January 7 2021 marked the launch of a new national committee, supported by The UK Apartment Association (UKAA), looking to improve the image of the Build to Rent (BTR) sector among residents, policymakers and investors.
One of its initiatives is to look at whether the BTR name resonates with the general public and if not, whether it needs to change. I don’t believe it does.
With a mammoth £1.84 billion said to be invested into the sector, according to the British Property Federation (BPF), underpinned by a demand for BTR homes across the UK, it’s hard to understand why a sector performing so well – even under such difficult and unprecedented conditions – needs to change its name. Especially as it continues to attract more investment and new investors.
The purpose of the BTR name has never been to resonate with renters and has never been on renters’ list of priorities when choosing their next home. People in the market for a new home will usually see themselves as either renters or buyers and above that, they don’t consider anything further than finding the best home for them and their needs.
It’s renters’ priorities that the BTR market has to focus on to continue to grow.
A shift in demand
It cannot be ignored just how much the property landscape has changed in the last year. The continued restrictions in place from the government, in response to Covid-19, has left a lasting impact on where consumers want to live.
Emphasis has been placed on the significance of ‘living well’, and with much of the UK population marking almost a year of working from home on their calendars, many renters have suddenly realised the size and location of their homes no longer meets their requirements.
Demand for housing in cities and town centres has dramatically shrunk in favour of suburban living as the pull of the office and daily commute becomes less of a factor. In fact, the number of people moving out of London at the close of 2020 had reached a four-year high and average rents across the board – in some of the UK’s biggest cities – dropped rapidly, reflecting a poor demand in expensive city and town centre-based accommodation.
Particularly now, it’s important to recognise the effect a home, and its location, can have on renters’ well-being, especially over a prolonged period of time. The pandemic has proven to be a catalyst for this realisation and has allowed renters the opportunity to choose freely where they want to live, for the benefit of their own and their family’s health and lifestyle.
Quality homes will always attract a tenant
With this shift in demand, the property market and its professionals still need to supply the right product, in the right place, at the right price.
Although the BTR sector is still relatively new, the well-managed homes and communities that have been brought to UK towns and cities thanks to it, have helped to enhance the overall standard of rental housing in the UK and often BTR properties prove to be a popular choice among renters.
It’s the quality renters care about. So much so, that during the first lockdown all our properties in the first phase and second phase of our Old Brewery development in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, were reserved online in just a couple of months.
The shift towards remote working has given renters the freedom to choose; to put well-being and quality of living ahead of commuting distance and in favour of space. It is my opinion that this ‘new-found freedom’ has helped to uphold the popularity of BTR during the pandemic and has reminded property professionals of the old adage – a property will always ‘market’ itself, and a quality home that meets current demand will attract a tenant.
The urge to relocate was a defining trend throughout 2020, and with much uncertainty around the future of the office and retail lingering, I think this trend will continue well into 2021.
Despite being just seven years old in the UK, confidence in the BTR sector continues to grow with support from investors and local governments increasing. Looking at our own portfolio, Wise Living has the backing of a £33million investment from ICG Longbow and a £100million investment from Triple Point.
As an industry, we must continue to attract investment for BTR developments, so I am delighted to see that the committee also intends to work on ‘normalising’ data sharing with regards to annual BTR funding, investment into regeneration, job creation and housing supply, as well as best practice with regards to sustainability and promoting a green agenda.
This level of transparency will undoubtedly have a positive impact on encouraging policymakers to get involved and companies to invest in the sector.
It’s clear that the sector’s popularity is down to the creation of good-quality homes being built and managed, and this has become a must-have for all renters – a factor I believe that will remain high on their lists as we go through 2021, and I don’t believe a change in name will have a big impact on the market. It’s all about quality.
*Paul Staley is a director at BTR brand Wise Living, which aims to provide high-quality, purpose-built family housing for the private rental market