2021 was a big year for Deutsche Wohnen – for many reasons. Introducing our climate strategy and expanding our new construction programme, to name just two. But the biggest thing that happened this year was the Deutsche Wohnen merger with Vonovia. The new co-CEOs of Deutsche Wohnen, Konstantina Kanellopoulos and Lars Urbansky, explain what it means for Deutsche Wohnen in this interview.
Ms Kanellopoulos, how have your first few weeks been at Deutsche Wohnen? What are your first impressions?
First and foremost, what I’ve seen so far is a team that identifies very strongly with the organisation, but also really loves the product. This goes hand in hand with high standards for quality and service. It’s really impressed me in my first few weeks. It’s an absolute joy to be involved here now and to be helping grow a company that’s already got a huge success story behind it.
The merger with Vonovia was Deutsche Wohnen’s big theme for 2021. What are the main reasons for choosing to work together now?
The challenges for the real estate industry are huge, as we’re dealing with several megatrends at the same time. Creating urgently needed living space through new construction is one of them. Another is climate action. The construction sector makes a significant contribution to CO₂ emissions. Both organisations – Vonovia and Deutsche Wohnen – have committed themselves very clearly to the German federal government’s climate goals and both have developed their own plans to make their portfolio climate-neutral. We also need to keep the social aspect in mind. I believe we’re better placed to achieve that together.
The road to climate-neutral is first and foremost about technical feasibility. We won’t just achieve it through energy-related refurbishment of our portfolio. We also need to switch energy supply to renewables. Here, size is a huge advantage. However, it’s also clear that we as an organisation can’t achieve the climate goals on our own. That’s the responsibility of society as a whole. With the scale we now possess and the skills and expertise we’ve combined, we can and ought to make a major contribution and drive key trends.
What are the merged organisation’s key areas of focus for customer service and satisfaction?
Both organisations have the same focus and see customer service as a key aspect of the business model. So far, we’ve each taken a slightly different approach. Our customers can only benefit from these two worlds coming together. We’re also combining our options in this regard in a way that makes sense and creates added value for the people who live in our homes.
There’s still a great deal of potential in digitisation. We’re now better placed to take advantage of this more swiftly – for instance, when it comes to the Internet of Things. However, at the same time, we still need personal contact, for instance, with the concierge on site. Modern customer service is a blend of both – digital services and the personal touch.
As part of the merger, the organisation also concluded the joint Future and Social Housing Pact with the city of Berlin. Why did you decide to take this step?
Our merger needs acceptance – particularly in Berlin. That’s why it was important to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the city of Berlin and allay any concerns. That includes limiting ordinary rent rises for the Berlin housing portfolio to an average of 1% per year for the next three years, and limiting the modernisation levy to a maximum of EUR 2 per square metre.
In taking this step, we send a clear signal that we care about meeting our social responsibilities together and going above and beyond what is legally prescribed to limit rents and protect tenants.
One cornerstone of Deutsche Wohnen’s success is its employees. What does the merger with Vonovia mean for them?
The merger between both companies brings with it a lot of change and, of course, some uncertainty for employees to begin with. But in change there always lies a wealth of new opportunities. As part of the Vonovia group, we can offer our employees new opportunities to develope. And together, the size of our organisation can offer more long-term security in a fast-changing industry than each company could have done alone.