Before discovering his passion for real estate and research, Alex dreamed of being a professional footballer – or, failing that, a musician. While he has retained his love for both football and music, Alex’s professional career is now with Cromwell as our London-based Research Manager. Since 2020, Alex has worked alongside our Head of Research and Investment Strategy, Tom Duncan, in providing clarity on the European markets, as well as highlighting future investment trends. Alex has worked in the real estate industry for a decade and has also been a member of the Society of Property Researchers (SPR) for that time. Excitingly, he was appointed as Chair of the SPR in November 2022 – and we sat down with him to find out more about his new role.

1. What does your role as Research Manager at Cromwell entail? What do you normally do over the course of a week?

My role at Cromwell is quite diverse – that’s one of the things I like about working in research. Generally, there are three types of things that Tom and I do.

Firstly, we seek to help the business directly – that might be through client presentations alongside one of the European teams, or conducting analysis or data work for someone who needs that information.

Secondly, we try to raise the profile of the team, both within the business and externally, by writing reports and articles on relevant topics. We recently released reports on ESG strategies and the use of timber as a renewable building resource, both of which can be found in our Research and Insight portal.

The third thing we do is to engage with the market as much as possible, either by participating in panel discussions or just commenting in external publications. Doing that is really good for building our own profiles, of course, but it also raises awareness of Cromwell’s research capabilities.

2. What is the Society of Property Researchers?

The SPR is an organisation that has been around for 35 years, and has grown to about 600 members.  It’s largely based in London, but we also have a number of overseas members.

Although research has grown significantly over the last ten years, it is still a relatively niche area within real estate. So, the great thing about the SPR is that you’ll go to events and be surrounded by like-minded people. There’s also so much experience among the membership, so if there’s a particular area of real estate that you want to learn more about, the SPR is a great way to get into it.

For example, Tom and I are doing a lot of research on the living sector recently, which, particularly for me, is not something that I am familiar with. Through the SPR, I've met a few researchers who are specialists in that field and happy to help. I don't think there is another tool like this for researchers, so it is really useful!

3. How long have you been associated with SPR? How did you get involved? And how did you become Chair?

I have been a member for as long as I have been in research, so about ten years. The SPR is quite well known to now and most companies or research teams automatically sign up their researchers at the beginning of each year.

In addition, for the last four years, I've sat on the SPR committee – a group of around 15 researchers that are responsible for organising the seminars and the social events for the rest of the society. I’ve found this role hugely beneficial – it has really helped with my confidence; it's given me a number of opportunities to present or to speak at events; and I’ve also made a lot of good friends on there too.

I actually first met Tom on the committee a number of years ago.

4. What was your response to be given the position of Chair?

It’s certainly going to be a challenge, but I’m really excited about that prospect - and have been preparing to take on the role for the last 12 months during my time as Vice Chair, where I learned a lot from my predecessor. Last month, I got voted in at the Annual General Meeting, which was obviously a huge honour and I have lots of things that I want to do over the next 12 months to maximise the potential of the society as an industry influencer.

5. What do you hope to accomplish in your role as Chair?

There are a number of things that I want to accomplish this year, and I’m really working hard with the rest of the committee to try and get plans in motion.

I’m trying to be optimistic and assume that we’re not going to have another lockdown – I’m trying to push bringing back all the in-person events that we used to do prior to the pandemic. I think everybody is just a bit tired of webinars and online meetings now.

For the first few months, we’ve already booked a few in-person seminars – including a UK outlook, which we do every year in association with the IPF; a seminar on life sciences in February; and a seminar on greenwashing within real estate in April. We’ve also got a couple of social events booked in around then as well.

Another thing I’m planning to do this year is a new initiative we’re calling the “SPR roundtables”. These will be smaller, more intimate seminars, with around 15 researchers in a boardroom, and the idea is to have a 20-minute presentation on a particular topic - then spend the rest of the time debating and discussing that topic, while having some coffee and croissants.

6. How can you see this role benefitting what you do daily?

I think firstly, it should highlight Cromwell’s research team within the industry. The other thing is it gives us the option to explore other areas of real estate more easily. As I mentioned before, if there is a particular area of real estate we want to investigate or know more about, the SPR is a great way to get into it.

“If you focus on the six megatrends to anticipate how demand is going change tomorrow and take action today, it should maximise your upsides return, but also minimise the risk."

7. 2022 has been another challenging year, with unforeseen events that affected markets. What are the focus points from a research perspective in 2023?

I believe next year is still largely going to be dictated by inflation and interest rates. Inflation is obviously still very high at the moment, and I think it will continue to be the case throughout next year. When we wrote our report on the relationship between interest rates and real estate yields, we didn’t write it about the current climate specifically, so it should have a longer shelf life and certainly the conclusions will be relevant to next year.

But in terms of the focus points for research, I think we will continue to highlight where we believe there is value and opportunity in the market. We're currently working on our house view for next year and the investment strategy, which will really highlight what are our views on the different segments of the market.

8. You wrote an article earlier this year on the impact of rising interest rates on real estate yields. What are the trends we will see within the next years?

Anyone who has seen Tom and I present this year would, probably have heard us talk about the six megatrends - environment, technology, localism, cities, mobility, and generations. These trends drive a lot of what we do, and change the way people live, work, and play.

We believe that, in time, they will prompt structural changes in our economies and societies. A good example is the way people started shopping online ten years ago, and the impact that it has had on the logistics and retail markets.

I believe investors that understand the megatrends and their implications, can pre-empt changes, and then adapt their investment strategies accordingly.

If you focus on the six megatrends to anticipate how demand is going change tomorrow and take action today, it should maximise your upsides return, but also minimise the risk.

9. What do you do to relax? How do you spend your time outside work?

I’m from near Liverpool originally and everyone there likes football and music – so, I’m no different.

I’m a big Liverpool fan, and thankfully there are a few other Reds in the office, so it’s great to chat to those guys – particularly when the team is playing badly (like we are this season). I also play football each week with a team in Milton Keynes, which is why I’m usually hobbling around the office on Wednesdays.

I’ve always played music, but mainly open mic nights and things like that now. I also like going to gigs – I actually booked tickets to go and see Morgan Wade at the Royal Albert Hall this morning!

This is all when I’m not running the kids to ballet, football, piano, swimming…