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As confidence returns to real estate, the industry faces a number of fundamental shifts that will shape its future. The good folks at PricewaterhouseCoopers have looked into the likely changes in the real estate landscape over the coming years and identified the key trends which, they believe, will have profound implications for real estate investment and development.
Global megatrends will change the real estate landscape considerably in the next six years and beyond. While many of the trends highlighted are already evident, there’s a natural tendency to underestimate how much the real estate world might change by 2020.

I just had the opportunity to Skype interview Mitch Roschelle and Byron Carlock, U.S. real estate practice leaders with PwC, about their new report “Real Estate 2020: Building the future.” While there are no warranties expressed or implied — not sure why, I showed them the show’s crystal ball — I think you’ll find the six global megatrends interesting as you prepare for the future.

Cities are growing

Around the world, people are moving from rural to urban locations, Carlock said. By 2050, 75 percent of the population will live in cities. “Some countries like China are building new cities and relocating residents there,” he added. “They are trying to create cities of the future — important urban hubs that are relevant to their own society and in the global economy.”

Cities that were established 3,000 years ago were created because of their proximity to water and, thus, transportation, Roschelle said. Today its airplanes, so almost any area — as long as it has access to fresh water and the right climate — could eventually be developed into a city, even if it’s currently rural and uninhabited.

An aging population

In 2000, 10 percent of the world’s population exceeded the age of 60. In 2050, 21 percent of the population will eclipse that age, Roschelle added. Advances in science, healthcare and the ability to communicate these advances are all contributing to people living longer.

Emerging Market Growth

In 2009, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the G7 — the U.S., Japan, the U.K., Canada, Italy, Germany and France — was 50 percent higher than the GDP of the E7 — China, India, Brazil, Russia, Indonesia, Mexico and Turkey, Roschelle said. However, in 2050, GDP for the E7 will total $138.2 trillion, compared with $69.3 trillion for the G7.

“The top five economies in 2020 are expected to be emerging market economies, and by 2025, 60 percent of construction activity will be in emerging markets,” Carlock added.

U.S. capital should be investing in emerging markets as a way to help build more sustainable trade relationships, Roschelle said. “Two-hundred and fifty years ago, the U.S. was an emerging market, and those who invested did very well.”

Attention to sustainability

In the year 2020, there will be more than 8.3 billion people on the planet. “To provide, we will need 50 percent more energy, 40 percent more water and 35 percent more food,” Roschelle said. “We have a resource scarcity problem on this planet, which will change the countries we trade with.”

Landlords have started taking sustainability into account, transforming properties and constructing new buildings to LEED certification or Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB) standards, Carlock said. “Building owners are much more sensitive to recycling programs, alternative energy sources, waterless toilets, improved lighting and low volatile organic compound (VOC) carpet and paint. Using sustainable elements in real estate is almost a given now.”

Growth in Technology

Technology is changing real estate, from e-commerce forcing bricks-and-mortar retailers to re-evaluate their models to a change in the way we use office space, Carlock said. “In 2008, there was one interconnected device per person on the planet,” Roschelle added. “By 2020, we anticipate 6.58 interconnected devices per person.”

A Rise in Investable Real Estate and Capital

By the end of this decade, the amount of investable real estate is expected to increase by 55 percent. Sovereign wealth funds are expected to be the largest contributor to real estate investment, as they are currently on track to invest $13 trillion in real estate by 2020, Carlock said.

“If you look at the increase of available real estate for investment along with the acceptability of real estate as a viable investment, you’ll see there will be years of continued vibrant activity, both internationally and domestically,” he added.

The entire interview about "Real Estate 2020: Building the Future," as well as the PwC report itself, is available at the show website CREshow.com.

Michael Bull, CCIM, is the host of the nationally syndicated Commercial Real Estate Show and founder of Bull Realty, Inc., a U.S. commercial real estate sales, leasing and advisory firm headquartered in Atlanta. Michael on Twitter and LinkedIn.

This article was republished with permission from National Real Estate Investor.