The Movers & Shakers Build to Rent Conference took place in October. Bringing the industry together, presentations and panel discussions covered key topics relevant to the Build to Rent sector from experts across the industry. Presentations included investment in the Build to Rent sector by JLL, an update on the UK market by Cortland Consult, making modern methods of construction work for projects, the residents perspective on sustainability by HomeViews, and the importance of place, culture and lifestyles by Assael Architecture and Futurecity.
Interviews by Be Known Communications also took place during the conference, which offers further insights from several industry figures. We’ve consolidated the key insights from interviews with Rick de Blaby, CEO at Get Living, Marcus Foley, Co-Founder at Tommy, Hannah Marsh, Co-founder at HomeViews, Michela Hanncock, Managing Director of Development for Greystar and Victoria Quinlan, President – Europe at Cortland.
What do you think are the biggest challenges of taking Build to Rent to the next level?
Rick de Blaby, CEO of Get Living explains that it’s about building pipeline: “The real challenges of growing the Build to Rent sector is about building pipeline. The best we’re doing now is one scheme at a time, which nudges the total number of developments up. It’s very hard to find that game changing catapult scheme which will really take the number of operational units up to a higher scale in a reasonably short period of time. Most schemes take three to five years to deliver so that’s the real challenge.”
Marcus Foley made the point about districts and places, a topic spoken about in panel discussions during the conference. “The theme of the talk today was thinking about districts and places, and what we can do to drive prosperity based on the habits of the audiences we are trying to attract. We talked about Spotify, going to a festival, a Spotify house which is the packed place to be. So why isn’t there a Spotify house in a Build to Rent area, which will drive swathes of people? This will have a knock-on, comulitive affect with small retailers, independent designers and fashion houses, coffee shops.”
Hannah Marsh, Co-founder of HomeViews points out the importance of consistency and customer service. “I think it’s about consistency and scale. What we’re seeing from resident reviews is that when people are launching their first development, there’s an opportunity to put a bespoke customer service approach into that development, but at scale, we’re seeing increasing sizes of portfolios – both by units and number of developments – and with that comes operating challenges and consistency of service.”
Michela Hanncock, Managing Director of Development for Greystar says that the sector is in the next wave of Build to Rent. “We’ve come into the next wave and a lot of operators, as well as Greystar, have operational assets. So now it’s about what we do with that customer data and how we use it to improve the next wave of Build to Rent assets. I think we have a lot of opportunity going forward.”
Victoria Quinlan, President – Europe at Cortland explains that we should not get complacent: “We need to take all the learnings to date and then apply them, listen to our customers and not get complacent.”
Where do you see the biggest opportunities being for Build to Rent?
Rick highlights that there will always be opportunity due to the housing shortage, and that the sector is a long way from maturity. “We know there’s a shortage of housing in the UK, so we’re always going to have an opportunity to provide the supply that suits demand – but it’s more than that. Anyone running a Build to Rent platform wants to provide homes, places, communities and neighbourhoods that enable people to put down roots and have a great life. We’re still a young sector which has a long way to go to mature. Everyone is still in the mindset of wanting to share information, and to learn from each other so that we can all improve. It’s in all our interests that the sector is as good as it possibly can be.”
Victoria shares her views on what will take the sector to the next level: “We must continue listening to the customer, offering them the product and service they need – and not what we think they need – and that will take our offer as an industry to the next level.”
How can the service levels within Build to Rent be improved/fixed – and has it improved over recent years?
Hannah draws on the role of tech but the importance of the people who are in direct contact with residents. “There’s a lot that tech can do, but ultimately it comes down to people – training staff to ensure they have the tools to know how to respond to residents, to look after them and provide a consistent approach. What’s great about Build to Rent is that there’s a lot of people from hospitality backgrounds working within developments, so they have come hitting the ground running. But as Build to Rent scales, it will be about making sure you hire the right people – which means people who can help create communities within a building.”
How important is the need to share data and for it to be very transparent between competitors?
