SPR 33rd AGM – Virtual Meeting on Zoom, 12th November 2020

Silver linings in an extraordinary year

Coronavirus restrictions meant that for the first time in its 33-year history, the SPR Annual General Meeting took the form of a virtual meeting.  One instant benefit was that there was no difficulty in achieving a quorum, with 46 members logging into the Zoom meeting.  Motions were carried using the ’raise your hand’ function and questions could be asked via the ‘chat’ option, which also allowed members to comment on the proceedings.

SPR President Andrew Smith opened the meeting with a short introduction and congratulated the outgoing committee ‘for keeping the show on the road in difficult circumstances’.

Tom Duncan the outgoing committee chair then reviewed the Society’s activities over the past year. He began by suggesting that the last AGM, held at the Iron Duke pub in London’s Mayfair, now felt like a lifetime ago. With coronavirus and the subsequent lockdown hitting the UK in March, the SPR was forced to make a rapid shift from physical to virtual events. But the committee quickly pivoted, starting its online offering with a series of four webinars on the virus’s impact on different property sectors.

The lockdowns have clearly had a highly negative effect on the Society’s ability to hold social events, though there were two virtual quizzes. Similarly, site visits were impossible for most of the year. But more positively, holding technical events online has led to larger audiences and the inclusion of those working outside London.  This undoubted benefit of the webinar format is something that the SPR plans to take forward by holding some meetings online once restrictions have been lifted.

The economic environment has contributed to a fall in membership by around 5% over the year (28 fewer members) – this was the largest annual fall that the Society has seen in the last 15 years.  It also went part of the way to explaining the deficit of c. £7,600 incurred during the year, as was explained SPR Treasurer James Purvis in his presentation.  Another reason was the loss of income from job adverts – there were 10 this year compared to the usual 20 or so.  But he stressed that the Society’s bank balance remains healthy and is now comparable to the 2012 level.

After five years in the role, James is passing the Treasurer’s reins to his Tristan Capital Partners colleague Ben Russell, who explained that the SPR would be taking a cautious approach in its budget for the year to come. With so much uncertainty surrounding how long COVID-related restrictions would remain in place, the proposed accounts assumed that there would be no face-to-face events throughout the year, which also implied a lack of sponsorship income.  Hopefully, the eventual outturn will be better, particularly if vaccines come through quickly and prove effective, but at present the Society is projecting a deficit of £12,000 based on these prudent assumptions.  On this point former Chair Oli Kummerfeldt stressed that this kind of loss would not be sustainable the following year and that the committee would need to review the Society’s operations if conditions remain as challenging.

Whatever the difficulties that next year may throw in the Society’s path, incoming Chair Lucy Greenwood was very positive about what it could achieve in terms of bringing property researchers together and deepening their knowledge.  There will be more virtual networking events, perhaps adding an online wine tasting to the quizzes that have already proved successful.  Members will also be able to get to know some of their peers a little better through ‘member spotlight’ events, together with a number of interviews ‘in conversation with’ senior research figures.  The first of these will feature Alice Breheny, Global Head of Research, Nuveen.

A motion to accept the proposed committee to take Society forward into 2021 was passed, with the addition of the following new members:
Yi Wu, Henley Business School, University of Reading
Stephanie Lin, M&G Real Estate
Matthew Soffair, Legal & General IM

Co-Opted Members
Prohad Khan, Capital Economics
Will Laing, Savills
Joanna Tano, Cromwell Property Group
Siena Golan, DWS
Oliver Kolodseike, Colliers International

Those leaving the committee were thanked for their contributions:

James Purvis, Tristan Capital Partners
Oliver Kummerfeldt, Schroders
David Chapman, Cushman & Wakefield
Joel Suissa, Remit Consulting

After the formal AGM business had come to a close, Lucy announced the winners of the two SPR Research Prizes.  The open category was won by Simon Wallace and Farhaz Miah of DWS for their paper on Last Hour Logistics.  Miah said that this was a real honour considering the number of exceptional papers submitted for the award, notably that by Elaine Rossall of JLL on The impact of sustainability on value in Central London, which gained second place.  The under-30s prize was awarded to Gaby Foord and Ed Hampson of Savills for their report on New Homes and Buyer Migration, with Jonathan Bayfield of Aviva Investors taking second place for London - the ultimate city of the future.


Finally, Andrew Smith presented the latest SPR Fellowship to Rosemary Feenan, in recognition of her illustrious career that started in town planning and went on to include periods at CACI, Chestertons and most notably at JLL, where she ultimately became Head of Global Research Programmes.  Rosemary joined the meeting from Vancouver, Canada, where she is now Executive Vice President, Research for QuadReal.  She said that she was ‘proud, humbled and amazed’ to be awarded the 2020 Fellowship, and continued by expounding her perspective on property research, noting that it had grown to encompass so many different kinds of people and disciplines since its beginnings in the 1980s and had now opened up fantastic possibilities for the future.  The SPR has acted as a springboard for this growth, but there was still more to for it to do – for instance getting to grips with the impact of Proptech. But researchers should also never lose sight of the fact that bricks and mortar still underlie everything they do.

Tim Horsey