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Build to Rent and the London market: insights from industry leaders

A panel of industry leaders discussed London housing and the Build to Rent market in a webinar hosted by Built Environment Networking.

Chaired by Phil Laycock, Director of Built Environment Networking and a panel of Build to Rent experts discussed a range of aspects about the Build to Rent market, how it’s affected during the Covid-19 pandemic, and what operators should consider in the coming months. We’ve taken the key points and learnings from the webinar to help Build to Rent operators during these challenging times.

The role of technology and future design changes

Lia Silva, an Independent Housing Expert explained that we’ll see significant investment and demand for agile and innovative digital platforms, which we’re already seeing as a vital part of living in the current circumstances posed by Covid-19.

Peter Holden, Group Development Director at Round Hill Capital emphasised the importance of tech and the increasing role it will play in the Build to Rent sector now and in the future – in terms of improving lifestyles and interaction with residents and staff.

The key point expressed was the need to think sensibly about how we can change/adapt things to help people back into their daily lives. Embracing and using tech, reducing touch and having two metre separation zones were mentioned. Looking ahead, the below infographic highlights some key aspects to consider to support people back into a ‘new norm’.

What does the future look like post Covid-19? Credit: Round Hill Capital
What does the future look like post Covid-19? Credit: Round Hill Capital

“The ‘Placemaking’ of shared spaces has been the cornerstone of residential design for several years, and the past few weeks are demonstrating that humans intrinsically want to be together. 

“However, we need to start thinking about making all spaces even safer, to help people to be ‘in touch’ without touching. Design elements might include wider corridors, doorways and paths; electronic locks and automatic doors; voice activation; more stairways; better air filtration, increased use of GPS and beacons; and antibacterial surfaces.

The recent lockdown has also highlighted just how vital good quality internet connectivity is to all residents. There will also be a premium on developments from which residents can walk, bike or scooter safely and with ease to work/university/the shops.”

Peter Holden, Group Development Director, Round Hill Capital

Value and spaces

Lia Silva raised some vital points about the value placed on high quality homes. And although we’re in a temporary situation, people still need a place to live, so emphasis will be placed on looking at the quality, quantity and private communal and public spaces – things we took for granted a few months ago.

Within homes, Lia expressed the need to consider workspaces and full-time educational spaces, which need to be flexible and multifunctional  – but also with privacy within homes.

Affordability in London

“Intervention is required to make London affordable.”

Olivia Harris, CEO, Dolphin Living

Build to Rent provider, Dolphin Living provide affordable homes in London targeted to key workers – with a broader definition to include those who work in London’s infrastructure. The key point identified was the need for more affordable Build to Rent living in London  – so keyworkers  don’t have to commute. The design principles highlighted was to make the most of small spaces.

Duncan Sutherland, Regeneration Director at Sigma Capital Group plc explained they’re in the process of setting up a fund in London – for homes within zones four and outwards – due to the affordability of their products, and the need to build communities and invest in local facilities such as primary schools.

What do we need to do now for the housing of the future?

Other points identified were:

  • The Build to Rent model and sector has a duty of care to their customers and there is a need to rethink how we use space within developments and externally.
  • Tech is key and tenants will make choices based on reliability of tech, such as connectivity and bandwidth. Tech will be placed higher up the list of priorities.
  • Stringent guidelines will be placed upon staff and residents around social distancing and other rules, to ensure everyone is clear on what’s expected to meet the ‘new way of living’, the ‘new norm’.
  • Questions about if coliving will have the same asset class as people once thought, if it has the same future, and how it may be defined in the future.
  • Sustainability will go beyond compliance.
  • Placemaking is a key aspect that will set Build to Rent apart from the competition.

Final thoughts

There was a general consensus that the Build to Rent market has proven its resilience during the coronavirus pandemic. Some speakers on the panel shared ongoing projects, and those that will still be launching – with strategies to mitigate risk. 

The panel of experts were confident that the Build to Rent market will bounce back sharply, with investment ready to be deployed into real estate assets. And there is a window of opportunity for Build to Rent investment – for those who are prepared to act now.

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