Let’s try to understand it, without any scientific pretense, starting from the recent history of the real estate business and our first impressions from this particular perch we occupy that may give us a glimpse of the new trends of our time. First of all, however, we have to take a step back and trace the events of the recent past …

…And then, on the face of the earth, the hedonistic buyers had all disappeared and the markets appeared deserted and desolate…

In the early 2000s, until 2008 or even basically until 2012, at least in Italy, where on the Italian market we managed to build an authentic crisis within the crisis, I perceived as an essential factor determining the purchase of a residential property, particularly a second home, what I called “l’innamoramento”, an Italian word for “falling in love”. I used to define them as hedonistic buyers, those who based their purchase decisions on personal pleasure. I recall that I often expressed myself that way with the sellers when I was trying to list their property, in order to explain to them what I felt would be the “target” buyer of the property or why, for example, I wanted them to leave the house empty for a visit with clients –  precisely  to give them that opportunity to “fall in love”. Sometimes the owners looked at me oddly, but usually, either because I convinced them or because they thought it best not to argue with a madman, they went along with my request.

L’innamoramento isn’t all it takes to make a sale: the client also needs to trust in the security of the transaction that leads him to make a formal offer, and the seller also has to be satisfied with the price, obviously. These other two essential phases, however, were only subsequent and never came at all  if “falling in love” had not happen first.

So, starting in 2008, and above all by 2012 in Italy, I began to realize that we had come, at least in the real estate sector, to “the end of l’innamoramento”.  What happened, starting with the advent of the technocratic Governments, who introduced the austerity policy, was that the only thing that counted and made the buyer feel secure and satisfied was getting a good deal, or better yet, a fantastic deal! The pleasure no longer resided in the beauty of the house and garden which one could acquire, or in the comfort of the new space and the new ergonomics that became available, not anymore! Those attractions and the resulting obsession had lost their charm. Perhaps blighted by those awful, difficult years, in which mothers listened anxiously, night after night, to televised interviews with this or that poor ruined entrepreneur; the only thing that counted now was to pay less, because now, they said, it was a “buyer’s market”,  only fools pay market prices in such a profoundly changed world!  It was a scaling down of thought and action brought about by the economic crise and austerity.

“…And then, on the face of the earth, the hedonistic buyers had all disappeared and the markets appeared deserted and desolate…” (ah no, those are the opening lines of Kenshiro, a cartoon movie from the ‘80s) – our story is poor on heroes, or maybe we just don’t call them that. What actually happened is that the market for second homes collapsed, or at least the Italian clientele disappeared. Foreign buyers persisted, but they accounted for barely 3% of residential property purchases, and the supply was so disproportionate to the demand that negotiations became interminable and prices fell off the cliff, at the seaside as well as in the country. Even advertising in high quality, glossy magazines like Ville & Casali or Country Life, for example, delivered the wrong message because it meant that the property was priced too high for the reader and was probably unsalable! 

A good ten years have passed since then, but the joyous, confident days of the period preceding the fall of Lehman Brothers have not returned; to be sure, the market started to recover in 2017 and in 2019 we even spoke of a record year, but that happy spirit of the early 2000s, that excitement, was gone. And so, to come to the point, it seems as though, suddenly, the crisis triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic has had the ability to highlight more clearly, or even to reinforce, the new spirit of these last years, its “Zeitgeist” (or spirit of the time) we could say, using the language of historiography, and a new decisive factor that is not love, now, but what we could perhaps call the Feelgood Factor, an expression which already appears in the Anglo-Saxon press a great deal, even in the real estate sector, in the Financial Times last weekend, for example.

I think it’s too early to define the Feelgood factor precisely, but from my modest and certainly interested point of view on the real estate market, two factors already stand out:

1. The Feelgood Factor is already, to some extent, a new expression of “l’innamoramento” toward a place to live, maybe not as spontaneous and trustful of the future, but no less important as a “conditio sine qua non” of the purchase, and one that departs from a more rational approach, companion to the search for wellness that has acquired such importance in these last years, but now exacerbated and even possibly surpassed by the need, dictated by the Covid-19 virus, to find a safe space in which to live well, both physically and mentally, but also one in which we can look within ourselves and express ourselves to the utmost, because we think we need to do the best we can to overcome the crisis.

2. It is very likely that this new Feelgood factor, connected to the purchase of a home in the time of Covid, is still a little new, still at the level of wishful thinking, or perhaps has already generated a tension, related to the changes in our lives and those of our family, so that it is perceived as urgent.

In writing this, I am reminded of a passage from a famous Russian novel, a thought I’d like to share with all those who feel the need of a new home in which to face the future with renewed vigor: 

If you do not attain happiness, always remember that you are on the right road, and try not to leave it…

Fedor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky

There, this quotation from The Brothers Karamazov may seem excessive, but I meant it to refer to those who are thinking of buying a new home as a necessary step in changing their life and improving things for themselves and their families – the pursuit of happiness, in other words. Certainly buying a home won’t be all that is needed to attain happiness, but if this existential tension made of feelings and sentiments is not the prime mover, perhaps the feelgood factor is really a new type of sincere innamoramento for the home perceived as the place where life and creativity reside, and when we find that, perhaps we are already on the right road.

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