BTR Annual Bisnow Conference: key highlights
Weren't at the BTR Annual Bisnow Conference? Here’s what you need to know.
One of the main features was a general feeling of market positivity and encouraging signs of future growth in the sector. Areas ripe for BTR development included Oxford, Cambridge, Birmingham, Reading and Liverpool as well as ongoing buoyancy in the London market. Manchester was seen as decreasing in prominence.
An interesting development in the sector's approach is that there are suburban, low-rise schemes coming through, with more expected. The Build to Rent industry seems keen not to repeat mistakes of the '60s, '70s and '80s by putting large numbers of families in high-rise apartments but to keep an open mind in respect of what the development should look like. It is not necessarily always the customer you expect which you end up attracting so don’t assume you know it all, but keep nimble, keep learning and keep spaces flexible.
The main barrier to growth in the BTR industry is the inconsistent approach of local authorities to the social housing requirement. Whilst central government is generally supportive of the sector, the experience of developers in different areas can vary dramatically. Nevertheless there was positivity aplenty and new players keen to access the market.
Key to the BTR community are wi-fi, connecting with and enhancing the character of the area, facilitating community groups and activities and ground floor "animation". Be authentic, original and make the ground floor work for the residents. Keep the space flexible. It is foolhardy for a developer to assume that they know what the residents will want until the residents take over and start running the space for themselves.
When considering the animation of the ground floor, do not think of covenant strength (after all, a pop-up business is exactly that) but to be original, inventive and in tune with the local community. Everyone benefits when local businesses and community groups are invited into the building rather than held at bay. Think supper clubs by local eateries, showcasing of local musicians, cultural programming: parent groups, singles nights and media events.
Always keep in mind the end user. Right from the concept design stage, the focus has to be on flexibility of the space and the types of people and groups using it. Avoid the “organised fun” feel. Be responsive to resident’s requirements, be it smaller events, fitness in the park, classes in the gym, events in the locks, BBQs in the sun traps and use of other local amenities.
Technology can bring people together but it can also isolate. The key is to empower people to drive the use of the community space and to integrate with the neighbourhood so that customers aren't restricted by the walls of their building.
Tina is a senior associate in our Commercial Real Estate team.