With over £3.5bn invested in 2020 alone, the UK Build to Rent (BtR) market has proven that a high-quality designed scheme can support premium rents above locally embedded values. Of course, that depends on various factors such as location specific dynamics such as underlying demographic, affordability constraints and supply/demand factors. As well as scheme specific factors such as level of amenity, quality of finish, placemaking etc.

But as the number of stabilised BtR assets grow, the impact of a well-designed scheme continues to play a crucial role in its long-term success and as such there is increased demand from BtR tenants for high quality, well-designed homes. There has also been a shift in tenant lifestyle choices and preferences as the pandemic has forced people to spend more time at home, with many more opting for quality design that is also flexible.

Some key design considerations for 2021 are:

  • Flexibility in design – both in terms of individual units (e.g., scope to utilise a second bedroom as a home office for example) and wider scheme considerations – amenity space with flexibility built in – extra workspace for professional sharers, co working space, which can function as social/dining space too for example. The pandemic has also given rise to far more consumer focus on outside space and how the design of a building incorporates useable outdoor space with the use of greenery and a focus on wellness and environment. The ability to adapt to changing consumer patterns is key.

  • A strong sense of community/placemaking - incorporating the concept of “wellness” – considering both physical and mental health. Providing a strong social support network and community spirit in spaces which are designed to be both striking in design terms but welcoming and homely too. The creation of a strong sense of local community has been highlighted as even more important during the pandemic.

  • A focus on smart tech- not only to keep up with tenant demands for convenience and user-friendly systems but also with a mind to covid safety (e.g., use of keyless entry systems) and operational efficiencies.

  • Sustainability – serving both to future proof a scheme but also meet consumer lifestyle choices. Strong eco credentials within a building are needed to prioritise the long-term sustainability of the building but are also increasingly becoming a consumer choice when weighing up which building to choose to live in.

  • In the single family housing market, we could see a rise in Modular homes - in comparison to traditional build homes, which can take up to 2 years from the ground up, Modular homes can be constructed much more quickly with some developers offering onsite completion in 3-4 months. This means that investors will be able to rent out units a lot quicker, which would mean a much faster return. Using a Modular blueprint has other benefits, such as more being airtight and therefore more energy efficient, which is especially important for both senior and student living complexes where renters are signed up to a ‘bills included’ contract.

In the UK, we have progressed BtR product design beyond a simple tick box exercise of amenities to something far more discerning and exciting. One of the more important lessons of the pandemic was that design matters. In short, the long-term success of a scheme will come down to a combination of factors including excellent design, an engaged customer service offering, a strong brand identity and a sense of community.