What makes a great BTR site? Expert view from Watkin Jones

Identifying the best Build to Rent locations can be a growing challenge for developers and investors. Watkin Jones provide an expert view on what makes a great scheme.

Hove Gardens Build to Rent scheme on a one acre site in Hove - Watkin Jones | BTR News
Hove Gardens Build to Rent scheme.

By Watkin Jones

What makes a great Build to Rent site? As the Build to Rent market booms and there is ever greater institutional investment looking for a home, identifying the best locations is a growing challenge for developers and investors. Watkin Jones’ Investment team has an unrivalled reputation, having recently bought forward ground-breaking schemes in cities across the UK – including London, Belfast, Glasgow, Birmingham, Reading, Leicester, Bournemouth and Brighton and Hove, where the company recently sold a large scheme to L&G. It also received planning permission for a large Build to Rent development in Bath.

Here, Watkin Jones’ Investment Directors Niall Malone and Jonathan Lacey give their expert insight into what they are looking for from a site – and how they anticipate resident desires in this emerging market.

Niall Malone:

Where do you start when looking for a great Build to Rent site?

Build to rent is typically a high-density product, so Watkin Jones tends to target sustainable urban locations with large populations and strong local economies. Our success is built on creating long term value for our institutional partners and the local community, so in addition to targeting established town centres we look at places in need of renewal where we can be part of the regeneration story.

What’s your thought process when you have a site in front of you?

Niall Malone, Investment Director, Watkin Jones | BTR News

I keep future residents’ needs in mind at every stage of the acquisition process. When I’m looking at a site, I imagine what their life will be like, which local bars and restaurants they will go to, what their commute will be, and how they’ll access urban centres and workplaces, as well as nature and open spaces that are important for wellbeing.

Is there anything else you have to bear in mind?

Scale is another important factor. Larger schemes tend to be more operationally efficient, more environmentally sustainable, and able to offer a greater range of amenity spaces, so we prefer to invest in sites capable of accommodating at least 150 homes alongside a generous provision of both internal and external amenity.

Jonathan Lacey:

Where do you start when looking for a great Build to Rent site?

Our team is really good at anticipating where an active demand pool of people looking for these homes will be, which is an essential edge when looking at land options in a fast-moving market. Drivers I’ll look for could be significant local employment opportunities or access to commuter transport links, even with agile working convenience for the office will be a factor for our core market of younger workers. We also need site visibility, sustainability, and easy connectivity to local amenities such as shops, bars and restaurants.

Jonathan Lacey, Investment Director, Watkin Jones | BTR News
Jonathan Lacey, Investment Director, Watkin Jones.

What’s your thought process when you are looking at a place?

Successful Build to Rent schemes are built around providing a sense of place and community to residents, both within the building and the wider area. I’m always considering both how the end building will be managed and operated, as well as what the location can offer residents and wider local communities.

Is there anything else you have to bear in mind?

If we’re able to tick these boxes for future residents, we know our institutional partners will be there to work with us. The lifestyle we offer to residents is key to the long-term success of the building, and this starts with being in the right location.