Why integrated smart technology is key to Build to Rent success

Young renters have high expectations and want homes that bristle with smart technologies. But what are the key technologies?

Smart technology and lighting - Lutron | BTR News

By Matt Jacks, Channel & Experience Centre Manager, Lutron

The rise of Build to Rent is one of the most exciting developments in the property market for decades, which is why everyone from landlords to banks are investing in building new houses.

Virtually unknown in the UK just a few years ago, the market for new-build rental properties has blossomed, with investment hitting £3.5bn last year.

This boom is not down to the pandemic but is, in part, driven by it: the changing working patterns enforced by Covid-19 and the realisation that they can work anywhere has created new expectations and desires among ‘generation rent’. Generation Z are happier to part with a larger percentage of their income for the right home than any previous.

However, it’s not simply a case of ‘build it and they will come’. When it comes to their homes, young renters have high expectations: they don’t just want four walls and a roof, but homes that bristle with smart technologies.

If investors want to ride the wave of Build to Rent, they must ensure new properties are up to scratch. That means delivering better shared experiences, deeper relationship with the space, and increase convenience. It also requires developers to be smart and invest in systems that drive efficiency and profits, while lowering installation and maintenance costs.

More than a building 

For the younger generation, smart technology in the home isn’t a nice-to-have –  it’s absolutely essential. Not only will they pay more for a property with smart devices; they’ll also happily sacrifice other amenities in favour of technology.

The numbers say it all: research from the US shows that 86% of renters are happy to pay extra for a space that’s outfitted with smart devices or home automation systems; over half would pay up to $100 more a month to live in an energy efficient building, and 44% would give up a parking space to live in a flat fitted with smart technology. In the UK, meanwhile, a survey found that renters would pay £1,178 more a year for a high-tech home. 

Clearly, making new homes smart is one of the wisest and clearest decisions that Build to Rent landlords can make. But what are the key technologies that renters really want? The problem with kitting out a home with the latest gadgets is that technology moves so quickly, that what’s cutting edge today is quickly redundant. Rather than thinking in terms of tech, it’s far better to consider what’s most important to young people, not just in terms of their living spaces but their values.

Seeing the light

Lighting provides a perfect illustration of how housebuilders can meet renters’ expectations. For the home of the future, flexibility is key. With many more people now working from home, it must be easy to create the perfect light for working and living. Wireless sensors and controls enable occupants to modify their desk space easily or change the lighting in a room to optimise their environment for their current task.

Interoperability is also key. People of every generation have embraced the smart home revolution, including digital home assistants which operate via voice command. Unfortunately, most of the main voice assistant brands have siloed their technologies, which can cause problems with integration. Home builders should therefore consider how technologies like smart lighting systems can integrate with tools from the major vendors.

Interoperability goes beyond smart assistants. When smart lighting combines data from additional sources (including current weather conditions, ambient light and time of year), they can unlock even greater benefits to building operations and create the perfect light. However, good lighting isn’t just about setting the right mood. In the workplace, it’s well-known that lighting has a greater impact on employees than any other building technology, helping productivity and overall wellbeing. That’s yet another key consideration for this health-conscious cohort.

And what about the wider world? Younger people are acutely aware of their impact on the planet. Energy efficient lighting installations can easily realise savings of more than 50% over legacy technology, a figure that grows when you add in other sensor and communication systems. Adding presence detectors, daylight linking, time-clock events, and personalised controls, and the impact can be upwards of an extra 60% on top of the energy savings already provided by LED lighting.

A pure value adder

Smart homes don’t just benefit the people living in them. Landlords face tight margins on new build homes and need to maximise their return on investment. Not only are renters willing to pay a premium on smart homes, but the right smart technology drives profits for investors.

Wireless lighting control delivers saving to developers, operators and ultimately investors, through simplicity of installation, and visibility of systems to reduce maintenance and boost reliability – especially when integrated as part of a holistic building management system. It improves experiences, but drives future flexibility, ensuring systems don’t need to be ripped out, while saving energy and extending equipment lifetime through dimming, auto-off and other features. Smart technology is simply no longer luxury, its necessary – it creates a better quality of life, while improving yields.

Build to Rent could address our chronic housing shortage, but only if the homes are desirable and future ready. That means making them smart. Once developers and investors have this ‘lightbulb’ moment, they can create properties that someone from any generation would be proud to call home.