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Never knowingly underbuilt - should other retailers join the BTR revolution?

With Boots recently joining John Lewis and Lloyds Bank in dipping its toes into the property market, this opinion piece from Ged McPartlin, managing director of Build to Rent specialists Ascend Properties, asks whether others should be following suit.

News reached us recently that British retail institution John Lewis is expanding its range of wares from haberdashery, electrical goods and Waitrose goodies to houses. Yes, you will soon be able to pick out a place to live from their stores and not just with regard to the things you put in it.

This is a sensible initiative for a 157-year-old company that realises that times are changing and that department stores may not be the destination of choice for new generations any longer, given the indefatigable rise of Amazon, etc.


Faced with such challenges firms can either ‘do a Woolworths’ and just die in the face of adversity or they can pivot. John Lewis and their employee partners have chosen the latter with the announcement that they will be building 10,000 homes on company land over the next ten years.

Interestingly, these are not planned to be built as resales. John Lewis is not looking to compete with the likes of Bovis, Persimmon nor Redrow. No, these properties are for the long haul as Build to Rent homes that will provide rental income to the company Infinitum. Additional, solid revenue that will contribute quite significantly to their P&L and will be backed by the asset value of the buildings themselves for balance sheet strength. You have to applaud the boldness of this scheme and its product market fit from existing resources yet also its pure simplicity.

Which got me to thinking, what if other British based firms were to innovate in this way too? How many dwellings could be created for the country’s growing number of enthusiastic renters and how lucrative would this be for struggling firms that are perhaps now ‘land asset rich’ yet ‘bottom line poor’?

Some of the UK’s biggest landowners are, unsurprisingly, housebuilders given that they jointly own or control some 700,000 potential building plots. But other super-sized players inadvertently include such examples as Tesco, who apparently own over 11,000 acres around their existing stores or assets that have been purchased with the intention of building new ones.

The fag packet that I have just reached for to work out how many homes that represents shows that over 220,000 homes could be provided from Tesco’s space, based upon an average of 45 dwellings per hectare as is about the average. That’s quite some solution and brings new meaning to the strapline ‘Every Little Helps’. And it’s also quite some income at a typical monthly rent of £900+ per month – equating to perhaps £2 billion a year in top-line revenue.

I’ll leave you with this inexhaustive list of UK landowners with which to boggle your mind over what I suggest the future of Build to Rent could be. Note that the housebuilder I have included is one of the smallest holders of all, comparatively. 

Isn’t it amazing how solutions are sometimes just sitting there just waiting to be implemented?


Land Acreage Owned in England

Ministry of Defence


United Utilities


Duke of Westminster


Duchy of Cornwall


Network Rail


Church of England


Severn Trent


Sir James Dyson


Homes England


Taylor Wimpey




Source: ABCFinance.co.uk

Poll: Will other retailers now be following Boots and John Lewis in building BTR homes?



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