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Shaping developments in a post-Covid world

Covid has changed the way many of our residents live their lives, with some changes here to stay. This includes the way residents want to access and engage with their communities and the facilities they expect at their developments. Business Development Manager, Kelly Fox explores how FirstPort and our clients are adapting to meet this changing demand, particularly in our cities.

The shape of the city

The pandemic has changed many city-workers’ focus. From making sure their time away from home is as productive as possible, to making sure their time at home counts, maybe indefinitely as companies look to offer a more hybrid model of working in the future. This has required our clients to consider the space their future residents may want from not only their home but also from facilities and the wider environment. Fresh consideration needs to be given to providing solutions that allow managing agents to offer flexible and adaptable space, utilising the communal areas, so that residents can successfully manage both their home and work life.

We’re having interesting conversations with clients about providing multifunctional amenity space for residents. We’ve seen some great examples of clients adapting currently underutilised space, such as converting larger foyers and leisure areas into alternative homeworking spaces. Our clients are also incorporating similar changes at their newest developments too. For example, Telereal Trillium decided to cancel plans for a dedicated gym in favour of providing more flexible recreational/workspace at their Irene Studios development in Balham.

In our role as managing agent, we’re talking with clients about what systems need to be in place to support booking these types of spaces and how to make them sustainable, both in terms of cost and management.

Another conversation is around the infrastructure required to support these spaces and make them as comfortable as possible for residents. Access to quality WiFi, good lighting, suitable electric sockets, and adequate heating/cooling is as important as providing practical furnishings. Again, considering the adaptability of these spaces is the key to making sure residents get the most from them.

When it comes to retirement living, town centre locations have typically been more desirable over city centres, but we are now starting to see some developers making plans to build retirement properties in city centre locations – and the interest from customers is encouraging. The key will be making city centre living more accessible for older people, with travel services and appropriate amenities being readily available. For example, local health care facilities, shops, restaurants and leisure facilities that cater to an older demographic. Developing outdoor communal space that appeals to and considers the needs of a range of ages is also important.

Development impact

It is certainly fair to say that the developments we manage and the teams that care for them have felt the impact of homeworking, such as higher demand for waste management services and an increase in personal onsite deliveries. Our onsite estate management teams have reported a notable increase in flytipping, particularly old furniture and, anecdotally, they have reported an increase in packaging specifically relating to electronics, food and Amazon Prime deliveries.

Front of house interactions have certainly increased and so too has the service expectations, often requiring practical management solutions such as private waste collections to complement Council services to prevent build ups in communal waste storage.

Environmental focus

We’re also seeing an increase in demand for electric vehicle facilities at developments. Parking is a familiar problem for city-centre inhabitants, with the ratio between car spaces and homes as low as 0.2-0.4 spaces per apartment, often at additional charge or ‘right to use’ basis.

To respond to this demand – and as part of the section 106 requirement at the time of planning – we’re seeing most new-build development having 20% electric vehicle capacity installed, but some developers are putting in infrastructures for 100% capacity later down the line  (i.e. in 5-10 years),  which we would recommend to satisfy future demand and because the cost to retrospectively do this is significant and may not be permitted under the lease.

Typically, electric vehicle usage is based on a ‘pay as you go’ model, so some of our clients are exploring whether they can offset the costs or to contribute to the development’s budget by making it publicly accessible.

We’re also keen to encourage bike storage solutions, especially in city centre developments. Some of the best we’ve seen are multifunctional and allow residents to clean and repair their bikes and in a safe place.

Resident involvement in shaping communities

We’re often asked, what does community engagement look like? And in our experience, it can be a lot different to what you’d expect. Ultimately it means different things to different people, that’s why it’s important for us as managing agents to listen to our residents about what they want from where they live.

It really doesn’t have to always be about big, managed events, often it’s the much more simple and low key initiatives that are well-received, such as creating an environment for people to meet informally with neighbours and friends that’s away from their home.

We’ve seen some great examples of our clients thinking about how to support families in busy cities, so that parents have a space that works for both them and their children, like indoor and outdoor play areas with comfortable lounge-like seating areas for adults.  Also creating play areas which aren’t just focused on those under five years old but also older children.

A good managing agent can support this agenda by working with the residents on initiatives like on-site parent and baby clubs, allotment associations and gardening clubs, and local charity projects such as food bank collections or recycle programmes. As well as traditional methods, using technology like customer portals and apps are great ways to engage and promote community initiatives to residents.

The best examples we’ve seen are when it’s not just us as the managing agent or our clients trying to create or bring together the whole community, but a group of neighbours driving the agenda, supported by their property manager.

Creativity, innovation and adaptability are the three essential ingredients when working with our clients and residents to create great communities. We’ll continue to monitor and respond to trends that make our developments homes to be proud of.

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