Live long and prosper

In the Special Theory of Relativity, Einstein determined that time is relative—in other words, the rate at which time passes depends on your frame of reference. My grandmother Marina used to tell me that time speeds up as you get older, because every day that passes is progressively a smaller increment to the time that has already passed. Not sure if Marina’s explanation can be considered an extension of the Special Theory of Relativity, but she always had a way of contextualising things so that they made sense. And as any parent will tell you, changing diapers seems like an eternity but when their kids start walking, they seem to grow up a lot faster.

Real estate has similar issues. A building that is well designed and built, has a way of sustaining its uniqueness and quality over time. Think of the Pantheon in Rome; constructed in 125 A.D, its gigantic dome was the largest in the world for 1300 years and to present remains the largest unsupported dome in the world. In contrast, look at some of the residential buildings constructed over the past 10 to 15 years, where finishes are already flaking, they suffer from water damage/ moisture build-up, and they have aged as well as the CD single of Lambada.

Going beyond design and construction quality, a building is primarily there to serve a purpose, e.g. to house a family, to offer a place for collaboration, to store items, etc. As these needs change over time, the building needs to be able to adapt to them. For example, a young family will require more storage as kids grow older, separate rooms for each child as they blossom into their teenage years, and more ergonomically designed staircases as parents become older.

There are two ways to solve these adaptability problems. You either move residence at each stage of your life (start in an apartment, move to the outskirts in a house with a garden, and move back to an apartment in the city centre to be close to amenities when you are older). Or you build/ buy a building that has this flexibility already and you knock down walls, move things around, etc as your life changes. In the USA, the first is the prevailing norm. In Northern Europe, it’s a mixture of the two. In South-eastern Europe, we are building houses akin to the Pantheon that will last a thousand years (albeit their roofs tend to leak).

There are three important points here. Firstly, your home is not an investment. You have chosen to buy it because you have put your own feelings of wanting to own something above the added value of having the necessary flexibility to pursue career goals across geographies. You have chosen the specific property based on what you like right now, without taking the time to think what your needs are going to be over the long term. Secondly, in the same way that your life will change so will the wants and needs of your children. Marina used to invite her friends over for tea and the entire family would gather for long lunches over the weekend. My parents have two living rooms, where no “living” has happened in one of them for four decades due to my mother working and being fearful of staining the white couches (the exception being a small pee stain at the edge of the carpet when the dog snagged in, but there is a strategically placed chair hiding it). That’s why parents often find out that their children don’t want their houses, because they are either too big or too costly to run them. Thirdly, at the start of your career your main investment should be in you and not in bricks. Whilst this shifts over time, at the start of your career your main focus should be training, networking, and having the flexibility to pursue opportunities without having inflexible assets tying you down.

According to the World Bank, the life expectancy of a person born in 1979 in Cyprus is 75 years old and in Greece 73 years old. Those born in 2000 have a life expectancy of 78 years in both countries. The average number of jobs someone is expected to have over their working lives is 14, i.e. one every 2-4 years. That means that you will need to keep on training and reinventing yourself 14 different times to stay competitive against people younger than your kids and probably across geographies.

George Burns, the US comedian, said that “Growing old happens. Growing up is optional.” Buildings need to be able to adapt to your needs, as these change and evolve over the long term. Flexibility is key, especially at the earlier part of your professional lives when you are your main asset. As you progressively grow older and time speeds up, these needs will change again.

Live long and prosper.