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SMDC President Jose Mari Banzon on the role that real estate will play in restarting the economy

“We never stopped working and we were able to keep operations going. As a result, our sales for the first six months of 2020 have been higher compared to the same period last year.”

Conventional wisdom can sometimes be misleading. Take for example the hunch that the real estate industry will crash due to the pandemic-induced economic crunch. It is assumed that the downfall will be caused by the market’s hesitance to shell out on big investments; that properties pose great risks, especially during this time of crisis.

Again, all that is anchored on the operative word “assumed,” and SM Development Corporation (SMDC) President Jose Mari Banzon refuses to concern himself with suppositions.

While others subscribe to conjectures, the diligent executive prefers certainties. He knows that hard assets like properties are generally impervious to economic crises as seen many times in the past. What’s more, Banzon believes that someone has to prime the economic pump and that real estate is up to the task.

“We need to keep the economy moving,” he said, citing SMDC’s launch of Gem Residences in Pasig in July, to be followed by Gold Residences in Paranaque. “The real estate industry is in the best position to do that with its association with several industries such as cement, steel, and construction, among others. There is a nation-building component to it.”

Banzon was never one to worry about the future. He knew from a young age to focus on the present and to take control of whatever he can.

“As a child, I didn’t have any noticeable talent so I hadn’t focused on any particular field, but I noticed early that I was extremely persistent and determined. Hard work and sacrifice were second nature to me and I used that to pursue my goals,” Banzon said.

Moving to real estate

One of his early objectives and eventual achievements was to earn a double degree from De La Salle University: a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics and a Bachelor of Science degree in Management of Financial Institutions. Another one that followed was to carve a career in commercial banking.

Banzon spent years working in financial institutions both in the Philippines and Hong Kong. When the Asian Financial Crisis reared its ugly head in 1997, banks were saddled with uncollectible loans collateralized by real estate. Bankers had to liquidate these loans by either selling or developing real estate through joint ventures with developers.

After a stint with another property developer property developer, Banzon made the move in 2013 to join one of the largest integrated property developers in Southeast Asia, SM Prime Holdings Inc. He was impressed with how the group quickly evolved from a start-up in the residential development industry in 2006 into one of the top players in just a few years.

With SMDC, Banzon instantly got acquainted with the force that drove the remarkable growth.

“When I came on board, I was pleasantly surprised by the hands-on involvement of the principals particularly our chairman, Henry ‘Big Boy’ Sy, Jr. to the extent that they have intimate knowledge of operations and pay attention to details,” he pointed out.

“We also have an excellent management team comprising the most experienced, knowledgeable and dedicated professionals in the industry as well as a formidable sales force comprising bright, aggressive and hard-working sellers who dedicate themselves to serving the company and its buyers.”

As for Banzon himself, he made his mark with the company early by taking the business and the brand to new heights. He most recently served as the group’s Executive Vice President, where he led SMDC’s impressive customer growth and expanded its product portfolio.

In February, it was announced that Banzon will take on the role of president of the company. Under his leadership, SMDC remains true to its game-changing day-one objective of offering “affordable luxury.”

“In the past, condominium living–with generous amenities and hotel-like services–was only for the rich,” Banzon said. “We have changed the landscape of urban-dwelling by providing a product that gives residents the feeling of luxury through spaces that are efficient, with generous resort-type amenities, complete developments with commercial establishments and hotel-like experience.”

‘The Good Guys’ is not just a tagline’

Banzon now faces the challenge of directing SMDC through these tough times. He acknowledges the fact that the company has not been spared by the turmoil brought about by the pandemic, noting that they had to close offices and let employees work from home for almost three months. But despite the change in work setup, they did not stop working.

“We were able to keep operations going,” he said. “As a result, our sales for the first six months of 2020 have been higher compared to the same period last year. We were lucky. But we were also prepared.”

y had foreseen the work-from-home (WFH) trend. Thus, they were able to adjust the design of condo units by incorporating a work area in the unit and co-working spaces in the wi-fi ready common areas.

Meanwhile, SMDC’s ahead-of-the-curve philosophy of integrated lifestyle—where essential establishments are within reach—is now declared by Colliers International and other property authorities as the ideal setup of residential developments, especially in this time of pandemic.

“A commercial strip, which is a standard feature in our developments, is perfect for WFH as the residents can get everything they need without leaving the complex,” Banzon said.

To remain sensitive to the impaired cash flow of buyers, SMDC is also developing a product line that does not sacrifice its vision of providing world-class homes, or the company’s offerings of livable spaces and lively communities.

“We do not stop at turnover,” he said. “When we say we build communities, we make sure our infrastructure is supported by professional property management, excellent customer experience, and various initiatives that allow everyone to live in healthy, happy, secure, and thriving communities.”

Given the value of these projects to the community, Banzon underscored that “The Good Guys” is not just a tagline for SMDC, but a movement.

“We try our best to live up to that promise,” he said. “We seek to understand what our residents and stakeholders–especially the socially disadvantaged like the elderlies and the PWDs, or the economically displaced–need and address those while strengthening the community spirit. In so doing, we create a community of Good Guys who want to do good for others.”

Banzon added: “Ultimately, community building is nation-building.”

Bright things ahead

Aside from building SMDC’s identity and spirit—as well as keeping their foot on the pedal with multiple project launches—Banzon said they are looking at expanding to Southeast Asia (SEA) in the next couple of years.

“Our first venture outside the country–in Chengdu, China–was well received,” he said, citing a seven-building residential project first launched in 2017. “We believe that the market for this region shares similar values and realities with our home country. As our business model has been successfully received here, we are confident that we will have that kind of reception in the rest of the SEA region.”

The bold plans and march-on mindset of SMDC reflect Banzon’s unwavering optimism about the future of the property business. He said that if there’s anything that this pandemic has taught the real estate industry, it is that development must proceed with location, convenience, and connectivity foremost in mind.

“Real estate is the best option for investors; the pandemic has shown that,” he said. “We can overcome this crisis and we will.”

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