LISTEN NOW: A New Lease of Life…with Charlotte Robertson

AGC Associate, Charlotte Robertson joins Nick Hammond, Head of Build to Rent at deverellsmith in their latest podcast.

Canary Wharf Communal area design by AGC BTR, discussed in Nick Hammond's A New Lease of Life podcast | BTR News
Canary Wharf Communal area design by AGC BTR.

By AGC BTR

In a new podcast series, our Associate, Charlotte joined Nick Hammond, Head of Build to Rent at deverellsmith in #ANewLeaseOfLife – a sub-series of the devcast…podcast. The podcast series is set to help people learn more about how experts of the Build to Rent and alternative investment sectors have climbed the ladder of their professional careers.

Read the full interview with Charlotte

Read the full interview with Nick Hammond and Charlotte Robertson.

Nick [DEVERELLSMITH]: Hello, and welcome to a new episode of A New Lease of Life, an audio series that holds exclusive thought-provoking interviews with professionals of the Built to Rent industry. My name is Nick Hammond, Head of Build to Rent at deverellsmith, and today I’ll be joined by Charlotte’s Robertson Associate and BTR leader at AGC. Charlotte is heading up AGC’s BTR sector, and she’s worked with industry-leading operators, including Granger PLC at Dominion, and more recently, Canary Wharf Group, Vertus brand. Previous to this, Charlotte worked on enhancing customer environments at Pret a Manger and Marks & Spencer and played a fundamental role in the award-winning office relocation project for Pret. Charlotte, good morning and thank you very much for joining me today.

Charlotte [AGC BTR]: Morning. And thanks for having me.

Nick: Charlotte, absolute pleasure. Very excited for you to be joining me today. Today is all about design, and we’ve got lots to discuss. Can you just first please give us a bit of an intro to yourself and AGC?

Charlotte: I’m currently heading up AGC’s BTR department, we’ve just finished Vertus’ first pet-friendly building at Canary Wharf, and I’m responsible for managing the BTR projects and business development and, well, really all things BTR. AGC is a British design collective of international award-winning interior design brands. Creating the benchmark in luxury living, The Accouter Group of Companies, which is home to Accouter, A.LONDON, Bazaar and BoxNine7, deliver world-class interior architectural and furnishings to the global property market, private clients and consumer market. 

The portfolio is made up of Accouter, which is a super high spec interior design and interior architecture for high-profile clients across the world. Then we have A.LONDON, which provides luxury show homes and private client FF&E, followed by BoxNine7, who offers curated furniture packs, home staging and interior design services. Then, of course, there is us, the BTR sector, and we’re very lucky to be part of a multifaceted interior design service, and we can pull on the award-winning team of creatives that makes us unique in the BTR market.

Nick: So you recently finished a project with Vertus?

Charlotte: Yes, so the back end of last year, which doesn’t come without its kind of difficulties trying to install and do site visits over Covid. So that was quite interesting, and that was quite an interesting install for us. But yes, we got there.

Nick: When, when we look at a build when a builder and scheme is being built, there are many factors that property developers will consider. And you know, it all starts with location amenities, both in the building in the local area, what transport links are close. For me, it’s looking at building the team. But what you know, the list goes on. But what is crucial is design. What the finished look feels like. So can you tell us a bit about the value of good design in Build to Rent?

Charlotte: Yeah, so we recently worked with Dataloft on a report to uncover the value in good design. Interestingly, Dataloft and Homeviews uncovered an 11% price premium on well-designed new build homes. According to Modern House, a 12% design premium with homeowners willing to pay more for beautifully designed homes. Samples reported last year that there’s a 16% price premium on luxury residents. So it’s no wonder that we’ve seen these super Build to Rents popping up in Canary Wharf, Battersea and Wembley, and I think BTR developers invest so much into their buildings. And you know, with stats like that, there’s absolutely no reason to fall short on the design or furnishing. We’ve already seen on Homeviews for a recent project with Vertus, one of the tenants had left a lovely comment on the design, and it was so thoughtfully laid out, and they felt like they were staying in a five-star hotel. So it’s clear that good design resonates with the tenants too.

Nick: Certainly, and there is an argument of why the tenant should take a furnished or unfurnished apartment. And I think there’s flexibility and I think we see both, but I think especially in London increasingly, a lot of these apartments will come with furniture so why would you argue that? Why do you think furnished apartments might be better?

Charlotte: Again, we looked into this data often the results of the furnished price premium compared to unfurnished across prime London work just astounding. So dependent on the rental value per month, it starts from an average of 10% up to almost 30% premium when you get to rent values of £2000 or more per week. So, of course, I think for the Build to Rent operators, it’s an absolute no-brainer. Most of the BTR projects we’ve completed have been 80 to 90% furnished, and just that small 10 to 20% unfurnished is kind of just to give tenants options. So there’s definitely a demand for it. And I also think working in the design industry and having that vision myself, I forget, a lot of people don’t have that and struggled to visualise what their empty apartment would look like. And so, from a sales point of view, it’s a lot easier to walk into a dressed and furnished apartment and sell the dream. And a lot of the BTR developments are kind of, you know, plug and play. And they’re appealing to people that just want to pick up, move in and not have any hassle. So I guess furnished apartments not only bring the price premium, but they’re just as hassle-free.

