With a huge proportion of the population now working from home, the property sector has remained reasonably buoyant. But will dreams of a garden and home office translate into a mass move to the suburbs? And what has happened to the communal space in urban build-to-rent (BTR) schemes?

Jess McSweeney

Jess McSweeney

Our research shows that Brighton, Canterbury, Eastbourne, Reigate & Banstead and Watford are the top places to watch in the South East for BTR. This is largely down to high rental yields, elevated house prices, population age, employment levels and connections for commuters.

BTR for houses with private gardens are still less common but The Green in Horsham is an example of a BTR scheme where this is an option. Whether the suburban arm of BTR takes off for urban dwellers as the pandemic subsides will depend on how quickly and to what extent people’s ‘normal’ lives return, but it will also be influenced by how the market reacts when the stamp duty holiday ends on 31 March.

Moving to the suburbs is not everyone’s dream and urban BTR developers and operators have adapted. While the communal facilities associated with BTR blocks may initially appear redundant in a time of social distancing, Apo (the BTR arm of EcoWorld) has found that the sense of community embedded in the BTR sector has helped residents who may otherwise have felt isolated or lonely.

London suburb

Source: Shutterstock/ Alexey Fedorenko

During the first lockdown, Apo’s scheme in Hayes offered a socially distanced exercise class, which residents could participate in from their doorstep. Around 80 residents took part every week, demonstrating that those living and working in the BTR sector are still striving to create and be part of a community.

In fact, we are finding that features typically associated with BTR schemes are now also being used by build-to-sell providers, with shared communal facilities adding value to their developments.

As BTR seeks to address changing lifestyles at the macro and individual levels, it is no surprise that it is the sector able to adjust to the pandemic. Going forward, the key to success will be in remaining flexible – be it location or facilities.

Jess McSweeney is a partner at Carter Jonas