Developers, operators and third-parties have had to adapt quickly to the challenges of Covid-19, but a revolution in home-working and more diligent homehunters means BTR is here to stay.

The pandemic has proven, without doubt, the business case for Build-to-Rent (BTR), a panel of experts told Property Week in the latest RESIcast. The RESIcast series gives you a taste of the topics and issues up for debate during the RESI Convention 2020.

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Todd Marler

Todd Marler, Senior Director of Operations at Greystar

Todd Marler, Senior Director of Operations at Greystar, said an explosion in the number of people working from home has “heightened” the need for high-quality living space.

Rebecca Francis

Rebecca Francis, Associate Director at Osborne Clarke

“We know that the people who are renting our properties are renting not just the apartment they live in, but they also rent the quality of the square footage that’s available to them,” said Marler.

Matt Kyle

Matt Kyle, Associate Director at Osborne Clarke

“The square footage that surrounds you becomes so much more important than it ever has been before because you are spending a lot of time there. It just shows the importance of providing quality housing for people that lets them do the things they need to do - the multiple tasks of their daily lives - but in ways that are really enjoyable.”

Amenities, such as communal spaces and co-working areas, have also proved critical for many residents and demand for schemes offering such spaces has increased. At Greystar’s Greenford Quay development in Ealing, its amenity offerings are already generating significant interest from consumers — despite the pandemic.

Services, too, such as concierge have also come into their own throughout the pandemic, Marler argues, with some self-isolating residents at Greystar schemes having relied on staff to provide them with groceries and other basic necessities.

Despite the obvious logistical challenges posed by social distancing measures and lockdown restrictions, Greystar was quick off the mark in ensuring that shared spaces could be accessed safely and fairly by residents.

Marler said: “One of the things we realised quickly was it’s not just about what we’re doing as an operator but also about how we are partnering with our residents to ensure the entire community is being safe.

“Not only are we doing more cleaning, but we are also providing the tools to help residents keep their environments clean — communicating how to book spaces and how to clean the spaces.”

Communication is key, said Marler, in generating a genuine sense of community and helping residents “feel part of the action plan”.

Being communicative, flexible and understanding with tenants also helps mitigate against complaints and compensation demands from tenants, according to law firm Osborne Clarke’s Rebecca Francis.

Rent signs

Source: Shutterstock/ Paul Maguire

She said: “I think the difficulty comes when you’re in a sort of quasi-environment when an operator may decide that certain amenity spaces are just too difficult to keep Covid-secure.

“Whether that would be objectively [perceived] or not might be the question, and even though your tenancy might be reasonably robust to prevent people saying ‘I shouldn’t be paying as much rent’, your risk then is more on a consumer law level, rather than pure landlord-and-tenant.

“But I think that is again, coming full-circle, going to be about communication, everyone feeling like they are working together in this fight to defeat [coronavirus].”

But while Covid-19 has turbocharged the adoption of virtual viewings and other technologies, Matt Kyle, Associate Director at Osborne Clarke, cautioned that more scrutiny will be placed on new tech as it emerges.

“The bar has raised slightly in terms of both resident expectations but also in terms of what’s perhaps reasonably practical for you to do with these technologies,” Kyle added.

“To avoid that exposure is going to be quite critical.”

The pandemic looks set to bolster, if not accelerate, some of the findings of Osborne Clarke’s thought leadership piece ”Transforming the way we live - A roadmap for taking Alternative Residential mainstream”, which was published earlier this year and is based on interviews of real estate industry experts.

You can listen to this podcast via Apple Podcasts or Spotify or SoundCloud or listen to it through the player above. 

This podcast was produced by Blackstock Consulting founder Andrew Teacher and you can Tweet your views at @BlackstockPR

If you enjoyed this RESIcast and want to hear more insights from industry influencers, book your place at the RESI Convention 2020 online event taking place 10-11 November.

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