• Dominic Stinton

BUILD TO RENT: SUBSCRIPTION LIVING FOR THE SPOTIFY GENERATION AND BEYOND?

‘NO-TIES’ LIFESTYLE


With one in five households currently renting in the UK, the Build To Rent (BTR) sector has exploded in recent years, with £1bn of capital committed in the first quarter in 2020, and even retailers such as John Lewis announcing recently that it is looking to expand into a sector that may help buttress (and integrate with) its struggling retail divisions.

Build To Rent is part of the macro subscription economy, where material ownership has seemingly been replaced by everything from contract-free music streaming subscriptions, car share and leasing schemes, television content streaming, to perhaps most significantly, the booming cloud industry, where giants such as Amazon have enabled businesses to license cloud infrastructure as their revenues scale up and down, and replace expensive on-premise solutions that previously meant only those contenders with the deepest pockets could compete for our online dollars. With shrinking access to capital, it seems we all want to pay for things on the go, rather than owning them.


CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE


BTR supporters point towards a lifestyle model based on customer experience, the number one driver for businesses competing in the retail consumer market, where renters can move into turn-key accommodation that requires no decorating or furnishing, with readily accessible amenities such as gyms and smart artisanal bars and restaurants, tech-enabled workspaces and flexible ‘all you can eat’ contracts, that allow residents to move freely from job to job, and city to city.


Build To Rent has not been without its critics, however, with some bemoaning the steady gentrification of our towns and cities at the expense of local residents and businesses, pushed out by ‘bubble’-living twenty-somethings, who have little need to venture beyond their compounds to mix with the locals.


GIVE MY VIEW AND BTR


Built-ID has worked on a number of significant BTR projects for clients as diverse as Connected Living London (the joint venture between TFL and Grainger) and L&G, on proposed developments that not only promise the provision of thousands of new homes for rent, integrated with excellent transport links and lifestyle amenities, but also new ways of living, with the creation of communal spaces designed to counter the crippling isolation of living alone in the big city.


These clients have used our digital community consultation platform, Give My View, to not only listen to literally thousands of voices from all walks of life regarding these developments (ranging from the communities who will be affected by the construction and siting of these new builds on their doorstep, but also potential new renters in the area crying out for more affordable housing), but also garner new insights that can help the developer integrate these into the design and inherent customer experience of the development.


INSIGHTS TO DATE FROM GIVE MY VIEW


Through our work on Give My View, we have unearthed various insights into how the community views the Build To Rent sector, which we believe makes for critical reading for any BTR developers reading this blog.

Macro trends we have unearthed include:

  1. A desire to minimise traffic and pollution, via the provision of electric car eCharging points and managed delivery bays for online purchases

  2. A desire for more greening and exercise space in both external and internal public realm space

  3. A desire to customise and ‘make my mark’ on furnishings made available to residents when they move in

  4. A desire for affordable prices with ‘all you can eat’ rental contracts that include utility bills, including those for the provision of fast broadband

  5. A desire for communal workspaces that has increased (unsurprisingly) since COVID forced more of us to work from home

  6. A desire for local businesses to take advantage of integrated onsite retail opportunities to help boost the local economy and create jobs

  7. A desire for developers to create buildings using sustainable materials, and follow ‘net carbon’ protocol

  8. A desire for more cycleways throughout the site, and ensuing storage facilities

  9. A desire for public access for the wider community to enjoy the development’s amenities

Across all communities polled by Give My View, we calculated that awareness of Build To Rent as a concept is roughly 50/50. We believe this awareness will grow post-COVID, as communities begin to process the concept of living in ‘bubbles’, and not having to travel great distances to their place of work, or even restaurants, bars and gyms.


We have also seen new ideas surfacing from the community in regard to public realm space; increasingly, potential renters are prioritising private balconies and even private outdoor spaces that can help them access fresh air and allow them to exercise, whilst maintaining social distancing protocols. We believe this provides an exciting new challenge for architects and landscape designers, who will no doubt need to go back to the drawing board, especially in regard to developments that successfully obtained planning approval before the pandemic broke out.


We have also seen that BTR is not necessarily the preserve of the young; developments are sprouting up across the country where downsizing baby boomers are looking for living accommodation with healthcare amenities that can be easily accessible, as well as communal space to counter loneliness, perhaps the biggest scourge of modern-day society. Will BTR help combat the rampant ageism in society, and make see a resurgence of inter-generational living? We will see.


BEDS AND SHEDS: BTR EXPANDS AND DIVERSIFIES


Through our work with Clients from the growing distribution hub sector, we are also keeping an interested eye out for the Beds & Sheds strain of BTR (see previous blog article here), that has captured many developers’ imaginations, whereby housing is combined with ‘last mile’ distribution hubs in cities to minimise pollution and circumvent the lack of available brownfield sites to manage our growing reliance on online purchases and deliveries. 


BUILT-ID AND UKAA PARTNERSHIP


Lastly, Built-ID is also working with the UKAA (The UK Apartments Association), the industry body that represents the BTR sector, and we are halfway through the creation of an ‘oven-ready’ library of expert industry-endorsed questions, that taps into our experience of asking penetrating questions that drive engagement and provide meaningful insights for BTR developers, from both the communities affected by their potential new schemes, as well as the potential renters who will live in them. Watch this space for an announcement soon.

SUMMARY


In summary, the Build To Rent sector is very much here to stay, and our work with Give My View has proved that communities are very much engaged with this new concept of living. Most importantly, the community has many excellent and varied ideas for how they would like to shape these new developments, and these ideas are pivoting fast as COVID forces us all to reappraise how we live and work. If you are a BTR developer and would like to find out, Give My View can help you more easily tap into the community, and deliver lasting social impact with your planned developments, then click here to find out more.