By: Abir Zaqui

Co-founder and Head of Marketing
ABHome Real Estate

Frederic Lenoir, a famous French sociologist, recently explained that the word “crisis” in Chinese is represented by two ideograms that mean danger and opportunity. According to him, there is always the possibility in a crisis to change, to open up to something else, to understand the causes and try to draw the consequences.

For many of us, the coronavirus has been a vector of fear, frustration, uncertainty and many other evils. No sector of the economy has been spared and the real estate market has been hit hard by the consequences of the pandemic. But once the first emotions passed and looking at it closer, the coronavirus also brought its share of positive things and new opportunities. So, here’s an overview of what we’ve been confronted with as real estate professionals.

First of all, in Qatar, unlike what has happened in the rest of the world, we have never really been deprived of our freedom of movement. That may be one of the main reasons why the situation here is less catastrophic than it could have been, and what has been witnessed in other countries.

With the generalization of remote work, the notion of home and family has taken on a whole new meaning: many have felt the need for more space and comfort in their homes. “I need a spacious living room or a brighter one,” or “I would like a compound with a garden,” or “an apartment with a balcony or a terrace” … these are the kind of requests that our customers have voiced, clearly reflecting on this trend.

On the other hand, in the face of the uncertainty caused by the crisis but also because many companies had to revise down the housing allowance of their employees, we received many inquiries from clients motivated by the idea of moving for a new home while saving money. We also noticed an increased interest in the local property sales market. Indeed, being unable to travel as before and to take advantage of holiday homes acquired in Turkey, Europe or elsewhere, and seeing that the situation would probably continue for some time, many locals and even expats chose to buy properties in Qatar.

In the same spirit, we have seen a real explosion in demand for short term rentals of beachfront villas with private pools, especially during the summer. Unfortunately, the offer for this type of property in Qatar, apart from, in some well-known hotels, remains for the moment very limited, if not almost non-existent.

Regarding rentals, we have seen a decrease in the occupancy rate of many properties in different areas of Doha that were previously full or almost full. The explanation of this phenomenon is multiple but among other reasons predominates the fact that many expats have left the country. This has necessarily led to a drop in prices, whether in the rental market or the sale.

Crisis means new strategies
At the very beginning of the coronavirus, we felt the danger of the situation and had to adapt very quickly. The first thing we did was to refocus on the essentials: our customers. Indeed, at ABHome the satisfaction of our customers is at the heart of our strategy and our business. Listening to their needs and being able to offer them the best deals available in the market is really what has made us successful. And this is even more true in times of crisis.

Another decision that resulted directly from the crisis was the vital need to further increase our visibility. Our marketing has truly made a noticeable jump since COVID-19. And that’s really one of the positive things that the pandemic has brought us.

Virtual Tours take the place of honour
Virtual tours aren’t new, but the coronavirus is definitely accelerating this trend and highlighting its importance. Virtual viewings are not intended to replace actual visits, but they allow potential tenants to gauge the property, fully visualize the layout, to realize more easily the spaces and the volumes. And therefore, it helps ensure that customers who come to visit are really interested. Property Finder has also introduced this feature during the pandemic, offering us the opportunity to post videos with our listings. We found that our ads that were accompanied by video reached more views than those that did not.

Optimization of social media
Health officials may be encouraging social distancing, but fortunately that doesn’t apply to social media. And now, more than ever, we’re spending more time on social media in general. That’s why it has been more than beneficial for our business to optimize our presence on social media platforms.

It was also an opportunity for us to rethink our website. Our new website needed to mirror our company, but this wouldn’t be a vanity project or a simple reskinning—it had to be a total rebuild to create the kind of resource our customers want and need.

Thereby, we have had to give the best of ourselves, both at the individual and collective level, to be creative and flexible, in order to satisfy our customers and our partners. In this way, we have strengthened our existing relationships but also created new ones. While COVID-19 is undoubtedly a crisis that has opened Pandora’s box on the global economy, it is synonymous with new opportunities in a country like Qatar with many significant strengths and promising events to come.

This article was published as part of the fifth edition of Property Finder Qatar’s Trends Report