Michela Hancock

Michela Hancock, senior development director at Greystar

“So you rent? When will you buy a house?” I have been asked these questions countless times during my past four years living in London.

But for me, renting is a tenure of choice, which I actively sought out when moving here. Private landlords have received much criticism for not providing a high-quality product or delivering consistent customer service.

Thankfully, things are set to change with the intervention of the build-to-rent (BTR) sector. BTR has brought lots of new ideas, innovation and disruptors to rental housing, but I think we as a sector need to push ourselves further out of our comfort zone and be even more ambitious.

Much of the British public thinks renting is something you do in your 20s and possibly into your 30s - just a temporary stop gap before home ownership. And the BTR sector’s current product is very much shaped by the traditional idea that renting is only for the young - specifically the ‘young professional’.

Many developers are now focusing on and delivering to this specific demographic and it is having an impact on how we think about design, technology, services and amenities. In reality, the rental customer base is much wider than this narrow demographic, which opens up a massive opportunity for us to create genuinely balanced and mixed communities with a variety of ages, incomes, careers, backgrounds and interests.

More mature rental markets in other countries prove that professionally managed rental housing has broad intergenerational appeal. In these markets some baby boomers, much like their millennial offspring, are attracted by the idea of living in a community that is well connected to public transport and has the convenience of amenities, services and onsite management and maintenance teams. A significant percentage of this generation, possibly without any dependent children at home, want an active lifestyle in a vibrant mixed community free of concerns about maintenance and do not want to move into retirement homes.

Different strokes

Families are another important part of the housing market that can sometimes be overlooked by BTR developers. Most British families aspire to own their own homes - it has become part of the national culture. But we know from our experience in other markets that many families, for a variety of reasons, find the flexibility of renting highly attractive.

Generic family

Source: Shutterstock/wavebreakmedia

A concern about renting for many has been a perceived lack of tenure security - a particular worry when children need to remain in a specific catchment area during their school years. But there is a stable rental model with an international track record of providing high-quality communities for everyone from individuals and sharing singles through to retirees. Called multi-family, it is accepted by global institutional capital as an established asset class and it is a model that Greystar has been delivering successfully for more than 25 years.

Our approach to multi-family starts with a focus on the resident experience - how we can design a community around the way residents want to live their lives and how we can manage it most effectively. A range of apartment sizes are offered, typically from studios to three-bedroom family units, all with double bedrooms and sufficient bathrooms either for sharing or for family use.

We want people to feel they can live in the entire building, not just in their own apartments, so we integrate into the building design a range of resident amenity spaces that are readily accessed from any apartment. At the building’s ground level we usually include some retail or commercial space and, particularly in our larger developments, we provide a range of mixed uses in order to create an attractive place for the wider community.

Many families, for a variety of reasons, find the flexibility of renting highly attractive

Our Greenford development, for example - with almost 2,000 homes, the UK’s largest purpose-designed multi-family scheme to date - features office, retail and café/restaurant space alongside community infrastructure that includes a primary school and a health centre.

This is all looked after by onsite management teams that ensure the community works for everyone. In contrast to the conventional view of renting, our multi-family approach seeks to create long-term rental communities that are suitable for everyone, and where people can stay as long as they wish.

Future flexibility is built into the model for our residents, as they can change apartment sizes without transaction costs as their household needs change over time. As the affordable housing required under the planning consent is fully integrated within the buildings, residents are also able to change between tenure categories as their financial circumstances change over time, while remaining in the same community and even the same apartment if they wish.

It’s an exciting time to be involved in the UK’s multi-family BTR sector. Now that the simple binary attitude of renting for the young and home ownership for everyone else is changing, there are an increasing range of options that provide real benefits for residents, whatever their circumstances. Multi-family developments are at the leading edge of this new rental culture.