Build-to-Rent: Shining Stars in a Glowing Firmament

 

 

As I look back on 2017 I think we in the BTR sector can be satisfied with a job well done. That’s not to say we can be complacent, because we can’t, but the platform is there to fully develop this new asset class into something that is a game changer; not only for the PRS, but for real-estate as a whole.

 

Whilst there are still some question marks over some schemes coming forward, no such concern can be had over Moda Living. Brilliantly inventive with place-making schemes coming forward in Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and Edinburgh, their clever tie up with Uber (irrespective of recent ills) and the launch of their new website, marks them out as one’s to watch for the future. Get Living, perhaps dropping the ‘London’ in light of their acquisition in Leeds, continues to impress at East Village and at Elephant Central.  Trailblazers Essential Living seem to have overcome their recent boardroom hiccup and Fizzy Living continue to show how BTR can be affordable in London.  There really are too many innovators to mention: Realstar’s Uncle brand, Be:Living, _Platform, M&G Atlas and L&G are all great advertisements for a living experience we hope to become the norm in the UK.  Clearly, Quintain’s Tipi has huge confidence in Wembley. With Emerald Gardens delivered and up and running, their new scheme ‘Alto’ now letting up, they plan 5,000 new PRS homes around the national stadium over the coming years. That’s real ambition. Talking of ambition, developing nearly 2,000 BTR units in Greenford is a huge undertaking and I’m looking forward to Greystar delivering this West London scheme.

 

But if I had to pick one group that’s really embracing the BTR ethos it would be Moda. Daring, brave and they think big; Appropriate perhaps that as I write this, their ambitious plans for Birmingham got the green light from city planners.

 

Architects too are playing their part. Notably, in my view, Assael, whose Russell Pedley was researching BTR way before it became a ‘thing’ and has led them to work with Essential Living, L&G and Grainger on BTR schemes. Geraghty Taylor continue to champion ‘brand BTR’ and created a clever ‘how to’ info-graphic guide which can be downloaded here.   GRID, Flanagan Lawrence, Glenn Howells, et al have all been hard at work in the sector and are producing some incredible schemes.

 

Whilst the architecture and the thought that goes into designing a BTR scheme is important, it’s perhaps the management and concomitant consultancy that is going to make the biggest difference to renters on a day-to-day basis. The architecture is the hardware, but on its own does nothing to create that step change in the living experience the BTR sector believes the resident deserves. Management is the OS; the ‘how it looks’ the ‘how it works’ the ‘usability’ the curation of the living experience backed by solid asset management underpinnings. We are all curating our own vision of how BTR should look and feel and none are better at this than Graham Bates of LIV. The consummate articulator of the living experience. Graham’s vision has helped project the BTR profile forward and has positioned LIV as one of the ‘go to’ consultancy and management organisations for anyone wanting to enter the sector.  Similarly, Michael Howard of Urban Bubble. A North West guru; what Michael doesn’t know about Manchester and Liverpool isn’t worth knowing. These two have been the face of BTR management over the past few years.  But, in 2017, they were joined by PRSim. LSL plc’s entry into the BTR consultancy and management sector. PRSim is driven by three brilliant, but very different individuals: Jo Green, David Bond and Katherine Rose. Together, they make a formidable team and with LSL plc resources behind them and a rather clever tie up with GVA, I expect them to start to shake up the BTR management sector.  I was hoping we’d see some of the traditional management companies break through and start to deliver the new paradigms, but at the moment, that hasn’t happened.  At least Scotland has Rettie and Co, whose profile, led by Hazel Sharp-Webb, has risen strongly this year and are set to be a force in Scottish BTR consultancy and operational management, and perhaps more widely…

 

PropTech has been on everyone’s lips in 2017 and there are a few companies that are breaking into BTR. Canopy have not only taken the ‘deposit free’ market by storm, they’ve also introduced the ‘rent passport’ which renters can not only use to demonstrate their credentials, but also to begin to build a renting credit history that mortgage companies will take into account when our BTR residents finally opt to buy.   Jonathan Stein of Vaboo is starting to gain sector traction with his resident engagement platform. Having proven its value in the BTL and Local Authority sectors, I expect Vaboo to grow strongly in the coming year. Similarly, watch out for NoAgent. A seriously committed and talented team. They have a few things up their sleeve.   But we haven’t seen major PropTech disruption yet.  However, I have seen a few things that are extremely interesting.  But that’s for next year.  I’m rather hoping we see more of Antony Slumbers and James Dearsley in BTR. Each with a Stygian eye for PropTech.

 

Significant events form milestones for a sector and Sigma Capital’s formation of A PRS REIT is one such milestone. Somewhat different to the ‘urban’ developer, Sigma tends to concentrate on low built, traditional housing stock. Mainly in the North West, but not exclusively. They are masters of the JV. 

I was hoping, along with others, that the Housing White Paper was going to be another of those seminal moments, but all things considered, it’s turned out to be a bit of a damp squib.  Yes commitment to BTR was there and the sector acknowledged as being a significant force in bringing forward much-needed homes, but the ridiculous SDLT 3% surcharge persists and planning guidance is flimsy at best.  Grasping the nettle, is not something a Government paralysed by Brexit is able to do it seems, and, as each day passes, the Gordian Knot of issues pulls even tighter. In the meantime, we await our Alexander. Not represented, I feel, by David Davis.

 

But BTR does have its shining stars. And, in no particular order, Andrew Bulmer of the IRPM, David Jennings of Movers and Shakers, Michael Allen of Tipi, Michela Hancock of Greystar, Lesley Roberts of Allsop, Tracey Hartley of Howard de Walden and lost to us. For now.  Dominic Martin of Atlas, Félicie Krikler of Assael, Michal Green of the UKAA, Iain Murray of LIV, Neil Young of Get Living, and of course, the irrepressible, aforementioned Graham Bates of LIV and Michael Howard of Urban Bubble. There are many more and I’m sure I’ve left out some real movers and shakers. Apologies for that…

 

But….

 

Principle among them however is Alexandra Notay who has done more than anyone to encourage, cajole, promote and drive BTR forward over the last year. She is abnormally energetic, passionate, unfailingly kind and attentive. Places for People are very lucky to have her and she is my BTR Super Nova of the year.

 

Merry Christmas and a very happy and Prosperous New Year.

 

Richard Berridge

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