The UK Single-Family Association: loving our little boxes

UKSFA's CEO discusses the significance and growth of single-family rental (SFR) and how it can help navigate the property industry through the housing crisis.

Placefirst's Cow Green single-family Build to Rent development in Halifax | BTR News
Placefirst's Cow Green single-family Build to Rent development in Halifax.

By Richard Berridge, CEO, UK Single-Family Association

Houses have long had their detractors. Malvina Reynolds’ 1962 song ‘Little Boxes’ is, at its core, a protest at the conventionalism and ordinariness of American society. The wiliness to accept capricious social norms. Celebrated British critic Ian Nairn was equally damning of suburban homes with his now famous ‘subtopia’ pejorative.

Today, intellectual energy is largely focussed on the urban by excitable, earnest urbanists extoling the virtues of placemaking, regeneration and ‘community’. Apparently, in a modern world, the only way is up. The urban environment has certainly captured the attention of Build to Rent investors. Hundreds and thousands of apartments fuelling the urban regeneration zeitgeist and where ‘scalability’ is key.

The urban voice is loud and many. An irresistible siren call to an experiential existence, completely at one with our life, work, play and societal evolution.

All of which means that despite 80% of us living in houses, and that 56% of the PRS are houses, our terraces, semi’s, and detached homes are just a little bit intellectually non-U.

But are houses really that prosaic?

Covid illustrated the core value of houses as safe, autonomous hubs. A home with outside space in which one had greater freedoms and more space than flat dwellers. This, combined with the more flexible way many of us now work, means that commuting from outside cities isn’t the drag it once was.

But much of this is well known and acknowledged. Investors know that SFR is a good thing, and they want to be part of it. 

The UK Single-Family Association (UKSFA) is here to be the voice of the single-family rental sector and celebrate the value of houses to the rental sector. We recognise that it’s not only distinctly different from the multifamily sector, but also a significantly broader church with a wider dynamic.

Let me explain the ‘broad church’ bit and why it’s crucial to the growth of the sector. 

Fundamentally, multifamily is something of a closed shop. Large scale international investors, focussing on large scale urban developments delivered by top tier contractors and advised by international consultants.

What I describe there also forms part of SFR. It already has, with familiar faces augmenting their multifamily holdings with SFR investment. These investors are generally concerned with scalability to create large portfolios where economies of scale are delivered. But SFR is also open to the world of the SME. Investment, development, contracting, and consulting businesses who work at a regional and local level right across the country. Since SFR isn’t constrained by location as tightly as multifamily is, there are significantly fewer barriers to entry.

This is incredibly exciting. As SFR gains traction across the country, it will also gain recognition. Not just amongst the Build to Rent cognoscenti, but throughout the housing delivery industry. This means that at a local level, in time, everyone involved in building and renting houses will be familiar with SFR and its rationale. This knowledge will feed into the local renter base who will become more familiar, more quickly, with SFR than they are with multifamily.

One of the principle aims of the UKSFA is to democratise the delivery and management of SFR, to bring together this broad church under one roof and accelerate delivery across the country. The UKSFA strongly believes that SFR investment promotes and underwrites the delivery of more homes of every tenure. This is a win-win for government: more houses built, serving every tenure and affordability, everywhere. 

Houses and those that deliver them have a big part to play in combatting the UK’s housing crisis. So, not so prosaic after. Whilst houses may not have the collateral appeal of a multifamily tower block and its amenity offer, they have other virtues. Principally sustainability and energy efficiency. They are dynamic in their own way and will be crucial in reducing Co2 emissions from homes.

At the UKSFA we believe this is a turning point in the delivery of rental homes in the UK. The housebuilding industry has enormous resources which are largely untapped by multifamily. But with SFR we think something momentous is happening.

The UKSFA is just at the beginning of its journey. Reach out to us at membership@uksfa.org if you want to help #GetStuffDone and together we can make a difference.