Property development stigma: what can we do to dissolve it?

Property developers have been blamed for a lot. From rising housing prices to disruption to transport in local areas, those involved in development have prompted communities to look unfavourably upon not only themselves, but the property industry as a whole. In the most extreme case, their perceived contribution to the collapse of the subprime US mortgage market in 2008 left many cynical about the practices and integrity of developers, and even a decade on, the industry’s reputation is still considered to be heavily tarnished.

This is made worse by the perception that property professionals are invested only in the value of the bottom line and the pursuit of pure profit, rather than the long-term benefits of their proposed developments and the communities they claim to serve. In fact, many people within those communities also believe that professionals don’t listen or engage with them, which only serves to further the distance between the two groups.

It’s more important than ever, then, for developers to overcome this stigma. But how? Here, we’ll take a look at what you can do to counter it, and gain back trust amongst communities.


Overcoming objections

When a new development begins, it brings with it the unavoidable side effect of increased noise and traffic. This often, for good reason, irritates and inconveniences the surrounding communities, and as such they expect a level of engagement with the developers in order to soften the blow — but often this doesn’t happen. People often complain that their voices aren’t heard, and that developers don’t actively try to communicate with them.

Whether this is actually true or not, there is certainly a stereotype amongst the public that developers are distant. Yet, as the property industry is progressing, we’re seeing a new wave of professionals committed to engaging with communities and acting transparently in their work.

So how can professionals dispel those stereotypes? Ultimately, the challenge lies in educating the communities (and those yet to dip their toes into the world of property) that most developers do have integrity, and are eager to engage in open dialogue, and build relationships. They need to prove that they’re focused on the needs of the community and that they understand why the baggage that comes with development can be negative for them.


Community-minded approach

Efforts are already being made to transform public opinion, and not only by educating current professionals. An area of increased attention is on the new generation of property developers in the industry, who are being taught with an increased focus on ethics and integrity. A masters course at Columbia University in New York, for instance, is striving to dispel the stereotype through teaching students to be more community-minded. The degree, which is being taught at the Columbia Center for Urban Real Estate, encourages students to adopt a holistic approach by focusing on the needs of the community and the long-term outcomes of the town or city, rather than being solely about profit or location.

In today’s market, successful developers need to be patient and listen to their community, and with this in mind, the students are taught the fundamental skills that will enable them to best meet the interests of everybody involved in the development process — from investors to the local community.

Transparency and engagement

If you’re already a developer, though, one way you can begin to engage with communities is through social media. By offering updates on developments, information about what’s going to change in an area, and talking directly to those in the communities, professionals can start to dispel the stigma that they don’t care, and that they’re distant. By taking advantage of platforms like Facebook and Twitter, communities may start to lose their stereotypes of the industry, and begin to trust it more.

Taking these steps is even more important as a result of the common public opinion that developers are purely “in it for the money”. Contrary to this, though, most professionals have, at some point or another, experienced some kind of failure in the system — be that a personal struggle to get on to the property ladder, or witnessing their favourite childhood landmark demolished and replaced by a tower of soulless, unoccupied residential units.

It’s these stories and motivations that are valuable for shedding new light on those within the industry and should be shared with communities. By showing your passion and enthusiasm for finding feasible solutions to very real problems within the property world, you can relate to your target market, and prove that you’re more than just a professional, and are someone who cares about their work and the people that are affected by it. By being seen to actively identify the immediate commercial or residential needs of community, you can be guaranteed to attract far greater support than those who might choose to take a narrow-minded view on development and pre-empt what might generate the biggest profit.

Being open about risk

Development brings risk, and the public often thinks of developers and investors as being too reckless in their risk-taking. If you want to dispel this idea, you need to be transparent about what risks you take, and how you go about making those decisions. It’s important to make sure you thoroughly research your market, and present your findings openly and confidently to the community in question. By being open and proving that your risk is justified, or that there is little risk at all, you’ll be able to gain the trust of those in the development areas, and leave behind the negative connotations associated with your work.

Ultimately, whether you’re trying to dispel stigma around risk, or the motivations of professionals, the most important step you can take is to engage with communities, be transparent in your work, and be open-minded to what people have to say. This is made easier with online platforms, and they should be taken full advantage of if you want to change how people view the property industry. This can be a difficult process, though, and it often requires collaborative effort for professionals to actively change the stigma.

At Qandor, we provide a friendly, driven environment for professionals who want to learn and share knowledge of the industry, and of how to progress through it with integrity. If you’re interested, head over to our Advice page for more property insights.