My New Normal: FORE Partnership Managing Director Basil Demeroutis On Collecting The Rent, Housing The NHS And Too Much Celery Soup
This series aims to capture a moment in time, talking to men and women in commercial real estate about how their lives and businesses are being transformed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Office landlords face few of the immediate pressures that cause sleepless nights for rivals in the retail and leisure sectors. But the June quarter day could prove their escape was only a temporary reprieve.
FORE Partnership Managing Director Basil Demeroutis presides over a £560M office portfolio that stretches from London’s Victoria Embankment to Aberdeen. One FORE building, the 70K SF Windmill Green office building in Manchester, is in the thick of the coronavirus crisis thanks to housing NHS administrative staff running the city’s new Nightingale field hospital (located in the Manchester Central conference centre next door).
Worrying about the June quarter day, preparing for a new office market post-pandemic, and the dangers of too much celery soup are Demeroutis’ new normal.
Bisnow: Describe your work-from-home life.
Demeroutis: Work-life lines have always been blurry for me. However, I am grateful for the gaps in my schedule where I can steal a few moments with my three kids, although I’m conscious that I might be causing more chaos than helping! I’m either working at the dining table, or escaping to my glorified shed in the garden with the dog.
Bisnow: What have you learned about your business or the industry in the last few weeks?
Demeroutis: It is incredibly moving to see so many property firms rally in aid of those needing help during the crisis. The power of collective social action is overwhelming. Ourselves, we’ve housed the accreditation centre for the Nightingale hospital in Manchester at Windmill Green, given away rooms at our co-living building in Bermondsey to the NHS, and helped feed people in Glasgow. But we’re just one of many, many companies that have risen to the occasion. I think people are quickly discovering their social purpose.
Bisnow: What are you doing at home to keep your sanity?
Demeroutis: We have 15-month-old twin girls at home, so it’s a challenge! I’ve been finding time before everyone wakes up to ride my bike or pick up a fitness class on Peloton. As an engineer, I’ve always been jealous of my architect peers who are much more artistic, so I’ve been teaching myself to draw properly. I’m a keen photographer, and have tried to get out and about more with my camera. And of course my sourdough bread is beyond good.
Bisnow: What is your greatest business concern right now?
Demeroutis: The June rent quarter day. We had 95%-plus on-time payment of rent and service charge in March, but let’s see what happens in June. Additionally, we have been planning to raise capital into our next dedicated ESG-focussed fund this summer. Whether investors will see the looming market repricing as a buying opportunity as we did in 2003 and 2009-10, I’m not sure.
Bisnow: What was your lowest low and the highest high these last few weeks?
Demeroutis: We have been eating the freezer like many I suppose, and the low has to be the sixth consecutive day of celery soup dinners. While homemade from our garden, there is only so much one can take ...
Highest high, the way the team here has rallied around our internal events, from bake-offs, to guess-the-desk, blind drawing and remote cocktail hour, it’s been brilliant to watch.
Bisnow: How are you transitioning your life and business to the home front?
Demeroutis: I’ve learned to be a lot more conscious about “me” time, and scheduling it in. If you don’t block out time for exercise, for example, you can go for days only doing a few hundred steps. I think it is important we nurture ourselves; perhaps this will be one legacy of the crisis.
Bisnow: How do you think the coronavirus could permanently affect the way real estate does business?
Demeroutis: Some say it finally will bring about a shift to remote working, and the traditional office is dead as we know it. I’m not so sure. Certainly we will think twice about whether we need to travel long distances for just a meeting or two. But I think we will ask “why do I go to an office” more explicitly, and the answers will positively influence what offices look like post-crisis. The crisis will reveal that we actually crave in-person human connection, and there is no substitute for this.
Bisnow: What are you most hopeful about today?
Demeroutis: The experiences we are having now will change how we think about the built environment for the better — both in terms of the physical features we design into buildings, but also property’s purpose. I can’t help but think that lasting, positive, systemic change is in front of us.
Bisnow: What is the state of your business at the moment?
Demeroutis: We are in good shape. As a property fund focussed on environmental sustainability and social impact, I feel the world is pivoting to where we are standing. There is some debate about whether the crisis accelerates the ESG narrative or pushes it to the back burner. I think nature has given us all a 'time out' and we will herald the call to do more, faster and modernise the property sector. This will be good for our business.