The UK’s private rental market is feeling the squeeze. With more people entering the private rental market than ever before, demand is outstripping supply. And the gap is creating fertile ground for a growing sector: Build-to-Rent.
Build-to-rent, as the name suggests, involves the development of (usually) apartment buildings specifically for the rental market.
It has its roots in the USA and is relatively new to the UK housing market. However, cities such as London, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow are seeing a BtR boom.
For renters, BtR accommodation provides high-quality, modern living spaces that often include co-working spaces, on-site gyms, cinema rooms, cafes and EV charging stations.
The British Property Federation (BPF) notes that the age range of residents is around 25 to 34 years old (although older renters are also moving into this sector).
In addition, BtR attracts investors looking to reduce their risk in the wavering office market to seek more solid financial returns.
Tenants are specifically looking for sustainable, modern, affordable high-quality solutions
Purpose-built student accommodation
In parallel to these developments, the UK has also seen considerable growth in purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA).
As with BtR, investment is being drawn in by growing demand from an expanding student population alongside a shortage of quality accommodation. For developers, PBSA offers the benefits of a steady rental income, often in partnership with local universities.
Although these sectors target slightly different end customers, they share some important characteristics.
For years, private renters and students alike have dealt with poor-quality private rented properties. The new ‘generation rent’ is looking for more quality in their lifestyle.
From the construction and engineering point of view, both types of accommodation are designed for domestic occupants but are built on a scale that lends the buildings to commercially sized heating, ventilation and cooling systems.
Not forgetting IAQ
And there is an increasing need to tackle at-scale challenges such as the provision of good indoor air quality and low-carbon heating.
Since PBSA and BtR are dwellings, new-builds must meet requirements under Part O (Overheating) of the Building Regulations.
This has implications for apartment design since indoor temperatures must be controlled either naturally through cross-ventilation or with mechanical ventilation.
In city centre locations, systems such as MVHR (mechanical ventilation with heat recovery) would be an ideal solution for overheating mitigation while limiting the ingress of outdoor pollutants.
Another critical design factor in PBSA and BtR is the drive to decarbonise heating.
Many of the latest developments in these sectors are all-electric, so managing out gas connections is a benefit. Low-carbon heating options are required under Part L, and many local authorities also require reduced carbon emissions from these developments.
The sectors have both been quick to adopt alternative heating and hot water systems, particularly as many property investors have ESG requirements. As a result, we see many of the latest developments using solar PVs in tandem with air source heat pumps and heat recovery.
These technologies also make the accommodation more affordable for residents, whether students or young professionals.
This is particularly important in the PBSA market, where rents are often ‘all-inclusive’ with heating bills. Ensuring that the systems are energy efficient is, therefore, a high priority for developers and operators alike.
Developers are also targeting BREEAM ratings in both BtR and PBSA properties to demonstrate sustainability.
We are also seeing the adoption of FITWEL certification, which focuses on elements of the building that impact occupant wellbeing, including indoor humidity, temperature and air quality.
PBSA and BtR reflect an evolving accommodation market in the UK in which renting becomes a long-term option.
In fact, many developers in these markets see the possibility of transitioning occupants from PBSA in their student years into BtR as they become young professionals.
But these tenants are very specifically looking for high-quality solutions, and successful corporate landlords will provide sustainable, modern, affordable heating and cooling options.
The buildings themselves incorporate aspects of home design with the scale of commercial mixed-use buildings.
Innovative design and use of low-carbon solutions such as heat pumps and heat recovery can be achieved with the latest equipment to deliver buildings that meet the needs of both occupants and investors.
Mike Egan Business Development Manager