Like all real estate types, the beds-for-rent sector has seen accelerated change in the past two years. Whether it is PBSA, BTR or co-living, the focus has shifted to more adaptable and functional space, underpinned by technology, customer-focused service and genuine differentiation.

Heiko Figge

Heiko Figge

The blurring of work and home life is a major driver of change. A recent poll found that up to 71% of people preferred home working and 58% felt more productive doing so. However, effective remote working requires bespoke, private and communal workspaces and residential schemes have not historically provided these.

They do now. Purpose-built, in-apartment workspaces and extensive communal co-working spaces are increasingly common, supported by superfast wifi, practical work surfaces, comfortable seating, natural light and savvy tech.

Until recently, shared facilities – gyms, cinema rooms and social areas – differentiated the best schemes, but now it is the quality of shared meeting facilities, rentable private offices and individual work areas.

As we design future homes to be more adaptable and accommodate more uses, smarter in-apartment and off-property storage solutions are needed. Some building managers are now promoting preferred rates with local self-storage providers and creating communal storage spaces in buildings’ back-of-house areas to maximise available storage space.

Today’s renter expects to have user friendly and intuitive tenant app that can monitor the energy performance of their apartments and connect them with their property managers 24/7. Asset managers are starting to rely on ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) tech to provide real-time data on indoor air quality, occupancy levels, building energy usage and more.

We should also recognise the extraordinary rise in the number of tenants seeking pet-friendly homes since the start of the pandemic. This requires the use of much harder-wearing materials to furnish homes and the provision of pet-suitable recreation facilities in external areas.

Attitudes to inner-city locations are also changing. Tenants’ appetite for less congestion and more green space and natural light is making secondary and tertiary urban locations more desirable. As the government commits to improving infrastructure outside primary locations, city fringes and rural locations will look more attractive.

The sector is investing heavily in smart building technology to improve residents’ and managers’ experience. Physical keys will soon be obsolete. The IoT also ensures improved efficiency. Building managers are using smart tech to monitor the health of appliances in apartments, increasing the speed with which they can make repairs.

The most in-demand schemes now offer 24/7 on-site property management teams. The customer is central to the design of residential schemes and round-the-clock, on- site support is critical. Outstanding customer service experience will continue to be a material differentiator between a very good and average rental scheme.

Of course, some predicted trends have yet to fully materialise. The concept of brand identity and awareness is perhaps one example of this. As more entrants move in, the market gets more fragmented, preventing the emergence of dominant brands to which residents turn when seeking a new property.

Most renters prefer an environmentally friendly product, and while ‘green’ rent premiums have yet to materialise, they are around the corner and hopefully schemes’ environmental credentials will soon be publicly available.

The sector’s direction of travel hasn’t changed dramatically, but the pandemic forced a rethink of how space is curated and which services are prioritised. The best schemes are unique and highly functional, and combine state-of-the-art technology, a personal touch and demonstrably strong sustainability credentials.

Heiko Figge is head of operational asset management at Moorfield