In latter 2021, Leaf Living launched as a new Build to Rent platform in the UK, consisting largely of new-build, market-rate, single-family housing. Earlier this year, the company announced a £34m+ investment across two developments in Essex and Hampshire, which will deliver over 100 new Build to Rent homes. BTR News spoke with Leaf Living’s Interim CEO, Will Montague, to discuss the Build to Rent market and why developers are looking at Build to Rent operators to de-risk their projects.
Who is Leaf Living?
Leaf Living was established in March 2021 by investment partners Blackstone, the world’s largest alternative asset manager, and Regis Group with a mission to build upon their significant expertise in the industry and deliver private new-build rental housing across the UK. The two firms already work together to deliver high-quality housing in the UK through Sage Homes, a leading provider of affordable housing in the UK.
Leaf Living is focused on working with construction partners to deliver high-quality, new-build single-family housing accommodation in desirable locations where families want to live with their children. I think traditionally, providers who operate in the Build to Rent sector have been building homes for young professionals in metropolitan areas, leaving the number of rental homes for families chronically undersupplied. The supply of new build rental housing for families has been starting to grow much more significantly now, and Leaf Living are positioning themselves at the forefront of this market.
What are your thoughts on the current Build to Rent market?
The private rental sector has seen significant growth recently, particularly since spring last year, mostly due to the shortage of supply. This has been a UK-wide phenomenon, and we have seen significant interest from potential tenants across our developments, and I know that Build to Rent operators around the country have been reporting the same strong levels of demand.
Broadly, the Build to Rent market is going strong, and I can see this continuing. As a country, we have only managed to build around half of the estimated housing needed to meet the demand. More and more people are looking to rent, and the hassle free, professionally managed homes provided by the Build to Rent market are an attractive option compared with traditional private rental properties.
What changes have you seen in the market lately?
The demographic of renters is certainly changing. The perception of Britain as a ‘home-owning’ nation is changing, and more people, particularly older people, are seeing the benefits of renting instead of purchasing. People live more modern lifestyles and want the flexibility and reliability of quality afforded to them by Build to Rent operators.
Other countries have a stronger attachment to renting compared to home ownership and I think we are seeing this change in the UK. I think as the market continues to shift, and people see the benefits of providers like Leaf Living, we will see long-term renting as a more normalised and viable housing solution.
How is Build to Rent going to cope with the current cost of living crisis?
This has quite rightly been a key focus for a lot of people going into the winter, and there are a number of ways in which I feel the Build to Rent sector is able to positively respond to this crisis. Not only is renting an affordable option which does not require the large amounts of capital needed to afford a deposit for a home, our renters are also afforded much greater protection from unexpected costs such as interest rate rises or maintenance issues, compared with people who live in market sale or traditional private rent homes. Our homes are also energy efficient, with a minimum EPC B rating, which we think makes them about £1,000 cheaper per year to run. While this will increasingly be a draw for new customers, we must continue working hard as a sector to find innovative ways to ensure that our developments are efficient and work for the needs of our customers. If we can do that, the Build to Rent sector will only continue to strengthen.
Why are developers increasingly looking for Build to Rent providers to purchase their developments?
I think this is something that has happened for a while, and the market has grown strongly for a number of years, with developers successfully partnering with Build to Rent operators to deliver new housing. I think we have seen a recent trend of increased interest from potential development partners. The fluctuating costs of construction materials, labour, and the sales price of homes has created some uncertainty and partnering with a Build to Rent operator like Leaf Living gives developers an opportunity to de-risk their sites in this uncertain market, providing an opportunity to offload multiple homes to a single, reliable cash buyer and operator.
We have seen a real growth in partners who are looking to take advantage of our reliable funding offer, with the opportunity to forward fund new developments. This gives developers further opportunities to reduce their risk when bringing forward new projects, as well as to take advantage of the expertise of long-established real estate investors as they build out their developments.
What are you looking for when seeking potential partners?
Leaf Living pride ourselves on being flexible, and will always try to look at each proposal on its own merits. We typically acquire sites of more than 30 units and work across the UK in high quality locations for families with a variety of delivery partners who have different needs. Some developers are looking for reliable upfront funding for their projects, while others who have already secured funding are looking to sell their schemes to an upfront cash buyer.
If you would like to enquire about working with Leaf Living or would like to know more about how we operate, please do feel free to get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org