Hatch’s Head of Build to Rent, Jodie Wardell, talks changes in the market and a bright future for BTR...

Real estate is in Jodie’s DNA. While she currently holds the role of Head of BTR at Hatch, her career has been an upward trajectory from the very beginning. She previously headed up the Octavia Hill estate voids team at the Church Commissioners over a course of five years, before moving to Daniel Watney LLP where she was responsible for a diverse portfolio of properties for eight years.

Her success is really no surprise, as it all began for Jodie with a Bsc (Hons) in Real Estate Management and most-interestingly, with a dissertation looking specifically at the private rented sector and its role within the UK. Since joining Hatch in 2013, Jodie has utilised her industry experience as well as a strong interest in both tenant wellbeing and design to help deliver over 20,000 properties to both private and institutional investors.

We sit down with the expert to shed some light on current market trends and the future of BTR.

How has the market changed from when it first emerged to now?

The build-to-rent market is ever-evolving. From the types of tenants occupying them to the number of homes built, we’re seeing significant growth across the sector.

Between the first quarter of 2019 and the first quarter of 2020, the number of BTR homes built rose by 42% compared with the previous period, according to research published by the British Property Federation. And while recent challenges presented by COVID-19 means investment in BTR is likely to be lower this year , the future is certainly looking very bright. According to recent CBRE reports, BTR is set to outperform other sectors in 2021 and over the next five years.

Aside from the growth in numbers, there’s a change in tastes, too. As more people than ever choose to rent instead of buy, tenants are increasingly looking for a higher standard of accommodation - which is something landlords and investors are now reacting to. It’s because of this we’re seeing a change in perception when it comes to rentals. Previous stereotypes surrounding renting and poor quality are being scrapped - tenants are now raising their standards. Think flexibility, security and direct contact with landlords.

2020 has certainly been a year of change and that extends to the types of tenants and their needs. Originally pitched at young professionals without large deposits to buy, central London BTR properties have evolved to attract a vast array of demographics – including young families. And the process of change continues. As more and more people switch to working from home permanently, living close to the office becomes lower on the priority list and property choice becomes more about the experience and less about the location. BTR has the ammunition to meet these new demands, with communal working spaces and outdoor entertainment areas providing the perfect antidote to lockdown living and this is a challenge that we are actively helping BTR clients with at Hatch.

How are developers diversifying their offering to attract tenants?

Flexibility is key. Tenants needs are changing and developers are looking to accommodate their lifestyles – including flexible terms on leases, the ability to have pets and communal spaces. Today, we have BTR offerings that include cinema rooms, 24-hour gyms, shops, cafes and private gardens, whilst five years ago, the same developer offered much simpler properties with little-to-no communal space.

Tenants no longer want a space that just works for them as a home, they want a property that creates comfort and convenience in every aspect of their lives. Spaces that offer gyms, wellness classes (dog yoga included!), super speedy WiFi and workspaces do all of this. During the countrywide lockdown, the Fizzy Living development was able to have a DJ perform in their communal gardens while tenants joined the part from their balconies. It gives a whole new meaning to the term ‘house party’!

 

How has the demand for interior design/furnishing from BTR developers changed? 

While cost effective furnishing has always been a priority within BTR, operators increasingly recognise that the right furniture can have a substantial impact in creating interest in a site and securing quality tenants. In an age of social media, interior trends are more popular than ever before and the right furniture can set a property apart from a competitor. This is particularly important as the market matures and tenants are presented with so much choice. Today, good WiFi and stylish interiors go a long way. Years ago, BTR properties would offer one way of furnishing but as the market grows and we learn tenants love variation and choice, it’s quite common to offer two or three different looks for the home.

How has Hatch changed its approach towards BTR schemes?

We have always been design-led, but we are now much more commercially focused: understanding the return that an investment in interior design must deliver; working with clients to dramatise their unique brands through our design; and providing a true ‘white glove’ service that minimises the impact on on-site teams.

We now see our relationships continuing long after developments are finished, whether that is working with marketing and sales teams, or providing inspiring prizes for tenant competitions. Hatch has been able to do this by investing in dedicated BTR staff and growing that team, with a new addition being Georgia Thomas, our BTR Project Manager.

 

What do you think the future of BTR looks like post-COVID-19?

Working from home will see a demand for spaces with spare bedrooms that can be used as offices, complete with super speedy WiFi, mobile connections and ample desk space and storage. BTR providers will look to expand their furniture inventory with more home-office pieces that allow for a versatile space.

As well as bringing the office inside, we suspect the demand for the great outdoors will rise too. Outside communal spaces that allow for lunchtime strolls and activity help create a sense of community, which is important for those who want to find time in the day to separate work from home. Rooftop gardens and balconies are likely to prove the most popular.

2020 also saw a rise in virtual viewings, which may continue to be popular post-Covid-19, meaning developers should be prepared by ensuring their units stand out online with eye-catching decor. This year has seen change across the globe and the BTR market is definitely no exception to that.