What the Build to Rent sector is missing

Build to Rent is rarely out of the property papers, promising a panacea for the housing crisis. However, people don’t live in glossy prospectuses. To build a sustainable solution and not just a business hotel for middle class millennials, Build to Rent developers must take notes on how to build a community.

Over 100 of the UK property industry’s finest met at Dartmouth House in Mayfair on Monday 3 July, where a series of speakers took to the podium to share their views and experiences of Build to Rent and community. Show House sat scribbling through the symposium, and took away the following messages:

BUILDING AWARENESS

For much of the UK, rent is still a dirty word and changing perceptions will take time. It’s easy to forget that most people outside the industry haven’t heard of Build to Rent.

“A survey of 1,000 people revealed the chasm in perception and attitude towards Build to Rent between the public and the industry,” said Debra Yudolph, Founder of SAY Property Consulting.

Curiously, the same survey revealed that private landlords enjoyed better perceptions than agencies among renters, who deemed them to be more cordial and less corporate. This means Build to Rent developments must work hard to shed their institutional image.

“Work needs to be done to address Build to Rent’s primary target audience, young professionals and millennials and their inherently negative view about renting,” agreed Karl Kalcher, Managing Director of Mind Folio.

BUILDING FOR THE FUTURE

Political and marketing rhetoric may revolve around the young, however the future is multigenerational. “I rarely hear anyone talk about future-proofing when it comes to Build to Rent,” said Jenni Carbins, International Placemaking Strategist for Mark London. “The market is obsessed with 25-35 year-olds.”

Communal living which mimics glorified student halls may work for young professionals, but 10% of those in rental accommodation are over the age of 40 and there is a famous lack of retirement housing in the UK. Build to Rent developments are rarely designed for a lifetime home.

BUILDING AMENITIES

According to the latest research, renters would be happy to a premium service charge for amenities they would have to pay to use elsewhere anyway. Predictably, a gym tops the list.

However, Phillippa Hardman, Founder & MD, RCH, warned that any amenity must be done properly. “Size matters – 15 pieces of gym equipment is the minimum; ideally the space should be 1500 square feet – anything less than 500 square feet won’t get used in the long run.”

Other than gyms, cinema rooms, music rooms and even doggy day care are all being marketed at Generation Rent. “The UK is at the forefront of global wellness which is driving demand for onsite fitness & wellbeing facilities,” said Hardman. “Virtual training and group exercise are top trends.”

BUILDING CONVERSATIONS

According to the vicar of one of London’s most affluent parishes, loneliness and social isolation presents an equal challenge for the rich and the poor. The way in which we house people can ease this modern epidemic, but only if developers take the time to listen. “Turns out that De La Soul were right, three is the magic number when it comes to community,” said Rev Alan Gyle, Vicar, St Paul’s Church, Knightsbridge.

Gyle believes that engaging in triadic discourse between investors, Build to Rent developers and tenants is key to creating for the needs of tomorrow.

“What can we create for the needs of tomorrows?” asked Gyle. “Organisations, investors and residents need to have these conversations. A of conversations revolve around selling: co-creation takes time. Will we make time in our target-driven society?

BUILDING BRANDS

The market spends its time obsessively chasing millennials who obsessively chase brands. From Apple to Costa, brand loyalty is frequently associated with Generation Rent. Gerard Greene, CEO & Founder, Society, explained that Build to Rent developers will fail to win loyal tenants without a strong brand.

“Without brand, there is no emotional connection,” said Greene. “Amenities are important, however another developer could build a better building and without the emotional connection decisions are based on functionality.”

Greene also criticised the industry for failing to engage in the latest technology, despite $28 billion being invested in prop tech since 2012 and a study which showed that companies which embraced digital transformation were 26% more profitable.

“Renting fails the consumer,” said Greene, adding that 20th century technology is battling 19th century legislation. “There is a very real absence of technology in Build to Rent yet it can be successfully used as an enabler for the creation of, and engagement in new societies.”

BUILDING COMMUNITIES

Peter York, Social Commentator and Author, had a passionate warning for developers: you can’t solve the housing crisis through marketing speak. “Think beyond the ghastly marketing language of Build to Rent; creating communities is hard work!” he said. “Oh, and never include a laminate floor in a development, you’re only one step away from a prison.”

York implored developers to think about the reality of what they were trying to do. “It isn’t just middle class millennials,” he said.

CLOSE: Build to Rent & the New Community, was organised and hosted by Naomi Cleaver, design consultant, writer and broadcaster, together with Phillippa Hardman, Founder & MD of on-site gym and well-being consultancy RCH.

“Build to Rent is a paradigm shift in the way we live today and as pressures on population and space grow, we find ourselves living in ever closer proximity with others,” said Cleaver. “Build to Rent delivers one solution to our 21st century housing needs but I believe it’s critical that the needs and desires of those living within these newly created communities are thoroughly and sensitively studied through discourse at events such as CLOSE.”

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