A recent perception audit commissioned by the British Property Federation (BPF), the first of its kind across the UK property industry, provided a hard-hitting reality about how our industry is regarded.

Helen Gordon

The headline findings indicate that there is little recognition of property’s wider contribution including the social value that we add as an industry.

Whilst disappointing, the survey also shows that there are many respondents who are neither favourable nor unfavourable towards the property industry. These findings provide a huge opportunity to both educate and improve the understanding of the contribution the property industry makes to society, something that the BPF presidential team will focus on over the next three years. The challenge is two-fold: we need to find engaging ways to better demonstrate what we are already doing as an industry, while doing more and doing it better.

The real estate industry should be at the heart of building our country’s future, with great workplaces, homes, retail and leisure facilities and environments that support happier, healthier and safer communities.

On the back of the audit, the BPF has identified four key areas of focus that will help to redefine how real estate is perceived: contributing to a productive economy, nurturing and developing a diverse workforce, reinvigorating and strengthening our communities and safeguarding our environment.

This is naturally aligned with the aspirations of the build-to-rent (BTR) sector, where building communities through the delivery and provision of high-quality, accessible, safe and secure housing lies at the heart of what we do.

Supporting productivity in a country that may find itself isolated and contributing to local communities to improve trust between business and communities and business and the government must be at the heart of what we do. I’ve written previously about how BTR can support productivity and labour mobility by increasing the supply of quality, accessibly priced housing in cities to help them both retain and attract talent.

Rent signs

Source: Shutterstock/Paul Maguire

On nurturing and developing a diverse workforce, all developers and operators need to better align their workforce with their customer base, something Grainger is certainly pushing for. As we enter new locations, we bring employment opportunities for locals, not just through construction but through onsite management and concierge roles, as well as via commercial units on site.

At Grainger, by investing for the long term in the delivery of thousands of new high-quality rental homes aimed at the mid-market, we are helping to ease the severe housing shortage in the UK, which makes our core purpose socially compelling. We believe that by delivering on our business plans we will make a significant, lasting positive contribution to UK society and the UK economy.

BTR addresses one of the key social concerns with renting – the opportunity to build relationships with neighbours and establish a sense of community. Building design and amenity provision encourages the creation of communities within our buildings, and during operation onsite management teams support residents in getting involved in local community and charitable activities. Our residents also make a significant contribution to the local economy. For example, analysis of a typical Grainger development found residents would generate an additional spend of £13m per year with local businesses.

Finally, safeguarding our environment is integral to the BTR model. Assets built specifically to rent are designed to operate as rental assets efficiently for the long term, with operational energy efficiency and long-term cost and environmental impact analysis key considerations.

As seeing is believing, the more the BTR sector evolves in the UK with more developments launching, the better people will understand the model and the benefits it brings. Until then, we need to try and find ways to accelerate the understanding of the BTR sector and the positive impact it can have to support the perception of the whole property industry.

Helen Gordon is president of the BPF and chief executive of Grainger