Q&A: Build to Rent operator discusses lockdown, wellbeing, tech and key lessons

Moda Living's MD - Johnny Caddick - discusses wellbeing and tech, how they adapted during lockdown, and key lessons learned from the Covid-19 pandemic that should be considered in the future of the Build to Rent sector.

Dining room at Angel Gardens Build to Rent development, temporarily closed during the Covid-19 lockdown- Moda Living | Apache Capital | BTR News
Dining room at Angel Gardens Build to Rent development.

How did Moda Living adapt to the Covid-19 lockdown?

As a business, we were able to adapt quickly. The MyModa app is downloaded by all residents in our neighbourhoods – it allows them to do everything from book events and pay rent to book services and instant message the concierge. During lockdown we ran a full 24/7 concierge service without disruption, all virtually through the app – residents were able to directly message the concierge and log any maintenance requests. 

During March to May, when lockdown measures were most significant, we dealt with 754 virtual concierge requests and were able to keep all residents up to date with regular app notifications. As Amazon and online deliveries spiked, the team also delivered 1898 parcels in that time. 

Johnny Caddick, MD, Moda Living | BTR News
Johnny Caddick, MD, Moda Living.

Moda signed a partnership with a corporation for a major pre-let – what did the business have to do differently to get that over the line given the lockdown?

We secured a 25% pre-let on our flagship 35-storey tower at Angel Gardens at the end of May before reservations officially went live to the market at the end of June. Show rounds of the apartments and amenities were done virtually via video call. Covid-19 has shown that Build to Rent is resilient, with working from home becoming the norm, corporates are seeking out spaces where they are best adapted for this. 

Our model includes 250MBPS internet as standard, coworking space, meeting rooms, presentation screens with the added benefit of outdoor areas including a rooftop sports pitch in Manchester and a 200m running track in Birmingham. Service is also paramount, run more like a hotel, we have 15 staff at Angel Gardens who are able to offer 24/7 concierge and maintenance either in person or virtually.

What has Moda done to support its residents?

We’ve done all we can to ensure that residents are able to enjoy their lives, look after themselves, and live as normally as possible while taking the necessary steps to tackle Covid-19. In line with the Government’s advice, we’ve been doing everything possible to assist residents with social distancing or those who have to self-isolate.

We adapted our resident events offer, creating digital first experiences from online wellbeing workshops, covering topics such as managing anxiety to nutrition, to live workouts and Netflix parties with popcorn delivered to the door. Supporting local independent businesses, we ran everything from cooking classes with a local Italian, where residents had ingredients dropped to the door and were able to take part in a cooking class on Zoom, to weekly bread deliveries from our partner Pot Kettle Black. 

Over 3 months we ran 78 events, all of which saw high levels of engagement, a live courtyard workout we hosted online was streamed over 20k times – the need to stay healthy, fit and well is not diminishing, it’s now stronger than ever.  

How has the outbreak affected sales since March, and how are they looking now?

There was a natural drop in enquiries during March to May. Consumers were uncertain of the future and when lockdown might end, however we were still able to manage enquiries and conduct virtual viewings. 

During this time we were able to put plans in place to launch the tower at Angel Gardens. June saw the most enquiries we’ve ever received in one month, mirroring statistics from Rightmove showing a huge increase in searches from the end of May onwards. When the tower went live for reservations, we had 121 viewings booked within 5 days – pent up demand plus consumers realising the importance of where they live.  

How are the business’s finances?

While there was an initial slowdown of reservations at Angel Gardens, this has now recovered. Our construction sites across the UK were also managed tightly with very little slow down to programme, helping our finances to stay on track.

How has Covid-19 affected Moda’s ongoing schemes and plans for the future?

We’re continuing to look for opportunities to grow across the UK and this didn’t slow down during lockdown. If anything, lockdown has been testament to the Moda model and the Build to Rent sector. Creating neighbourhoods which are tech-enabled from the app to high speed Wi-Fi, with an intrinsic health and wellbeing strategy. We also believe the trend toward renting from both a necessity and a lifestyle choice has been exacerbated further by Covid – this has correlated in increased investor interest, which will enable the sector to grow significantly over the next few years.

How do you think Covid-19 will affect consumer appetite for Build to Rent products like Moda’s?

Substantially. The pandemic has already delivered a shift in priorities with renters now looking for more outdoor space, faster broadband and facilities for home working. 

Research from JLL shows that before the Covid-19 pandemic, only 21% of renters worked from home more than once a week. Now, 82% intend to work from home more than once a week. The findings represent a marked shift in the way people see their homes and Build to Rent is already at the forefront of responding to the change. 

At Moda you don’t just get an apartment, it comes with a high level of amenity ideal for working from home – including workspace, lounges, 24hour gyms, private dining rooms, meeting rooms and outside gardens and roof terraces. We’ve also seen a spike in people getting dogs during lockdown, another benefit to renting at Moda is pets are welcome and actually help contribute to creating a calmer and healthier community.

There is evidence that the number of renters is set to overtake the number of homeowners in certain demographics. Research made public by the Royal Bank of Scotland forecast that renters aged 35 to 44 will leap from 29 % to 47% in the next nine years. 

What’s the key lesson the sector should take away from the pandemic?

The future of living is changing; now more than ever it’s focused on flexibility, connectivity and wellbeing, especially in light of the pandemic. Consumer needs are changing; there is increased demand for workspace at home, greater connectivity and ample access to amenities. Operators must look to prioritise tech and wellbeing.