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News & opinion

26 NOV 2019

Opinion: Perception matters in commercial real estate

Perception matters. Indeed, according to Leonardo da Vinci, "All our knowledge has its origins in our perceptions." Earlier this year, the British Property Federation (BPF) published the results of the UK's largest perception audit of the property industry, capturing the opinions of more than 4,000 members of the general public as well as a range of stakeholders including MPs, city leaders, NGOs and journalists.

The findings of the audit were stark. Only 27% of the general public surveyed had a positive perception of the property sector, rising to 37% among our key stakeholder group. Our contribution to the economy and wealth creation is recognised, with 77% of stakeholders believing the property industry contributes significantly to the UK economy.

However, there was little recognition of the wider social value we create, and the image of our industry is far from where we would want it to be – with only 27% of the general public saying that they would encourage their child to make a career in property.

Perception matters because the success of our sector depends on the ability to forge constructive and effective partnerships, and on communities trusting us to bring positive outcomes in a way that respects their views and supports their aspirations.

Moreover, we cannot hope to understand and meet local communities' aspirations if our industry is not truly representative of their rich diversity. In the war for talent, we need to attract the brightest and best, making them feel welcome and ensuring everyone has opportunities to progress and fulfil their potential.

People silhouettes in an office
A recent audit of the British property industry showed that only 27% of people had a favourable view of the property sector

We need a long-term agenda for change in order to transform attitudes towards the work we do. We not only need to tell our story and hold ourselves to account better, but also to do more to build trust in our activities and to make a positive difference in local communities. More and more will be asked of us by our partners and by everyone whose lives we touch, and we must be on the front foot.

Many are already considering this challenge, and changing the way they recruit, support talent and engage locally.

However, there is huge, untapped potential to harness these individual efforts into powerful collective action. Our industry needs to have authoritative answers to the key questions that our stakeholders and partners ask of us. Notably, what our contribution is to wealth creation and productivity; how we nurture a diverse and skilled workforce; how we reinvigorate and strengthen communities; and how our industry safeguards the environment.

“Perception matters because the success of our sector depends on the ability to forge constructive and effective partnerships, and on communities trusting us to bring positive outcomes.”

Melanie Leech CBE
Chief Executive, British Property Federation

To help answer these questions, and as part of our wider efforts to change perceptions, the BPF will publish an annual report on the social value our sector creates. This will involve working with other organisations to measure our positive contribution and celebrate the good practice and leadership that many in the industry are showing. We have also committed to produce an action plan later this year to set out a long-term agenda for a rolling programme of industry action.

Those who work in our industry know what a rewarding career it offers and how we make a positive difference to people's lives through the places we create. Our mission is to ensure this is both the perception and the reality for a much wider cross-section of society. Collectively we can - and must - rise to this challenge.

  • Melanie Leech is joining the CEO panel discussion on future industry trends and challenges at the RICS Commercial Property Conference. Taking place on 12 December in London, other key topics on the agenda include social value in real estate, emerging asset classes and future of the retail sector.
  • This article originally appeared in the Smart issue of Modus (November-December 2019.