Ready, Set, Go: Australia Rebooted

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It seems that once the coronavirus crisis has eased, many of us will be left craving a simpler way of life, according to experts, suggesting there will be less expensive pairs of shoes and more backyard catch-ups. That’s because, if being locked up inside for a month or two has taught us anything, it’s that our relationships with other people are the most important.

Our nation’s response to the crisis has also been somewhat of a revelation because, for a nation best known for its larrikinism, we’ve been surprisingly compliant. Social researcher Mark McCrindle admits our level of compliance has been “quite remarkable.”

“Particularly for a nation that is known as being a bit independently minded,” he says. “We’re not always the most trusting of government, and yet here we are downloading the COVIDSafe app, 98% of Australians have practiced social distancing, and the majority have avoided public places. So, we really have been a model nation for abiding by public health measures, and therefore we’ve crushed the curve.”

Fear of the unknown, as well as witnessing the devastation in other countries, was all the motivation we needed to toe the line and be unusually sensible it seems. But what comes next for how we live? What does a rebooted Australia look like?

Frugal is the New Black
Of course, the current situation is the Holy Grail for social researchers and human behaviour experts.

However, even they admit there’s an element of crystal-ball gazing in what Australia post-coronavirus might look like.

One behaviour that appears to be certain is that our big spending days of the past might be gone – for a little while at least. Human behaviour expert and author Mark Carter says many people have had to worry about their basic needs, such as food and shelter, for the first time in their lives over recent months, which is a situation that won’t fade from their memories quickly.

“The people whose livelihoods and incomes have been significantly hit are absolutely going to pull in the reins and they’re going to revert back to the base level needs,” says Carter. “Their focus is going to be on survival and they’re not going to give a crap about any of the trappings. For some people, it’s stripped back to the base level of survival, fight and flight; that’s where their energy is going to go right now. You saw it in the lines at Centrelink.”

In the months ahead, frugality is likely to be common amongst most Australians, however, there will definitely be splurges from those who had cash reserves before, or built up during, the pandemic. Mark McCrindle says the lockdown has made most of us review what’s important in our lives, as well as how we spend our time and money.

“Australians, while there’s been a lot that they’ve given up, they’ve gained a lot as well: Time with their family; getting back to the simple things; putting a pause on the unsustainability of some of their lives in terms of the busyness, the activities, the chaos, the expenses, and getting that back under control, which was forced upon us,” explains McCrindle. “We’ll appreciate a brunch out at a cafe or a picnic with family and friends, or heading out somewhere in the great outdoors and not having to exercise to justify it, just because we want to get out and have a bit of time with others.”

It’s clear that Aussies have missed the community and social aspects of life more keenly than they probably thought they would. “It’s not just heading back to the theatre or spending money in the entertainment precincts, it’s not just about the nightclubs or the nightlife; it’s actually about the social and community interactions in simple ways,” adds McCrindle.

Real Estate Rejuvenation
Many employers and employees have been forced to work from home, but in the process have learned that it wasn’t the black hole of unproductivity that they’d long feared. And this realisation is likely to change the way that people work as well as live, which has big implications for the real estate sector.

According to Mark Carter, real estate businesses would need to adapt quickly to changed human behaviours, including the perception of value.

“Industries, including real estate, are going to face challenges from decisions and human behaviour, because people are going to potentially learn that they can do things differently that they hadn’t thought about doing differently before,” explains Carter. “People have been forced to look at value differently and that means that businesses and real estate have to really be more diligent in building out all those facets of value: Personal value, tangible value, emotional value, service value and relationship value.”

When it comes to property attributes, the viability of working from home may mean study spaces become more valuable than butler’s pantries with buyers’ post-crisis. Likewise, some businesses may opt for smaller office spaces with a percentage of staff working remotely each day, which will impact the office sector. Plus, all those weeks cooped up indoors may see backyards and balconies bounce higher up the wish-list of a buyer’s property attributes.

Mark McCrindle highlights in particular that the middle- and outer-ring suburbs are also likely to benefit from the work from home evolution. “In an era where you can work from home, where you don’t need to commute to a CBD, suddenly the disadvantage of those homes on the outskirts becomes null and void,” he says. “So, regional areas will see a boost, outer suburbs will see a bit of benefit, and people won’t just focus on the walkable community of the inner urban areas because there are benefits, in themselves, of a detached home and a place that’s out of the action.”

It appears that Australia’s low population density may be part of the reason for our current success in containing the coronavirus, which has caused some speculation that apartment living will suddenly become less popular. However, McCrindle says it’s important not to compare us with Europe when it comes to attached dwellings. “Most of our apartments have indoor–outdoor spaces, bigger balconies, and are larger in the footprint size than a lot of what you get in Europe,” he adds. “Plus, (coronavirus) will give a boost to that missing middle – the townhouse – because people are seeing that that has a benefit in terms of its own entrance and exit.”