Nick: 100% agree. I think the demographic and many people living in London probably won’t have a lot of furniture, and they probably don’t own furniture anyway. So that makes it the only bit where I think it might change is when we see more suburban Build to Rent for single-family homes. I think that’s when we’ll probably see tenants bring their own furniture in. But I think for cities I think furnished is the way forward. Okay, you have sort of mentioned Homeviews in a couple of different things. And I’m sure when designers design them and have their own view of what they want the apartment to look like and make it look super cool. But of course, we have to be mindful with the design that we have to focus on what the customer is looking for. So my question to you is, how do we identify the customer expectations in the design you mentioned Homeviews? Is there anything else that we have to look at?

Charlotte: Yes, so this is quite an interesting one. Because we spend a lot of time when we go to pitch for a project in researching the target demographic, the local area, and really trying to understand the tenant. So there are always different expectations from tenants depending on the development and location, etc. And we would always go and look at Homeviews on, you know, what tenants like in that kind of area as well. Over the last year with Coronavirus, we’ve seen that the customer’s expectations of design have actually shifted and are shifting slightly. So they want more space, more rooms access to outdoor space. And I think installing over the past year with Vertus, and we had to go back and look at our designs and just ensure it was still what the tenants wanted. I think that it’s really important to look at that at any point in your project. And we were quite lucky that we’d already designed flexible communal spaces. So they could be used as day working spaces. And then they transform into evening event spaces with a wine bar. And I also think, you know, the quality is always at the forefront of the tenant’s mind. So they want to be comfortable in their homes and sitting on quality furniture, and they’re not worried about breaking it, or they’re going to lose their deposit. So I think that’s a key one as well.

Nick: Certainly, and I think that’s it around future-proofing buildings, we can identify what the customer wants now, but I think especially from Covid-19, anything can happen, and customer’s needs and expectations will continually evolve. So design will have to evolve with that as well. So completely agree. Finally, sustainability is such a hot topic in real estate and ESG. I mean, it’s becoming a non-negotiable topic, and a lot of businesses that you know that there are policies now that they have to look at. Talk to me about design and sustainability and why it’s important.

Charlotte: Yeah. So as you say, ESG is the topic on everyone’s lips. So from developers to suppliers to tenants, everyone’s talking about sustainability. I think developers have in recent years realised how much of a premium factor this is for tenants, and I’ve been on a few webinars recently, where developers are now talking about building smarter homes spending more on quality finishes that are built to last. And they aren’t replacing them as often and then adding features that encourage sustainable behaviours within the apartment in the amenity’s spaces. So, recycling bins, using recyclable cups and growing plants, etc. And then, of course, developers want to use interior designers like us that have the same sustainability goals. So our sustainability measures have already seen us achieve our ISO, environmental accreditation, and we’re committed to working towards being carbon neutral.

We have our own green warriors, which I’m part of, and we meet monthly, internally, and then with other like-minded companies externally, because, you know, as we say, it’s not just us that’s kind of focusing on the sustainable efforts, it needs to be everyone, and that we can build a better future. Then with our furniture, I think it’s not just that’s the thing when you talk about sustainability, people just immediately think about recycling, and it’s not, it’s so much more. So I think it’s not just about recycling, which we do, of course, by donating our furniture to charity at the end of its life cycle. But it’s also about where it starts initially using FSC wood, knowing your supply chain. So we mainly use British and European suppliers. We have great strong working relationships with our suppliers, and we’re always visiting our manufacturers. So we have great transparency on the factories, and they’re sustainable efforts as well. So I think while, of course, there’s still more to do, we are well on our sustainable journey, and I just hope that more people will join us on it to build a better future.

Nick: Massively no, look that’s really interesting. And yes, there’s definitely on the design side; you have a responsibility to do that. But I think there’s definitely an education piece for the tenant as well. And yes, there are the obvious things we think of, like recycling and how we can act, but it’s wider circumstances. It’s really interesting. I did wonder what happens with the furniture at the end, at the end of a tenancy, so it’s brilliant to hear that you kind of pass it on to charity and reuse Charlotte. Thank you.

Access the full BTR Dataloft report 

Touching only the surface of results, our full Dataloft is available for you to download. Gathering data from notable industry professionals and further exploration into AGC’s definitive Build to Rent offering, all essential information about the future of Build to Rent is enclosed within our report.

The team are here to help provide you with more information about our latest Build to Rent offering and more, get in touch directly with our BTR team: BTR@agofc.com or +44 (0)20 3651 3325.