Herbert Lui: designing for ‘generation rent’

Driven by affordability issues, demographics and changing generational attitudes, the growing demand in the private rented sector has been well documented. While private buy-to-let investors may be put off by recent changes to the UK tax regime, the property agent Knight Frank predicts corporate investors will treble their investment into the sector by 2020. Herbert Lui, director at Dexter Moren Associates, discusses designing for the rental market.

These new, bigger players are creating much larger schemes catering specifically for the rental market. The exterior architecture and apartment layout in these developments tend to be very similar to build for sale developments. However, we are seeing a significant design difference in the provision of communal space including entrances, amenity areas and back of house facilities. These facilities can generate additional income, but their main purpose is to enhance place making and community cohesion amongst tenants.

Greystar Millharbour Lobby

Greystar Millharbour Lobby

A survey of private rental tenants, conducted by YouGov, identified “proximity to friends and family” as one of the three most important criteria “with widest potential to add value”. If a tenant knows one or more people in their building they are much more likely to stay for longer reducing money lost through rental voids.

Greystar Millharbour Residents Games Lounge Visual

Greystar Millharbour Residents Games Lounge

So, rather than cram in as many units as possible we are seeing large areas given over to amenity use. These spaces might include the lobby, laundry and post rooms, gym, residents and business lounges and entertainment space. The design needs to be well-thought out. The use of gadgets and gimmicks are not likely to stand the test of time. Our core specialism at DMA is hospitality design and we believe there is much that can be learnt from this sector in creating really successful communal space which encourages people to dwell and connect with each other.

Greystar Millharbour Clubroom Visual

Greystar Millharbour Clubroom

If it works, shared space in rental schemes can not only help develop communities, and build the link between public and private amenity, but also turn tenants into ambassadors, by encouraging them to invite their friends and family into the building. Furthermore, the provision of amenity space and other services, such as free wifi and superfast broadband, a 24-hour concierge, and regular and reliable maintenance, all add value to the offer, helping to justify any cost differential with units offered by private buy-to-let investors.

We can also look to the hospitality sector when choosing fixtures and finishes. As build for rent developments are designed for long-term investment purposes, the life-cycle of the building materials used plays a much greater role than in other developments. Finishes need to be high quality, robust and designed to last.

Greystar Millharbour Club Room

Greystar Millharbour Club Room

However, it should be noted that these are homes not hotel rooms and so some degree of personalisation will be welcomed by tenants. While this is challenging from an operational point of view it should be explored. Here we might learn more from the student sector, where we have designed several schemes with design solutions enabling occupiers to personalise their space.

In the UK at least, the professional build for rent market is still in its infancy. Those providers who pay careful consideration to design issues at the outset will get a head start in building their brands in this dynamic sector. As the millennial generation comes of age it may be that rental is not seen as second best, but more a lifestyle choice offering a level of service and flexibility not available in the for-sale sector.

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