By Alastair Mullens, Head of Vertus, Canary Wharf Group’s Build to Rent arm
It’s unlikely that there is a single industry across the globe that hasn’t been affected in some way by the current COVID-19 pandemic. The Build to Rent sector is no different and with the lockdown and social distancing measures in place, Build to Rent operators have had to really think on their feet about how to provide residents with the lifestyle they’re accustomed to.
As the UK Government and Government’s across the globe begin to slowly ease lockdown measures, it’s important that Build to Rent developers and operators understand their responsibility to keep not only residents safe, but staff as well. One of the key points coming out of lockdown will be how Build to Rent developers and operators can change ways of living to help residents get back to some form of normality, while keeping this safety their top priority.
Amenity spaces, concierge teams and social distancing
At Vertus, we pride ourselves on the excellent amenity spaces and concierge teams on hand for our residents, which provides a lifestyle driven by experience. Club Vertus is the heartbeat of this service, which prior to the pandemic offered a variety of social spaces for residents to make their own, including a spacious lounge, self-service bar with automatic wine dispensers, a bookable dining room, 24-hour gym studio and a plethora of classes and events.
The social distancing measures brought in by the UK Government at the end of March means, that like many others, we have had to reimagine these spaces and the services provided for residents, as well as our construction methods on later phases of Vertus buildings.
This innovation has come in many forms; for key members of the residential team, they have been staying in vacant apartments at 10 George Street to ensure they reduce the risk of infection travelling into work on public transport, and they have been on hand to assist our residents if they have any concerns.
For our residents, we really want to ensure they have the ability to stay active, engaged and inspired while being on lockdown and that they can still experience the Club Vertus lifestyle. To counter the temporary closure of the Club Vertus spaces and events, we’ve created a virtual online community. We’ve organised wine tasting evenings and quiz nights, dropping off non-contact wine bottles and quiz sheets.
We also partnered with wellness provider Antidote – who manage the 24-hour gym studio at 10 George Street – to bring the gym virtually into residents’ apartments. It’s such an important time to help our residents look after their physical and mental health. The Antidote team provides a varied wellness programme via video link, including one-to-one personal training, yoga, pilates, meditation sessions and group classes including HIIT, Metcon and Boxfit. It’s important to create a sense of community with residents, even if they’re unable to meet over a shared coffee in our lounge.
As lockdown measures begin to be lifted, it’s apparent that people’s views about where they live are changing. Now that it’s likely we will all have to spend more time in our homes, people are placing value on high quality homes, even if temporary. Focus will also be placed on the quality of amenity and outdoor spaces and how they can be adapted to meet social distancing requirements, while also substituting as a classroom or an office.
At 10 George Street, we have begun to reopen the social spaces for residents, by ensuring that social distancing is possible. We’ve removed some furniture in the lounge space and terrace as this naturally encourages social distancing – and residents will also be able to book spaces in the lounge online so there’s no unnecessary queuing. Residents will also be able to book out the gym and private dining room – and these spaces will be thoroughly cleaned between each use. By adapting these spaces to social distancing rules, residents are still able to enjoy the high-quality amenity areas and have a change of scenery, something so important for mental wellbeing.
Many developers have coined onto virtual viewings, this is something that has worked well at Vertus as an additional tool for enquiries throughout the crisis. From virtual viewings given, we’ve had 33 physical bookings organised and had seven offers. If able to organise, they work well as they provide extra reassurances to potential tenants.
Construction and social distancing
Construction has continued at two of our new Build to Rent developments in the pipeline, Newfoundland and 8 Water Street. While construction continues on these developments during lockdown, the construction team on sites adhere to social distancing measures set out by the Government guidelines. This includes wearing protective face coverings and gloves.
Canary Wharf Group has also instigated a wide range of measures across the Canary Wharf estate to ensure the safety of people living, working and visiting Canary Wharf. These measures range from social distancing signage throughout the retail malls along with one-way systems and floor markings for social distancing.
Despite construction continuing, the stringent social distancing measures put in place on our construction sites means there have been delays. At Vertus, we’ve adapted to this by moving the launch dates to later in the year for Newfoundland and 8 Water Street. This allows for the safety of our staff on site to be at the forefront of decisions made, rather than them being on tight deadline to complete construction by the original launch date.
Looking forward, we believe that the Build to Rent market is set to generate a considerable number of enquiries for the remainder of the year. Now that the Government has begun to ease lockdown measures, at Vertus, we’re seeing enquiries gradually pick up. The upturn in enquiries particularly spiked around the first May Bank Holiday weekend, following on from the Prime Ministers press conference which likely gave people confidence to think about their living arrangements once more.
It’s important to focus on where these new enquiries will come from. In some circumstances, enquiries will likely originate from those who were looking to buy property prior to the pandemic, however, no longer feel confident in the sales market and won’t want to invest while there is instability in the market. It’s also likely there will be individuals who are looking to move closer to their offices. Living close to their offices, while also feeling part of the community, means that their commute time is dramatically reduced and they have the ability to walk or cycle to work, something the Government is actively promoting.
The likes of Vertus and 10 George Street is perfect for individuals in these situations. We offer the best of both worlds, because Vertus offers new-found freedom and flexibility, as well as true comfort, security and access to a brilliant community in one of London’s most exciting districts. The ability to lease the apartments like they own them, on flexible tenancies, as well as feeling part of a community while they’re living there, makes the Vertus lifestyle very attractive to many.
At Vertus, we remain positive about the Build to Rent sector and will continue to ensure the safety of our staff and residents is our number one priority, while also continuing the level of service our customers expect.