This week, the Get Living team attended BISNOW’s Build-to-Rent Annual Conference, which brought together key players in the sector to share what we’ve learned from the first wave of Build-to-Rent (BTR) and how we anticipate it will evolve and continue to thrive.
For those who missed out, we’ve pulled together our top five takeaways from the day:
While the industry celebrated that BTR is now recognised in planning guidelines, one of the biggest challenges facing the sector is the lack of education and awareness among our customers.
As a relatively new concept in the UK, there is some work to be done to showcase the benefits of build-to-rent and challenge society’s impression that renting is a secondary option to home ownership. We are moving towards a ‘subscription lifestyle’ and BTR is to be considered as a lifestyle choice.
BTR offers a genuine solution for those who want flexibility of renting with long-term security, while living in great homes with great customer service from their landlord. By honing our communications on these benefits, as well as no deposits, no fees and on-site facilities, the industry can raise its own profile.
2. Who is the customer?
In the UK the current core BTR market is millennials (aged 22 – 37) but as we learned from European and American speakers this is developing and broadening quickly. In five to ten years we are going to be speaking to a diverse market where more than half of us will be renters.
The challenge, or opportunity, is to design with customers in mind. We will cater for multi-generations and as the sector matures we will most likely see an emergence of targeted BTR products as has happened across the pond. In the US, there is a targeted BTR offering for 55+. It’s predicted a third of future renters will be families, so building design and amenities will become more tailored for different demographics.
3. The art of customer service
Our own Charlotte Fletcher, East Village’s General Manager, moderated a session on what makes great customer service. As landlords we need to attract and retain residents – so how can we go above and beyond to differentiate the BTR sector from the wider private rental market?
Thinking beyond homes with a well-considered wider retail and wellbeing offering was highlighted. It’s not about just having a trendy gym or a swimming pool on site but showing an understanding of residents’ needs and individuality by providing flexible, multi-functional rooms for them to organise group activities. For some, the future of exercise may be virtual (and hologram!) workouts, for others it can be as simple as a running club – there must be something for everyone.
Fostering a community – a buzzword throughout the event – was also highlighted as delivering great customer service. As landlords, we shouldn’t dictate what people do in their spare time but it is our responsibility to create the opportunity. Through creating an environment where people can come together, those who share common interests will naturally form their own groups and create their own event schedules. As with all customer service, it doesn’t have to add to costs or to the rent, it’s about giving residents the freedom, space and contacts to do it for themselves.
4. Demand for data
As a relatively young sector in the UK, BTR is considered data poor and there was a call for the industry to share data and work together to better understand market.
While there are challenges in making comparisons between operators it was agreed that more data leads to better management decisions to improve the customer experience.
We should be taking every opportunity to collect data and engage with residents so that we can continue to innovate and reinforce that point of distinction within the PRS.
5. How to build a legacy
What sets build-to-rent apart from build-for-sale is developers’ and operators’ commitment to the long term. Longevity in design goes beyond sustainability to creating places that will be attractive and relevant in 50 years and beyond.
The UK is pioneering modular design technology which will see more emphasis on quality and give BTR developers a competitive edge. Properties are being built to adapt to societal and behavioural trends. Flexibility within design is key. For example, car parks will be able to adapt to different car heights and be equipped to support more electric car points in the future.
As one panellist nicely summarised – never forget that you are ultimately creating something for a consumer. Put them at the centre and the rest will follow.