12 Jul 23

Focus on the fundamentals for BTR success: location, lifestyle, design and service

Simon Saint in W-B’s Melbourne studio.

Woods Bagot London principal Simon Saint, who has led the development of 1500 build-to-rent (BTR) units in the UK, advises Australian developers not to imitate other more mature markets and focus on getting the product fundamentals right for locals.

Saint says in the early days of BTR in the UK some developers mistakenly looked to the US for inspiration. This led to a focus on branding and marketing when the main priority was property 101 – buying the right site and putting the best possible product on it.

“There isn’t a silver bullet,” says Saint. “What really attracts people to a BTR property is the convenience, service and the lifestyle the building offers. It’s very important to focus on individual assets in the context of the local market.”

In Australia, Woods Bagot is playing an important role in the rapidly-emerging BTR sector.

It is working with international real estate developer and manager Greystar on BTR planning strategies across all three eastern states and has two projects well under way with other developers.

Woods Bagot has designed two BTR towers at Coronation Property’s Mason & Main development in Merrylands, a five-building project now under construction.

In nearby Parramatta, work on the residential tower at 180 George St, which Woods Bagot designed for Meriton after winning a City of Parramatta design excellence competition and includes BTR, is approaching completion.

Mason & Main design and renders by Woods Bagot.

Projects in the pipeline include the first BTR development in Adelaide’s CBD, which Principal Alex Hall says is a key element of the ambitious Tapangka mixed-use precinct – designed by Woods Bagot – in the city’s Central Market district.

Woods Bagot is partnering with Renewal SA on Tapangka, the masterplan of which also includes a hotel, social housing, affordable housing, build-to-sell apartments, restaurants, a civic centre and plaza.

“The fundamentals of good residential design apply to BTR and that’s what we’ve done at Tapangka,” says Hall.

Tapangka’s main goal is to bring residents back into the Adelaide CBD, which now has less people living there than it did early last century.

“We had this broader idea of appealing to people that are looking to come to South Australia or South Australians who want to live in the city,” says Hall.

“And that’s where build-to-rent comes into the picture as one element of a large mixed-use project offering different residential typologies.”

South Australia’s Minister of Housing and Urban Development, Nick Champion, adds that by “bringing the build-to-rent model into the CBD for the first time is another way to help address housing shortages and ease the rental squeeze”.

Wherever BTR is built, Simon Saint says looking after tenants is key.

“Customer experience is what creates value in BTR,” says Saint.

He says it’s important to do the little things properly, right from the start. For example, for The Lansdowne, a BTR project in central Birmingham, Woods Bagot designed a premium bike locker and workshop space inside the entry lobby of the building, in addition to the standard bike storage provided outside in the carpark.

This solved more than the issue of bike storage. “People with bikes worth $5000 or $10,000 aren’t going to store them outdoors, they’ll take them into their apartments. This can create access issues and potential maintenance problems too.”

“Customer experience is what creates value in BTR.”

Tapangka residential and social housing building.

Tapangka street view with dedicated commercial amenities.

He says the UK BTR market, which took off around a decade ago, is a better benchmark for Australian investors than the US, where BTR is known as multi-family housing.

Real estate services company JLL estimates there were 4,486 completed BTR units in Australia at the end of 2022 – just a few hundred more than there were in the UK in the last quarter of 2013 (4000) according to Savills.

In terms of numbers, this makes Australia almost exactly 10 years behind the UK. In mindset though, Saint says we’re much closer than that.

Since 2013, Savills says UK BTR stock has reached 78,700 completed homes (units). There are a further 50,500 under construction and the pipeline is 113,400.

JLL says Australia’s immediate BTR development pipeline is 20,000 units through to 2025 and expects further growth – anticipating increased foreign capital inflows and an influx of new investors.

For Woods Bagot, says Saint, the key question to consider when designing BTR is how to maximise customer experience and minimise operational cost to ensure customer retention and strong long-term returns for clients.

“As we have seen new buildings hit the market in the UK, it’s not so much the demographics, it’s more about the lifestyle aspirations of potential tenants and how you give people an opportunity to be part of something they aspire to be part of.”


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Martin Kelly
Content and Communications Leader (Australia & New Zealand)

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