Let's Talk Real Estate

Every industry is transforming, but in real estate, this process started comparatively late. Sahar Zabler, Business Unit Manager Construction and Real Estate at Hager Unternehmensberatung, explains why the industry has been slow to react to digitalization and what opportunities and challenges this presents

What interests you about the real estate sector?

I find market dynamics very exciting. Real estate is probably the fastest-paced and most agile industry at the moment. As have also seen through the COVID-19 pandemic, real estate is crisis-resistant. When office real estate doesn't do particularly well, interests and service classes shift and people focus more on residential properties or logistics.

The real estate industry is undergoing fundamental change. Digitization - keyword: digital twins or PropTech - is in full swing here too. How has this changed your job?

The real estate and construction industries are fundamentally conservative. When I look at our portfolio at Hager, real estate is one of the business units that started digitization the latest. We are still relatively new to it. However, something that has changed in recent months, and that I personally find very exciting, is the corporate landscape. Many new players have joined the market in the form of companies and start-ups which we have now been able to acquire as new customers. In general, lots of young, dynamic companies are entering the market. This is something you normally only see in the IT sector. In the past, there were established well-known companies, which sometimes merged or went bankrupt, but there wasn't much other movement. Transformation and disruptive processes have created many new positions here.

What does that mean for the job market? In which areas are there new job profiles?

First of all, there has been a shift in expertise within companies. For example, in the past, jobs related to IT were often outsourced. In this period of digital transformation, that's no longer so easy. These jobs are no longer automatically outsourced. Just seven or eight years ago, we rarely recruited people with a digital profile. Compared to other industries, it's all pretty new. That's why my work with Hager's digital DNA is interesting. This sees two specialists and the relevant expertise come together. New jobs are emerging across the sector, for example, in BIM management, Lean Construction and PropTech. The latter is especially interesting for business graduates who want to specialize within a company and smartly reposition themselves.

In your opinion, what are the most promising technological innovations in the real estate industry? And what might have been overrated?

First of all, you have to know that each sector within the construction and real estate industry has a different focus. Real estate management needs different technical solutions to those that involve a faster process within the realization phase. In other words, the requirements are very different. But something that applies to all of them is that the buildings should be used more efficiently. Secondly, sustainability is a key topic. How can the real estate industry contribute to climate protection and add value through the intelligent use of resources?

How do you view cities when you’re walking around? Are you analyzing buildings and taking notes in your head?

Yes, it’s sort of an occupational hazard. However, I don't assess buildings as an architect or civil engineer would. I don't think, 'High ceilings, that must have been pretty expensive' as a contractor would, or the like an architect who might think: 'Oh, nice, high ceilings.' Instead, I think about things like: 'A client of mine built that’. Or I know the developer, the investor or the architect. This is especially the case with core real-estate in the top tier cities. In Germany, these are the top seven: Berlin, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Düsseldorf, Cologne, Stuttgart and Munich. It’s something that’s always on my radar.

The Coronavirus pandemic (sorry, we need to talk about this one last time), has also changed the dynamic. For the first time, major cities are losing residents and many have negative population trends. Is this a trend that is likely to continue?

Yes, we have definitely seen that metropolitan areas are losing some of their appeal as places to live. However, when we look at their use from a more general perspective, urban centers are still in demand. Culture, leisure, entertainment – anything that can be classed as after-work activities - will still take place in urban areas. You can't just move a museum from Berlin to Potsdam, so the attraction of the city will remain. But the situation is different when it comes to private residences: Do I have to live in the city center if I increasingly work from my home office? In this respect, the outlying areas are becoming more and more attractive. This shift had already started before COVID-19. In 2019, for example, 15 mayors in the Vorpommern-Greifswald district promoted their region in the capital. Instead of paying high rents for cramped living space, they enticed people with spacious plots, large houses and fantastic views. This can work well if there is the necessary corresponding infrastructure and it is well connected to the city. 

Which do you prefer? City or country?

I'm not a country person. The year before last, I spent some time in Texas. That was deep in the countryside, where you had to drive for 15 minutes just to buy a liter of milk. That's often the case in Germany too; we're not pioneers in that respect. I don't have to live in the central, pedestrianized zone of a city, but it's important to me to have a certain level of infrastructure.

Are there any particular blogs or podcasts you should read or listen to if you're interested in real estate?

In our industry we always read Immobilien Zeitung of course. It's kind of our bible. But other than that, it's important to know things before others do. And if it's already a topic on a podcast or blog, it's already too late for us....

We've already talked about occupational hazards, but what is your trade secret? Where and how do you get information?

For us, it's all about knowledge advancement. That's why a good network is incredibly important. For example, you might find out that a CEO position is to be filled or that company X is merging with company Y. Having first-hand information at a very early stage is worth its weight in gold. Conversely, this means that discretion is very, very important. That's crucial for HR consulting generally, but it's especially true in the real estate industry. We are like family, everyone knows each other.

What is the current situation with regards to diversity? Is real estate still as strongly male-dominated as one would expect?

It depends, you can't generalize. If you look at the site managers who coordinate the construction site in hard hats and boots, I'm sure 99 percent of them are men. That's still the case. On the other hand, there are a lot of women in the industry, especially in traditional property management. Overall, I would say that the industry is becoming more female and that more women are daring to take on positions in the real estate industry.

This article is part of a content cooperation between FemaleOneZero (F10) and Hager Unternehmensberatung. The company, which specializes in executive search, has repeatedly been named one of the best personnel consultancies in Germany by the magazines WirtschaftsWoche and Focus. Hager Unternehmensberatung employs around 110 people and, in addition to its extensive know-how in the field of digitalization, is also considered a specialist in issues relating to diversity and innovation.



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