Q&A with Ringley Group’s Mary-Anne Bowring

BTR News speaks to Mary-Anne Bowring on Ringley Group’s expansion from block manager to operational Build to Rent partner.

Mary-Anne Bowring, Group Managing Director at Ringley Group and CEO at PlanetRent | BTR News
Mary-Anne Bowring, Group Managing Director at Ringley Group and CEO at PlanetRent.

BTR News speaks to Mary-Anne Bowring, Group Managing Director at Ringley Group and CEO at PlanetRent about its expansion from a block manager to an operational Build to Rent partner.

Can you tell us about Ringley Group and its role in the Build to Rent sector?

Ringley was established in 1997 as a multi-disciplinary property group. Over the last 25 years we have developed specialisms across block management, investment, building engineering, planning and law, and have around £6bn and 13,000 mixed-tenure homes under management. We have worked or continue to work with the likes of Berkeley Group, Curlew, Europa Capital, Gresham House, Grosvenor, Long Harbour, Moda Living and Patrizia.

I think the market has a general (and misguided) perception that Ringley is a block and lettings manager. We’re much more than that. Our core business function is being a one-stop-shop operating partner across all living real estate sectors, of which Build to Rent is a crucial part. With over 100 staff now, we work across the full asset lifecycle from investment strategies to site finding, asset management, block management, leasing, mobilisation and stabilisation, all the way to exit. 

What prompted the move into Build to Rent?

It is a little known fact that we have filled gaps in various asset management teams and supported the likes of Moda Living and others in their early start up phases with research and operating strategies.

It was a natural next step for us as it became clear from the outset that many investors would be pursuing vertically integrated strategies. What that would mean in practice was a bit of a shot in the dark for many,  given the nascence of Build to Rent. That’s where we come in. 

We felt we could offer real value to investors and developers by applying our 25 years of learnings, and proven track record, across residential planning, investment, block, and operational management to a sector that was still finding its feet. Whether it be underwriting, cost control, project monitoring, fund reporting, property management, or data/ tech-led operational strategies, we’re able to apply our expertise to unlock additional value at each stage of the asset lifecycle. 

How do you do that?

First and foremost it’s about partnership. We’ll work with clients from day one to design and then implement a nuanced and vertically integrated investment, asset and operational management strategy. We’ll help with the likes of deal structuring, development design, leasing strategies and gross to net maximisation at the macro level, before delving into the micro issues which broadly fall under the customer and property management bracket. That means staff recruitment, contracts, rent collection, building, site and facility management, and compliance, to name a few. It’s all about boosting returns to put our investors in prime position when it comes to offloading the asset.

How can we save on construction costs? How can we reduce carbon emissions without compromising on the quality of build? How can we save on the addressable load?  How can we deliver a rental premium? What do you need from your staff? These are some of the questions we answer. 

Tech is a critical part of the process. We’ve developed an unrivalled understanding of the rental market in our 25 years in the sector and we built our own rental platform, Planet Rent, so our clients could acquire a truly granular understanding of the asset performance and their customers. Those insights are naturally lent to every stage of the lifecycle, but are particularly important on the operational side.

PlanetRent automates every aspect of the operational process that could benefit from the speed, reliability and insight afforded by automation. Connected to our robotic accounting system, the platform offers unrivalled and on-demand reporting, and provides 85 KPIs to users. This means some of our clients have seen arrears fall by 50%, operational costs sliced by almost £220,000 and gross to net growth of 8% – all in the space of a few months.

The ESG agenda in Build to Rent has grown at a phenomenal pace. Does Ringley offer any support?

Absolutely. We have a dedicated ESG consultancy team which is deeply embedded into the whole lifecycle approach. The separate parts of ESG can’t be viewed in silo and it’s encouraging to see the industry becoming increasingly cognisant of that. 

The core areas of focus for our ESG toolkit are design, operation, retrofit, accreditation and decision scoring. We think carefully about how our clients can achieve the various accreditations, or what are increasingly being seen as benchmarks by the industry. The likes of BREEAM, WELL, Wiredscore, Fitwel, Home Quality Mark and other key performance indicators are incorporated into our client business plans. So, improve accreditations and working through BREEAM in-use, for example. 

Readers will probably be bored of reading about all of these things but the reality is that everyone wants to do it, few know how to get there without inflicting a lot of damage to the balance sheet. That’s where Ringley’s experience, expertise and knowledge of the subject matter becomes really valuable.

Can you tell us about some of the projects you’re working on?

Sure. We’re managing around 1,500 units and have a further 2,500 in the immediate pipeline, working with the likes of Europa Capital, Long Harbour, Patrizia and Rise Homes. Our portfolio spans the whole of the UK and we expect much of its growth to be concentrated in the regions, given the scope of opportunities there.

Some of our key achievements in the last quarter include an asset management and ESG strategy plan for a high-profile European investor, which delivered a number of impressive top line figures – within two months we saved them around £220,000 in operational costs, reduced arrears by 50%, improved gross to net by 8%, increased rent by 4-8%, and rolled out an intensive education programme for their staff, the results of which were implemented to ensure they were spot on with all things compliance. We’ve also achieved gold to platinum Wiredscore accreditations across client portfolios without them having to spend a penny on new digital infrastructure, which we felt was quite an achievement.

Living real estate is moving at an extraordinary pace and operational strategies will be the battleground for years to come. Operational partners will, by extension, be instrumental in the investment strategy arena. Our expertise in that space, enabled by a fantastic and long-serving team, and unrivalled tech offering, will be keeping us very busy. The reputation and profile of the investors we’re working with is testament to the quality of the work we do and I look forward to partnering with many more.