The Apartment “Life” Cycle

A fifty percent land tax discount and simplified planning controls announced in the Australian state of New South Wales will liberate the build to rent sector in this state.

Woods Bagot principal and Sydney studio design leader, Ian Lomas, has more than 30 years’ experience in the UK, Germany, and now Australia, working extensively with governments and clients to conceive and deliver over twenty rental housing development models.

Drawing on his experience and that of Woods Bagot’s build to rent portfolios in North America and the UK, Ian builds the case for the uptake of this asset class in Australia.

Built-to-rent homes can satisfy people’s desires for a sense of community, access to social and work networks, and consistency in their lives through stable tenure.

To retain BTR investor value the focus must always remain on the resident. Thus, we should expect better long-term design outcomes, well maintained properties and secure tenures. With operators needing rental income as soon as possible, the speed of delivery is another gain – and a great lever for local authorities keen to see housing numbers increase and to have people living and active in the area quickly.

Quality amenity: an equipped workshop caters to apartment dwellers in The Lansdowne (Birmingham, UK).

What will make it successful?

It’s a misconception that BTR is the panacea for every housing issue. It just isn’t – but it does fundamentally change the relationship between owner and tenant, to one of mutual benefit.

While there’s no fixed formula of sizes, mix, or facilities, there is consistency in service and quality. Each development must appeal to specific types of people and communities and price scales, to allow people to make it their home for years, and potentially their entire adult lives.

With different apartment types available in a single development, a renter has flexibility to change the size and nature of their housing as their needs change, without having to leave established connections and support networks. The building becomes a neighbourhood and a community – the antithesis of the anonymous and transient apartment building currently dominating the market.

Unlike build-to-sell developments (the prevalent model in Australia) where penthouses are offered at a premium price for private use, the top of the building is reserved as communal space for everyone, often as places simply to hang out – there’s something democratic and beautiful about that.

Changes in work flexibility, accelerated by the extended periods of lockdown, reinforce the importance of attractive communal areas in your building where you can go and work, go and think, or simply disengage.

The case for BTR is rooted in economics

When designing BTR, there’s a shift in thinking. Instead of quick, short term fixes, the drive is to build quality and value across the whole building. Buildings need to age well and demonstrate enduring appeal – they are long term investments and the owners must provide homes that appeal to renters over numerous cycles in their lives. This provides an architecture of good daylight, well-proportioned spaces, natural ventilation, storage, and distinctive character.

Expect a fantastic lobby experience. The Amberly (New York, USA).

“The best benefit for cities is that build-to-rent must be designed for the future.”

Ian Lomas

BTR demands built value

Unlike build-to-sell where the aim is to increase the immediate sale value, build-to-rent needs to appeal to the wider community and promise to mature and age well over decades. This is the best benefit for cities – that build-to-rent must be designed for the future. The lens of physical appearance and market appeal sharpens beyond the opening day to 10, 20 and 50+ year windows.

Operational energy costs are no longer a marketing or statutory requirement but directly correlate to the profit. The BTR developer asks, “Should I invest in better quality façades, mixed mode ventilation, and making apartments more desirable?” It’s a wonderful shift in focus to how viable and enduring a building can be over time.

Modular construction is a great way to embed quality and whole of life sustainability. The use of modular components facilitates offsite manufacture to reduce waste and vehicle movement, speed up construction, and improve quality. Standardised modular components will positively impact lifetime costs with simplicity of repairs and future upgrades.

In the UK and Germany, housing tenure is blended, and planning and economic policies support the blend with a mix of carrots and sticks. The results over time have been cost effective for developers, and great news for people who – for whatever reason – make a rental property their home.

Secure tenure lets people live where they choose to for as long as they need to, and develop communities that stick together and grow together, with positive impacts on wellbeing. These are villages of long-term residents with demographic diversity.

Variations on the model integrate sliding scales of buy-in allowing tenants to invest in their development, giving them more of a home-owning experience. The debate we need to have now is for a policy framework to protect renters the way home-owners are – in retirement and from rising rental costs. Otherwise, how are people to live?

What is Build-to-rent?

Build-to-rent developments are buildings designed for renting professionally managed apartments on a long-term basis. The model includes a range of apartments and housing, with an emphasis on communal residential amenities. The announced policy changes offer a big leap forward for build-to-rent (BTR) developments in New South Wales.

Your address designed as a destination. The Amberly (New York, USA).

Ian Lomas

Principal and Sydney Studio Design Leader

Ian’s approach to architecture conveys a strong sensitivity to human experience. Fundamentally attracted to projects where knowledge and research are transferred across typologies, his portfolio deliberately spans a curated array of award winning and innovative work from hotels, private residences and urban regeneration to landmark heritage buildings, luxury retail and office towers.

With more than 30 years’ experience in the UK, Europe, the United States and Australia, Ian takes on each project with a vigorous commitment to originality and an open review process with space for healthy debate. With a communicative approach that is clear, organised and collaborative, Ian applies high level strategic skills and integrated, evidence based thinking to lead outcomes that engage with people and the principles of design excellence.

Before joining Woods Bagot, Ian held senior design and leadership roles at Foster+Partners, MAKE Architects, and Kohn Pedersen Fox.

Talk to Ian Lomas about The Apartment “Life” Cycle