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Property management insight is the key to effective Build to Rent design

As the UK Build to Rent market grows, architects and interior designers are relishing creating places that hundreds of customers will call home. But designers’ plans don’t always sync with how customers will actually use the building.

FirstPort offers consultancy services to Build to Rent clients in the planning and design phases. With four decades of property and asset management experience, caring for 196,000 homes across the UK, the organisation is well-placed to give Build to Rent investors and developers perspective on how customers will use spaces and amenities. Here Jeremy Ogborne, FirstPort Business Development Manager, reveals his top tips for satisfying customers’ needs in a Build to Rent Environment.

1. Know your customer as well as you know your building.

FirstPort’s national reach, and the fact we serve a wide range of age groups, provides valuable insight into differing customer expectations. Ultimately it’s about helping the Build to Rent investor or developer truly understand the customer so that they can lease-up buildings more quickly and retain customers for longer.

Anyone entering the Build to Rent market needs to start by thinking about the customer and understanding how they will use the space. For example, a designer might opt for a carpeted floor all the way to the bin store, but what happens when customers bring dripping bin bags along there every week?

We begin by understanding how customers will move through the building, from the moment they arrive at the development to when they get to their front door. Ours hands-on experience means we know what amenities customers use, how often they use them and when they tend to need replacing. This insight ensures more accurate operating cost projections.

2. Create a building that’s personal as well as practical.

FirstPort can use its qualitative consultancy advice to help with the personal. For customers new to living in a Build to Rent development, the prospect a 20-storey building can be a bit daunting, so we work with designers to ensure that the lobby is bright and welcoming and offers easy access to lifts, staircases and all amenities up front.

We also know that design which encourages customers to socialise and engage with the local community is key to creating personal experiences; and there’s a practical advantage too, especially when you consider that you’re more likely to renew your lease if you know your neighbours. That’s why we advise investors and developers to create ample common space.

From a purely practical perspective, things like understanding the customer route helps us predict which finishes and amenities will undergo the most strain. In high traffic areas we’d recommend tile flooring to avoid having to replace carpeting regularly. Also, by ensuring you have at least one large-size lift you will reduce the wear and tear of the other lifts as customers move furniture in and out. In another example, we’ve insisted a designer place a central bank of lifts in a long hallway near the main entrance rather than two banks at either end of the hallway. The obvious benefit is that it saves customers time walking and waiting, but it also reduces the impact on lobby finishes.

3. Respond to customer-focused demographic and lifestyle trends.

Demographic trends will dictate how space is utilised on site. We know that what works in Central London might not work in Bristol or Leeds, and that 25 to 35 year olds have different preferences to the sixty plus demographic.

With fewer Build to Rent customers owning a car, we see car parks as being less and less important to the design process. Instead of dedicating multiple storeys to an underused car park, this space can be utilised to generate revenue instead, such as rentable conference rooms, screening rooms and on-site dining.

We also know that sustainability ranks high amongst younger customers so we advise investors and developers to consider motion detectors for light fixtures and opportunities to recycle rainwater for use on lawns or gardens.

Putney Square, London