Signatures, Sand and Star Wars

By Richard Pickering, Head of Futures Strategy

Trading When it comes to the Brexit negotiations, the phrase ‘rolling over’ is typically not one that Theresa May wants to hear. However, this week the news that Norway is prepared to roll over existing trade agreements with the UK during the transition period will be most welcome. In the absence of such agreement, tariff-free trade with non-EU countries such as Norway will stop when Brexit takes effect in March next year. Some had suggested that the UK would have to offer concessions to achieve such agreement; however, this statement gives cause for optimism. With a large volume of trade deals to focus on, the Institute of Directors this week stated that the UK should make the one with the EU the priority. Currently trade with the EU27 accounts for about half of all UK trade, but there is an aspiration to reduce this reliance post Brexit. The US is a strong candidate to increase its share (currently 15% and our biggest single partner), but to do so would almost certainly require relaxing our existing rules and product standards, which for some is not on the table.

Doing the deed Last week the first digitally-signed mortgage deed was registered at HM Land Registry. The formality requirement around the execution of deeds (covering most property transactions) has long required the triumvirate of signature, attestation and delivery. However, in the modern world, not only is putting ink to paper and finding a willing witness inconvenient, it is also significantly less secure and verifiable. This is a significant step in the streamlining and expediting of conveyancing; the next such steps presumably leading to the full digitisation of the conveyancing process. As we look for process efficiencies and standardisation, it may not take long before the standard lease is reduced to a tick-box exercise. And in the same way that the quilled documents of the 1900s look archaic now, so too might today’s nuanced and descriptive documents, open to numerous interpretations, look very strange to generations to come.

Hyper-reality In my view, most people that I speak with about the future, considerably underestimate the potential attractiveness of virtual environments. These can and have been used as synthetic substitutes for various real-world activities, where for instance travelling to the real-world venue is inconvenient (video conferencing calls are a small step in this direction). And yet the common come-back is that people will always inherently prefer the real world. Try telling that to the people queuing up to get into ‘The Void’ pop-up at Westfield London. This immersive 15 min Star Wars themed experience, described as ‘hyper-reality’, includes olfactory and haptic feedback in addition to more traditional visual virtual reality. Today, this is a really exciting attraction which delivers on the long-awaited promise of VR and pulls people into the physical spaces that offer it. However, tomorrow, the introduction of a viable alternative to reality surely poses the most significant long-range threat to investment in real estate that exists, as people start to choose exciting virtual environments over the more limited and mundane physical ones.

Space hotel I’m jetting off on holiday today, so I’m sorry to report that there will be no New Europe next week. Assuming, like me, that money is still an object in your life, picking a holiday requires a carefully calculated balance of trade offs. Do you put most of your cash on the flight (to maximise the chances of sun), the resort (for amenity) or the hotel itself? If, however, money is no object, then why not take a trip to the recently announced ‘Aurora Station’: the world’s (poor choice of words) first space hotel, due to launch (literally) in 2021. The list price is a mere £6.7m for a 12-day break. Rooms are relatively bijou, there is no option of a balcony, and the luggage allowance is fairly restrictive. However, on the plus side, there is no need for a visa, there’s a guarantee of sunshine, and with 16 sunsets per 24 hours, you’ll end up getting 192 days for the price of 12. The next stage of development will include the opportunity to buy a condominium, which (says developer, Orion Span) will be offered on a leasehold basis. One imagines that such a transaction would fall outside the Standard Conditions of Sale, and good luck with finding the superior landlord.


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