Richard Berridge talks to Katherine Rose, VervLife

Richard Berridge in conversation with VervLife's MD Katherine Rose about her life in real estate and more.

Katherine Rose, MD of VervLife | BTR News
Katherine Rose, MD of VervLife.

Richard Berridge talks to Katherine Rose, MD of operating and consultancy partner VervLife about her life in real estate, starting a business during the pandemic, and driving a mini-digger.

Katherine, a question I ask everyone; tell me a little about yourself. What’s your background and how did you get into property?  Was a career in real estate always a goal for you?

Like many people I fell into property. I have a degree and master’s in photography and thought I was going to be a curator in an art gallery. I moved to London from Uni and my first job was at Somerset House in the events team. I worked closely with the facilities team as we needed their help with organising the major events. From there I moved to The Royal Ballet School and had a split role which involved looking after their Covent Garden site and the residential accommodation in Barron’s Court, as well as some involvement in the White Lodge redevelopment in Richmond Park.

I then did a stint at one of the Livery Companies in the City called The Salters and I looked after their property in Moorgate. It was while I was at The Salters that I met a Partner at Knight Frank, Will Monk, who very sadly unexpectedly passed away a few years ago. Will offered me a job as a Building Manager in Holborn, I took the role and he was a great mentor. I moved to Knight Frank’s HQ to join his team as a surveyor looking after their prime central London portfolio including what was Topshop on Oxford Street and The Gherkin, as well as other large sites.

After a good few years in London I ended up relocating back to Devon – which is where I grew up and joined LSL – a large PLC (who many people won’t have heard of, but at the time they owned Marsh and Parson, now sold), Reeds Rains, Your Move and a large financial services division as well as Esurv Chartered Surveyors. I ended up heading up their offshore residential portfolio working for the main client Barclays Wealth, whose offshore offices (IOM etc) had UK based high value properties held in trust for high net worth individuals. LSL could see that there was this new Build to Rent market emerging, and given my building management and surveying experience I was seconded to the newly formed Build to Rent team. This was around 2016/2017. I was involved in design and consultancy, and mobilisation. Working across multifamily and single-family rentals. I ended up leading on new business and client relationships as Client Services Director.

Fast forward to two years ago when I moved to become a Co-founder and Managing Director at VervLife. VervLife are an independent operator, who get involved with clients at the early stages of their projects. Assessing feasibility and viability, providing operational budget, consulting on the design phase, brand, marketing and placemaking, mobilisation, lettings strategies all the way through to stabilising assets and day to day property management. We are working on and managing sites across the country, anywhere from Exeter to Glasgow. Across multifamily, single-family rentals, co-living and later living.

Something everyone wants to know; are you a cat person or a dog person? Or both?

Cat person – those that know me will be aware of this. Figaro and Fernando frequently make an appearance on my Teams calls.

You’ve been MD of VervLife for very nearly two years, and you launched the business as the country was coming out of its third lock-down. It was an incredibly bold move during such a period of uncertainty. Were you confident it was the right time? 

Absolutely the best decision. It was a brave move looking back but having worked in the industry for so long I was confident of the growth and could see that there was so much opportunity. I think it is clear that the residential rental sector (regardless to multifamily/single-family rentals etc) is not only resilient but increasing in scale across not only the UK, but also Europe.

Two years on: what did you learn about leading a business through difficult operational and business conditions? Do you think this has made you a better leader?

It seems like a very long time ago we created the brand and came up with VervLife and in the process I have learnt a tremendous amount. I perhaps naively didn’t realise how hard and time consuming it was going to be. I have learnt that you need to be very flexible and adaptable. Especially as we are now scaling up. One day I could be working on our financial business plan, the next I could be in a design team meeting, undertaking property management negotiations, standing on a construction site, talking about bin stores, leading on a pitch. I absolutely love the industry and the variation that it brings and can honestly say that I am incredibly lucky that I love my job and have a great team around me. You would have to ask them if they think I am a good leader!

Operational management is an incredibly competitive business. What key strengths do you think investors are looking for when they appoint a third-party operator like VervLife?

It is indeed very competitive. I think there are a number of strengths that investors or developers look for. For me, a partnership approach is key as we want to work closely with our clients and grow as they grow. Knowledge and experience go together. We stand by our rent assumptions, operating costs and our honesty in our approach. There is no point in me inflating rents or being lean on running costs to fudge the NOI if we don’t believe we can deliver on it. If a scheme doesn’t stack up we will say why and offer solutions. Hopefully as a team our passion and dedication comes across to our clients. Property management isn’t easy and unfortunately things do go wrong. It is how you deal with it that matters.

I saw that VervLife is awaiting BCorp accreditation and are members of Business Declares! You seem to be passionately invested in ESG. How important is it that Build to Rent drives these three pillars of corporate responsibility forward? 

ESG is incredibly important to us and to our clients. It isn’t just something that we talk about, we are actually actively embedding the three pillars into our business and BCorp is a good of this. We have also worked closely with Adam and Jordan at LifeProven on a resident wellbeing index for the Build to Rent, co-living and single-family rental space. This survey is proprietary to us, is backed by academic science and is delivered by LifeProven. It allows our investors to build an anonymised picture of a community’s wellness and the key factors impacting upon it. The outputs then allow us to manage the building in a more value adding and health promoting way. Once we’ve built a better dataset over time, wellness scores between buildings can be benchmarked and the data will provide useful insight into the design phases of projects.

You are heavily involved in Build to Rent, co-Living and single-family housing (SFH) – both as a consultancy and an operational manager. Where do you think we will see the biggest area of growth over the next seven years? What are you hearing from investors?

We are working across all those areas and are currently (we believe) the largest co-living operator in the country. It is hard to pick just one area of growth as the rental sector as a whole is growing at a pace, for all the reasons that everyone is aware of – house prices, mortgage challenges with interest rates, inflation, and the fact that people see renting more and more as a lifestyle choice. The ripple effect into the regions is only really starting to happen. I think the later living rental product is an exciting area to watch. We are involved in a lot of early-stage co-living projects. And as I know you are aware, single-family housing is certainly gaining momentum.

I know you’re a big supporter of tech. In your opinion, which has been the most transformative tech advance we’ve seen in the last five years? 

Oh – interesting question. AI is currently an interesting topic to debate! Automating some areas of the resident and customer experience gives a far better experience to our residents. It also brings us management efficiencies. Having the ability for residents to do a lot of the application stage and then the ongoing engagement on their phone via a resident’s portal has certainly come along in the last five years. I think tech and data is an interesting one, auto leak detection, keyless entry, and sensors checking room usage and temperatures are valuable technology advances.

What is the one thing about you that you think would surprise people most? 

Tricky question. I can drive a mini digger! And can be seen wearing my site boots and VervLife branded PPE at weekends while driving it at home in Devon on the farm. It came in handy when we planted about 1800 daffodil bulbs last year!