We discuss this, and much more, with Rajesh Shah – the former managing director of Tipi and now executive commercial director of Quintain Limited.
You've spoken lots about the impact of Covid on BTR - will it increase interest in the sector or achieve the opposite?
I think residents want to rely on their landlord in a way that the market hasn’t seen before. Home is now a safe haven, somewhere people work as well as live and this flexible/remote working will almost certainly continue post-pandemic.
Build to Rent gives residents the option to work inside their homes or in a multitude of other locations within the building, all flooded with high-speed WiFi. We have seen increased interest from our current and prospective residents to increase the size of their apartments to facilitate home working in a comfortable environment.
Throughout the pandemic, our residents have experienced first-hand how Build to Rent landlords prioritise their welfare. For example, we have been supporting self-isolating residents with food deliveries, providing enhanced parcel solutions to cope with a near doubling of volume, increasing cleaning regimes, providing better environments to work at home and modifying our resident events programme to bring a range of health, wellbeing, F&B and leisure experiences in the comfort of their home.
We have also been working to combat loneliness by providing opportunities and channels through which residents can interact with our on-site teams (available 24/7) and running a range of online events for all interests. Throughout the pandemic, we have also modified how we respond to maintenance requests to ensure these are dealt with efficiently whilst maintaining social distancing measures.
We relaxed our lease terms for furloughed residents and are proud of the support we gave our residents. As Homeviews have said, Build to Rent resident satisfaction increased during the pandemic.
Will BTR buildings now and in the future need to be built with future pandemics in mind? For example, more green space, gardens and social distancing-friendly amenities?
The post-pandemic narrative seems to be that a flexible work-life balance is on offer even from companies big and small. We prepared for this balance years ago but have found that our buildings and amenity provision are perfectly attuned to working from home and thriving in the place where you live. We have built-in green space, outside space, amenity provision all within an estate where the 15-minute neighbourhood is at the heart of our masterplan.
In terms of our homes, we have balconies on all our apartments which have been highly appreciated as private outdoor spaces during the strict lockdown periods. Our local retail and F&B operators at Wembley Park have worked closely with us to support our residents during the pandemic through participation in events such as online cooking demonstrations and through the support of our residents serving on the front line such as NHS staff.
Internally, we have modified layouts and the furniture available in all our amenity spaces to provide comfortable environments to work from home in a safe and socially distanced manner. We are also adding gyms to all our buildings due to resident feedback.
Could BTR buildings be built with tech and innovations that make the spread of infection much less likely?
Hands, space, face has been the mantra and clean buildings, access to fresh air and outside space lowers the risk of infection. Public behaviours have been altered for the better in the understanding of infection risk and importance of washing our hands.
Any new ways that we operate our buildings to reduce the spread of any infection in the future, will be taken from what we have learned but they continue to be routinely cleaned as they always were.
Looking ahead, there are many ways in which technology and innovation could be used to benefit the health of our residents and indeed, the team. Improving air circulation around the buildings to bring in higher levels of fresh air, both in apartments and in common areas such as corridors and lift lobbies.
Door entry systems to minimise ‘touch’, for example, the use of key fobs and similar contactless devices to provide access to buildings, lifts and amenities. Increased use of antimicrobial materials (e.g., copper and its alloys) in high touch areas.
Sensors and people-counting tech to understand high-frequency zones in buildings can help prioritise cleaning regimes. Tech-driven parcel solutions that minimise parcel handling, temperature sensors and app-linked services direct to an apartment for residents who need to self-isolate e.g. food deliveries, shopping, parcels, etc.
Wembley saw a big buzz because of the football, but for many months of the last year or so the area has been empty, with shops, Boxpark, Wembley arena, the Stadium and the Outlet centre closed up - what impact did Covid have and how is the area now bouncing back?
The pandemic embedded a sense of community at Wembley Park that wouldn’t have been possible five years ago when Quintain Living was in its infancy. During the pandemic, our restaurants and local market offered home delivery and the larger venues and car parks were made available to the local council and Greater London Authority for a range of uses.
Managing an estate together with our local borough council has afforded us the privilege of expanding outside seating for restaurants and managing the working/opening hours of our construction sites and retail units.
The buzz at Wembley Park is palpable, the sunshine, England’s success reaching the final and the lifting of restrictions has benefited us all.
How much more building and development will QL be doing in Wembley Park? Surely there is only so much space before the area becomes too crammed and built-up?
Our masterplan was approved by the local council and won’t materially change. We have planning permission for 8,500 homes at Wembley Park, one third of which will be affordable and over 6,000 will be under Quintain Living’s management. Of the 85 acres at Wembley Park, half will be public realm and residents’ gardens.
What happens when the building stops in Wembley? Will Quintain Living be looking to other destinations to start another BTR revolution there?
Quintain Living will be managing 6,044 homes at Wembley Park but the scheme and business model we have built is scalable well beyond this.
We are utilising our team’s, design expertise and operational knowledge from Wembley Park at our sites in Ireland. Our operational expertise gained on over 5.5 years of BTR management at Wembley can be easily translated to other sites. This includes custom built Salesforce CRM software, a senior team with a blend of UK/US market knowledge, established standard operational processes, leasing, marketing and more.
How big will BTR become? We've just seen John Lewis announce plans for 10,000 new homes with development partners, for example. Will it ever outstrip traditional buy-to-let?
Research continues to point to confident growth in the sector. Ascend forecasts that a further 73,535 build to rent completions should reach the market by the start of 2025 and Savills has suggested that more than £1.2 billion was invested into UK Build to Rent during Q1 2021, representing its highest first quarter on record.
As more and more people are starting to look for greater value from their home and landlord than just bricks and mortar, there's nothing to suggest that the Build to Rent sector is going to struggle to find a market to match its ambition.
One of the major criticisms of BTR is its lack of affordability and its exclusivity - seen as being aimed at wealthy millennials and young professionals only - are such criticisms fair?
It’s easy to compare headline rents without taking into consideration the additional, often monetary, value that BTR schemes offer when compared to traditional PRS. Rental payments at Quintain Living, for instance, already include crucial things like on-site gyms and broadband, plus the ever-popular work from home spaces and events programmes, not to mention the 24/7 concierge and security.
It’s clear when we speak to residents that these added features are adding huge value – over and above the monetary cost of sourcing the services elsewhere.
We believe that Build to Rent should be an attractive option for all. We have residents of all ages from new-born babies through to those enjoying their retirement, students, young and mature professionals, and families.
With such a range of apartments, from studios to four-bed homes, now across nine distinct buildings with different amenity spaces, we are able to offer something for everyone. We also offer discount market rents on our homes and a third of what we are building at Wembley Park is classed as affordable. For example, at our flagship building, Canada Gardens, over 300 of its homes are available at 80% of market rent.