There was significant growth in parts of the UK build-to-rent market last year away from London as people’s lifestyles and working patterns changed. What are people’s priorities now and where should investors be looking next?
This sector, where purpose-built homes are created specifically with private tenants in mind, has been growing exponentially in recent years. Driven initially by developments in London, the trend has spread further afield and the capital is now being overtaken by other parts of the country.
According to the latest figures, there are 63,950 completed homes in the sector. There are a further 42,000 under construction, with a future pipeline of around 99,500 BTR homes in total.
Construction in the UK’s regions has boomed recently, with almost 12,000 new home starts in Q3 2021. While 19 schemes began building processes within the capital, a huge 43 schemes started construction elsewhere. In particular, Manchester, Brighton and Liverpool were standout areas for new BTR construction, says a report from Savills.
City centre versus commuter towns
During the pandemic, behaviour patterns of some of the UK’s renters began to change. The fact that less people were commuting meant they could prioritise homes with a better work-life balance and more space. This meant many people were more drawn than ever to commuter towns outside cities, and for many, these lifestyle changes will be permanent.
But, according to Savills, renters are beginning to return to the city. “Now, with the return of students and a young, mobile workforce, city centre demand has returned and transport hubs are once again a priority,” it says.
The Savills report adds: “The potential to work from home has expanded commuter belts and there is more choice than ever for those working in the UK’s largest cities. This has supported let up rates for these schemes.
“Bristol schemes have received huge interest from London relocators while Grainger’s Gatehouse Apartments in Southampton leased up to 8 months ahead of schedule and may have also benefited from the arrival of London relocators.”
Strong rental growth varies across country
Thanks to these shifting dynamics, the rental growth picture has been poles apart in some areas of the UK. While parts of London have seen rental price falls since March 2020, most other areas have seen rises. The north-west, north-east and south-west have fared particularly well.
The graph below, provided by Savills and Zoopla powered by Hometrack, demonstrates the picture since March last year.
Why invest in this housing provision?
One of the unique things about the BTR market is the fact that the focus is on the tenant. Unlike traditional buy-to-let, the properties are designed with a typical tenant in mind, and therefore have more to offer. As a result, tenants are often willing to pay more for the added extras, and are likely to stay for longer as their needs are met by their home.
The idea behind a BTR scheme for most developers is to create a community. This is something that can be lacking in areas of heavy rental use, where people may come and go frequently. Further to this, they are often built in prime locations for workers, including commuter towns or cities.
The properties sometimes offer longer-term tenancy agreements and predictable rents, which is appealing to both the landlord and the tenant. There will also normally be communal facilities available to further enhance the community feel. This could include shared workspaces for home-workers, as well as gyms and roof terraces for socialising.
The schemes are normally run by a property management service offering security and support. For the investor, this often means a very hands-off investment, which can be preferable.