News How far can Build to Rent stewardship go?

How far can Build to Rent stewardship go?


March 10, 2022

In 1975, Margaret Thatcher declared her vision to the Conservative Conference that the UK should be a "property-owning democracy". Since then, our overall outlook towards home ownership has undergone a paradigm shift, increasing house prices and societal difference between those who have equity and those who do not. The Build to Rent (BTR) ‘revolution’ has, however, over the last 10 years been quietly creating ripples within the UK’s housing market that is beginning to provide an alternative vision to home ownership.

Owning a home is an individual endeavour, especially when buying new. When the ink on the contract has dried and the champagne has become flat; the agent, builder and developer have moved on to pastures new. The success of the emerging and embryonic community rests entirely in the hands of the homeowners, their ability to forge bonds with each other, find routes into the existing communities and to come to a set of common understandings that iron out the potential pitfalls of shared spaces.

BTR takes a different approach to this. When you move into an established BTR development you are welcomed into a pre-existing community structure that is carefully managed to appeal to its residents. Facilities that support the tenant’s lifestyles are often provided within the building, such as gyms, lounges, cycle repair, library and cinema spaces and occasionally, swimming pools. Social events are curated; health and wellbeing encouraged and entertainment laid on. Continual monitoring of use and flexibility of offer means emerging trends are accommodated and variety provided.

Development stewards are also starting to create, maintain and monitor relationships with existing communities and businesses. This approach, which is becoming more and more common, strengthens community cohesion and placemaking for the new and existing residents.

This all may sound over-controlled and, to some extent, stage managed. However, there are hugely successful historic precedents we can look back at and gain some re-assurance from. Places like Saltaire, Bournville and Port Sunlight were created by wealthy industrialists who were concerned about the wider well-being of their work forces. They built great new communities from scratch with high quality rental accommodation and wider facilities, catering for their tenants physical, emotional and spiritual welfare. Art galleries, schools, hospitals, pools, allotments, concert halls and recreation facilities were all present, often within a nostalgic recreation of bucolic worker tradition in an industrialised and urbanised world. They focused on a clear emphasis of ‘sense of place’, outside space and health and wellbeing.

The parallels between these great estates and the emerging new BTR developments are striking. But what was deemed to be relevant at the end of the 19th century isn’t necessarily relevant now. Good quality homes, with wider facilities and a focus on community is a given. In the age of the online ecosystem, can the BTR offer embrace the electronic zeitgeist? Can and will BTR management companies use their ‘buying power’ to offer tenants wider packages on top of the obligatory gym membership? Music, live streaming, online content and media subscriptions? Electric car, cycle and travel contracts and tickets? Coffee subscriptions and delivery deals? Charity and carbon offset contributions? Even savings, pensions and other portable financial products - all made available from one rental payment, tailored to each tenant through an app.

To quote William Hesketh Lever, founder of Port Sunlight, "…if you leave the money with me, I shall use it to provide for you everything that makes life pleasant – nice houses, comfortable homes, and healthy recreation." Can and should BTR stewardship go way beyond the physical and start to offer a wider, more granular lifestyle package? Only the market and time will know in the coming decades.

By Craig Sheach, Partner at PRP