seventh.
Densification sounds like it might be one of those words real estate made up, but a quick browse of the Merriam-Webster dictionary shows it is indeed a real word. Real estate clearly digs it: a search turns up four pages of results for its use on Bisnow.
According to Ngrams it was first used in 1838, and according to Trends searches for it were at their peak from 2004 to 2006, and have remained pretty static since then. It is clearly an issue across the globe with it being searched for most in South Africa, France, Uganda, Switzerland and South Korea.
Sticking the word coworking in Google Ngrams provides the tantalising prospect that the concept radically changing modern office use was actually invented in 1821, until you dig a bit deeper and discover the phrase was popular in 19th century Christian writing as a way of describing how God and humanity can work together.
In its modern, real estate sense, coworking is clearly a post-recessionary phenomenon, starting to pick up around mid-2009 and rising sharply ever since. Unlike most of the phrases Bisnow analysed, it is at its peak today and interest appears to be rising.
Slightly puzzlingly, the country where it is the most popular search term — when measured against all other words searched for in a particular location — is St. Helena, the island in the South Atlantic where the British imprisoned Napoleon in the 19th century, a fact which highlights the limits of data analysis.
Maybe the advice proferred by architects, designers and workplace strategists should be taken with a pinch of salt. Searches for the phrase agile workplace are less than half as popular today as they were in 2004.
On the other hand, people are clearly interested in innovation hubs, the idea that businesses can be brought together in a building, district or even a city and their proximity can help them work together and the local area thrive. Searches for the term are growing year on year.
Experiential retail is being held up as one of the potential saviours of a sector being buffeted by online competition. Google Trends shows the term first becoming popular in 2004, and that between 2006 and 2015 its use as a search term was fairly regular. But its popularity has risen in the past three years as retailers look for new ways to entice shoppers into physical stores.
When Bisnow asked the real estate Twitterati for suggestions of current real estate buzzwords, "curated" was a popular choice. Its meaning related to organisation of a museum or library dates from the 1660s; before that it related to children or lunatics. The idea of real estate or space generally being curated by owners and developers has been growing steadily since 2008, and is most popular in Singapore, according to Google Trends. The word stems from the Latin word for guardian, something the real estate sector should maybe bear in mind.
According to Bisnow, the concept of live-work-play real estate (adjust punctuation to suit your preference) is definitely a thing — it brings up 29 pages of references in our search engine. But Google Trends suggests this is a buzz phrase that has yet to truly take off, with its use as a search term incredibly sporadic since 2004. Its origins are hard to trace because according to Google Ngrams, it has never been used in a proper book. What we can say though is that the concept is most popular in Canada and the U.S.
Smart City/smart building
Chicago was declaring itself a smart city as far back as 1870. While John Stephen Wright in "Chicago: Past, Present, Future" meant that the city was well turned out, his book has a message for those looking to build the smart cities of today: It is the people, not the location or buildings, that make a city great.
As referring to the idea of a digital, connected city or building, the terms smart city and smart building have been gradually on the rise for the past 10 to 15 years. Perhaps unsurprisingly given the number of experiments with technology and city planning, the term is most popular in Singapore.
Polarisation and bifurcation
It can feel like our world is generally becoming more polarised, but analysing use of the word tells us it is not; the end of the 19th and 20th centuries were the peaks, according to Ngrams, an indication perhaps of end of cycle angst.
More recently, when applied specifically to real estate, online searches for the term are pretty static, but searches for the term bifurcation, a phrase often applied to retail, are up sharply in the past few months.
Wall of capital
Search for wall of capital on Google Trends in relation to real estate and you get an instructive result. Searches spike in November 2006 and peak in December that year, about six months before values in the sector started dropping as a result of the subprime mortgage crisis. The term then disappeared totally until 2010, and since has reappeared sporadically. If it starts to peak again, you may have about six months to sell.
Google Trends shows the word PropTech being invented in September 2009 and bumbling along until around May 2016, when its usage began to shoot up, a trend that intuitively matches its discussion in the sector.
And finally ... location, location, location
One older aphorism seems to never go out of fashion: that property is all about location, location, location. The phrase is often credited to British property magnate Harold Samuel, who set up Land Securities, the U.K.'s largest REIT, in 1944. However, an article in the New York Times magazine traces its usage as far back as 1920s Chicago, and also identified its usage in a California newspaper article in the 1950s, before Samuel is credited with its coinage.
Google Ngrams would appear to confirm this, showing a sharp rise in its usage from the mid-1950s onwards. And Google Trends would indicate that the real estate industry hasn't forgotten this important maxim — its use as a search term has been climbing steadily since 2004.