Q&A: Cortland set for ambitious UK BTR growth in 2024

BTR News in conversation with Business Development Director Jo Green about her role at Cortland and its plans for growth.

Cortland's Colliers Yard | BTR News
Cortland's Colliers Yard. Image credit: It's Me Louis Photography.

Residential specialist Cortland, one of the largest multifamily operators in the US, has outlined its ambitious growth plans as an operator in the UK’s Build to Rent sector.

Cortland has been evolving its Build to Rent management platform with an enhanced focus on delivering the most resident-centric services, advanced investor relations and reporting, and impactful asset optimisation strategies in the Build to Rent operator market today. 

We caught up with Cortland’s Business Development Director, Jo Green, to understand more about why she believes the proposition will be so attractive to investors already in, or entering, the UK’s Build to Rent space for the long term.

Why did you decide to join Cortland?

I joined the business in August last year following lots (and lots and lots) of conversations with Cortland’s Chief Operating Officer, Tracey Hartley, about her belief and vision for where the Cortland operator model could sit in the UK marketplace. 

It was clear from those discussions that both Tracey, and Cortland’s European President, Victoria Quinlan, believed that by bringing together the breadth of knowledge, experience, data, and insight from our US operations with the capability and expertise of our teams in the UK we could provide the most comprehensive, innovative, and professional solution to existing and new entrant investors in the UK’s Build to Rent space.

What’s different about the Cortland Operator model?

The proposition is firmly built on the fundamental requirement to deliver the most resident-focused model in the market, with minimum standards that are well above the norm currently here in the UK.

The ethos is ‘everything beyond expectations’ and this filters down to the smallest details of everyday interactions with residents through to the management of the investor client relationship.

We do this by listening, understanding, being transparent and accountable, and by consistently delivering. NOI is the holy grail yes, but this is not achieved in a spreadsheet. It is driven by the creation of an exceptional living experience for residents and a strategic and forensic approach to financial management, data production, analysis and interpretation.

It feels like the UK is too far behind more advanced markets like the US and Germany, with investors accepting they probably won’t get the data they want, lease ups will be slow, below average occupancies, and a void of asset performance optimisation strategies.

The Cortland operator model intends to reset the standard, with an unrivalled suite of data, brand new ‘asset intelligent’ leasing technology, KPI driven PMAs, and continuous detailed data analysis to inform and drive performance across every metric.  

It’s a new paradigm, and we want to reset standards across the board.

Every operator claims to be the most resident centric. How exactly are Cortland any different?

The level of attention to detail that goes into ensuring every single engagement a resident has, from the very first contact pre-tour, to moving out, is on a different level. Every single touchpoint is viewed as an opportunity to ‘go above and beyond’, and the passion and commitment of our teams to deliver this is what really sets us apart.

In the US, Cortland has been consistently ranked #1 in the Reputation* rankings, an independent benchmark that looks at the top 25 largest property management brands and analyses over half a million reviews from over 15,000 multifamily locations. In 2023, Cortland was 50 points ahead of the second placed operator. We don’t just lead; we are a long way ahead!

It’s a process that starts and ends with the culture and values. Cortland is a people company – there is emphasis on being ‘more than the work we do’. The culture impacts everything that happens at work, from everyday conversations in the office to the way we take care of our residents. Simply put, our culture comes to life through our people.

The level of continuous training and development, together with the most advanced customer relationship management tech, supports an approach that delivers the unrivalled results the business sees year after year. This isn’t only in the Reputation rankings but also in terms of investor relations, fund growth and market penetration. Investors have confidence in the performance of the capital we deploy on their behalf because of the strength of our brand with residents. And this delivers solid financial performances that facilitate further investment. 

So there’s clearly a strong focus on the resident experience, but how does this really impact asset performance?  

Cortland understands the clear link between resident experience and financial performance. Clearly this is part of our secret sauce so I’m not about to give it all away here but, for example, we know that if a resident has a five star experience in the first seven days, there is an 82% chance they will renew their lease. Conversely if a resident has a three star or below experience in the first week, there is only a 35% chance they will renew their lease. 

This data is the second part of our offer that will bring a new benchmark to the UK’s operator space. We believe we will be able to provide the most extensive investor reporting of any operator in the marketplace today. 

This is another area the UK has struggled to get right, with investors frustrated not only with the quality of data available but also the lack of data-driven asset optimisation strategies. They go hand-in-hand, it’s not just about flat gross to net margins and NOI, it’s about how these ratios can be continuously improved using the data the asset and market provides by using intelligent interpretation. We want investors to trust us to ensure their asset is performing at its optimum level in every single area. We want our brand reputation to become their brand confidence, and we will be resolutely focused on ensuring we deliver this.

Is there a danger that what works in the US doesn’t work in the UK?

Absolutely. We’ve been operating in the UK for several years now, with a fully local team made up of the UK’s most experienced and qualified professionals, so we’re cognisant of how the UK market works. It really is a think global act local approach.

Ultimately, the fundamental principles are analogous. The magic comes from the ability to draw from the vast experience of our parent, and knowledge from such a mature market, evidence the why, and apply all the elements that work – and this is what we have built our operator model around. 

It’s also fair to say that not every operator in the US gets it right all the time, so it’s not just a case of learning from a more mature market, you want to learn from the best in the market and take all that knowledge and know-how and apply it appropriately and effectively.

This is where we stand apart. Cortland are the market leaders.

And it is so exciting to be able to bring so many brand-new technologies, processes and asset performance enhancing data to the UK, and serve our clients and residents with a truly best-in-class operational management model.