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Meet Jo-Ann Lempert, FCPA, FCA, ICD.D, Partner, Assurance and Accounting, and leader of our Real Estate and Construction niche in Montreal. After years of trying to find her fit in the accounting field, Jo-Ann is in a role that delivers the balance she’s always been looking for. Learn what she loves about her job and read her insights into the real estate and construction market as it navigates the pandemic.
You have a passion for accounting. Could you tell us why?
It's a question I've thought about a lot — I'm an extremely analytical person. Accounting was not my first choice as a career. It was something I never ever thought I'd end up in. I am more of a creative person. In hindsight, accounting was the perfect pick for me. There are so many reasons I love this job.
One is because accounting is like the international language of math. You can apply the knowledge anywhere - in any country, in any sector, in any business. It's useful wherever you go.
Accounting is also a very broad area. There's so many types of accountants and I like the range within the field. But it personally took me a long time to figure out where I wanted to work. I wasn't happy with my path in accounting for the first eight to 10 years, but I stuck to it because I invested all that time. I could have gotten out but I hoped I would find better - and I did!
What I really love is diving into the technical details and making those details relatable to a clients’ business needs. The challenge of my job is to bridge the gap between very rigid and strict accounting rules and make them palatable to someone who is running a business.
My role allows the creative side of me to come out because I have to be creative to help people understand these dense and complicated rules and how the rules impact them, and then propose solutions that address a client’s business needs while respecting the integrity of the rules.
You work with many Montreal real estate and construction companies. Has the pandemic affected them in particular ways and where is their focus today?
Some real estate sectors are doing well and others are struggling.
The pandemic has affected real estate in various ways. For retail, they were struggling before the pandemic hit and for some companies, it has led to them closing their doors. It's sad because before COVID, a lot of retailers were restructuring and creating new paths. But now, real estate companies that focus on retail have empty spaces, especially ones that have small restaurants or boutique stores. There's a lot of strip malls with vacancy now and that presents challenges.
Office real estate is the next one that has been impacted. In every downtown core, not just Montreal, organizations are looking to renegotiate their leases and related contracts. Now the question is becoming: will anyone really need that space? So many organizations have adjusted perhaps too-well to working virtually. That is the big question hanging over the office real estate market.
Industrial real estate is thriving right now. Companies like Amazon are looking for more and more space because they have experienced an increase in demand.
Other than industrial, you have commercial mixed-use properties. These will be variable depending on the companies that are in those spaces.
There are very mixed reactions from the apartment and residential market. Some people are leaving apartments trying to find houses. Other market analysts are saying that the increase in unemployment means more people will need to stay in their apartments.
How are real estate and construction companies adjusting their long-term plans?
Different industries are contemplating different things. An event like this creates opportunities for innovation. Sectors are going to have to reconsider how they use their spaces and market their spaces. Some sectors will consider redevelopment. Instead of using your space just for retail stores, you could make them more small offices, more storage, or even part residential, part commercial.
Every company, every owner, is going to have to consider what their spaces can now be used for. Some companies will be creative and come out ahead from this.
You also work with a number of public companies. How have they been dealing with their responsibility to disclose how they are affected by the market during these turbulent times?
Prior to the pandemic, some organizations were more transparent than others. Those companies continue to be transparent.
Other companies are cautious of the information they're disclosing and believe that less is more. The impacts of the pandemic are hard to predict and therefore hard to manage. Issuing a public statement that reassures the market of performance in an unpredictable environment is a risky thing to do. There's so much variability right now.
Through March, April, and May, the public disclosures were all very similar. Each company talked about COVID-19 and said "we don't know what is going to happen. Currently, we are okay. We'll keep you posted."
Starting in June, companies started to realize the impacts. They knew if they or their tenants qualified for government assistance and had an idea of their exposure to the issues. Companies would disclose their expected rent collection and their actual rent collections.
But now, you are really starting to see the effects of the pandemic lasting than longer than originally anticipated. December will be an interesting month because now we're getting into a period that is beyond what most people expected and companies will need to take action. We are heading out of the waiting period and into a time where organizations have to develop and discuss their plans for the road ahead.
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