Coming from a US background, Michela explains that data was shared: “I come from the US market where we shared data and everything was transparent, because we felt that the expertise was in the operational platform and how people operated. It’s in the training of teams and people, as well as retaining your talent and customer base – so it goes back to the people element.”
What would you say to developers who think that it will cost too much to bring product experiences into a scheme?
Marcus explains that it’s how you think about what a transaction is, an aspect discussed during a panel discussion. “It’s how you think about what a transaction is. If you consider an empty space and the rent on that space, then there’s reverse thinking – if you’re working with certain types of brands, what can they bring into the area – mass footfall which means you’re in a district that’s thriving in so many ways, both culturally and economically. This will keep perpetuating itself, keeping itself busy, so you can keep your rents up in other areas, driving commerce that way.”
Is there anything that can be done to speed up delivering the Build to Rent pipeline?
Rick shares that great things can happen when both the private and public sector come together. “The planning process is chronically slow so anything that policymakers can do to speed that up would be helpful. I aspire that applicants and local authorities have a higher level of trust and collaboration, rather than the sometimes long, drawn out negotiations that happen. When the private and public sector are aligned, great things happen, so anything to speed that up would be good. We also spoke about modern methods of construction during the conference – it can speed up the planning process which would also help.
Michela, you talked about the idea of a full generational Build to Rent experience – how realistic do you think that is and what will it take to get there? Is there a mentality change that’s needed to achieve this?
“I think we can get there. I don’t see why we can’t have large scale assets that are mixed tenure – so they have student, Build to Rent, senior living and co-living, as well as retail, commercial and schools. It’s about working together with external stakeholders, planners, and local government to explain our vision and what we want to create, then working together. I think partnerships are critical.
“It’s also important that people see that renting can be a positive experience, and that there isn’t a negative stigma to it. We have an obligation as a rental community to change that narrative and to explain that it can be a quality experience from beginning to end.”
Victoria, what progress do you want to see over the next 12 months?
“Continued momentum. There’s a few head wings coming with the economy and political environments, so hopefully the next 12 months won’t mean that everyone is slowing down as that’s the last thing the sector needs.”
How important is it for the leaders of the biggest competitors to be able to sit together and discuss challenges together in front of people?
Rick shares how much of a privilege it is: “It’s a privilege to participate in it with people I respect a lot. Each one of us does certain things well and when we’re not doing it the best, we can learn from each other. I don’t see our peers as our major competition – our progress can all be achieved.”
How important do you think it is for conferences like this to discuss the cultural side of Build to Rent?
Marcus shares his views on the importance of discussing culture: “When we talk about culture, so if you’re looking at strategies for millennials and Gen Z, we must consider what they are doing, what they want from where they live and what culture drives them every day. During the conference we spoke about gaming strategies, social media platforms, what people want from experiences, and the experience economy that people want on a day-to-day basis. As much as we have digital lives, people also want physical experiences, so that’s part of the culture strategy which should be incorporated into your placemaking strategy.”
How important is bringing the resident’s view into industry debates?
Hannah explains that we now have residents living in Build to Rent schemes so there’s a lot that can learned from that. “To date, people have said that a lot of decisions and insights have been made on assumptions, financial data and forecasting. We now have 70,000 units with residents living in them. This presents an opportunity to learn from those residents, to understand what they value, to see what’s working well, and to listen to them. This will drive positive change and involvement for Build to Rent as it grows.”
How important do you think Build to Rent conferences like Movers & Shakers is?
Michela shares how important it is for the sectors future: “Today was incredibly important. It was a positive day, and a lot of people are looking to the future. I think it’s important to look at the past for lessons learned and how we can improve, but we should be looking to the future as we have such an opportunity for growth in the sector. The winds are really in our favour, and we need to continue pushing forward as a sector and as a team and not look at each other as competitors, but as friends and colleagues that want to build something better for everyone.”
Victoria shares a variety of positive aspects: “Continuing to share knowledge and ideas is a really important way of learning and I believe that’s what comes out of it – and with the additions of networking and conversation.”