Why service is core to the UK’s BTR sector

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Over the past half-decade or so, the UK has seen a tremendous shift in how housing aimed at renters is delivered, with the first wave of UK build-to-rent (BTR) schemes now starting to become operational.

The rise of UK build-to-rent has been underpinned by savvy developers and operators teaming forces with the large war chests of institutional investors; both attracted to a sector underpinned by long term demographic trends of people renting for longer than ever.

But with people renting for longer, what they expect from their renting experience is far different from the days gone by when renting was synonymous with a bad landlord or a leaky roof.

One of the crucial gaps in the rental market that BTR has looked to fill from the word go compared to traditional letting options is service.

For example, Moda Living’s recently opened Manchester-located Angel Gardens, situated next to the new Amazon HQ, boasts an on-site gym, a residents lounge, a roof-top terrace, and flexible workspace – all features designed to attract the eye of digital nomads and young professionals alike.

But, to truly engage today’s renter, more than a fancy rooftop swimming pool or gym must be offered.

A commitment to service throughout the resident lifecycle must be the aim – whether that is a 24/7 concierge, on-site maintenance and indeed the beginning and end of tenancy,

Making it easy and hassle-free to move-in will help these schemes attract the residents they need to provide the long-term income their institutional backers will expect.

So stripping away the large upfront rental costs still often associated with renting in the UK is key.

Some have been offering no deposit move-ins to prospective residents themselves. But this requires possibly seeking out insurance partners, devising the actual scheme and budgeting for any wear and tear.

All of that costs money and potentially distracts an operator from investing in the other service offerings that will ensure residents stay at the scheme for the long-term.

On the other hand, other industry players such as Greystar and Atlas Residential are using third-party suppliers such as ourselves at flatfair.

As the UK BTR market matures, the focus on service across the board will only ramp up – much like we have seen in the US.

It’s no secret that the UK’s build-to-rent sector is still very much in its nascent stages compared to US multi-family developments, of which it shares many features.

Although they are alike in many ways, build-to-rent can still learn a lot from the way that US multi-family units are operated and managed.

For example, technology in the US multi-family sector is highly disruptive. For many years, developers and operators have been experimenting with technology that can help with their properties.

Some multi-family home operators have been using Augmented Reality (AR) to give tenants 3D tours of the property.

This technology is slowly making its way into the UK, but the version that is being used in the US is far more advanced.

3D touring gives agents the ability to guide people through a house with a realistic indication of dimensions, the natural flow of the property and identification of any and all features of note. Tenants can even determine how furniture will fit and its ideal placement within the home.

What is clear from the US example is that continuing to provide a service for renters is crucial.

And while UK BTR has been the first mover in shifting British renting towards a service, focussed on the future there is no doubt that traditional landlords and letting agents are starting to catch up in realising that tech-enabled service-driven elements like deposit alternatives will be a crucial part of continuing to attract the modern renter.