Homes For Rent – the Operational Spirit

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Homes For Rent – the Operational Spirit

News: Public Property

Residential property management is coming to the fore. Residential developments considered on a rental model basis have to include operational considerations at the heart of the design process. Dominic Martin explains why this is so important and provides context for this new way of considering the design of a building.

In the October addition of Public Property, we provided insight to the newly emerging ‘build to rent’ sector in the context of the relatively ignored requirement of homes for families who rent. Between 2001 and 2011, whilst the number of households renting in the 25-34 age group grew by 75%, the 35 to 64 age group grew by 95%.

As this census data reveals, the number of families living in rental accommodation in the UK is clearly rocketing, providing the growing ‘build to rent’ sector with an opportunity – an obligation, in fact – to put operational management factors at the heart of the accommodation offering. Operational considerations aren’t something to be tagged on to a development during the final fit out; they should be a core component of the development’s blueprint from the outset.

The chancellor was keen to tout his new construction target of 300,000 homes per year as part of the Autumn Budget. The focus on the UK’s housing needs provides an opportunity to think beyond our current provision. Individual houses and steel and glass high rise towers are great housing options, but there’s plenty more that we could do. In the US, for example, ‘low rise apartment housing’ is the favoured rental option for many families. This suburban housing offers efficiency in design and space consumption and can come with shared amenities, from gyms and business suites to playgrounds, pet exercise areas and BBQ facilities.

Regardless of the type of rental accommodation in question, the ‘operational spirit’ that needs to be considered in the design process for rental homes remains the same. It needs to be a core focus that looks ahead to both the living experience of the customer (those renting the homes) as well as considering the practicalities of delivering an effective on-site management team.

Considerations include items such as high-speed broadband, utilities and smart metering, the refuse strategy, security and access (building, units and amenities), staffing areas, communal areas, storage areas and parcel delivery strategies – hence the need to incorporate thinking around operational management from day one. Each of these items can have a notable impact on the operational efficiency of a building and, as such, on the quality of the living experience for those renting homes there.

Historic focus has rightly been to consider the impact of such items on the all-important construction budget, where the working assumption is to simply maximise ‘sales space’ and limit common areas and ‘back of house’ spaces. For many in the development arena, understanding the greater value and critical importance of incorporating such items remains a challenge, yet one which needs to be faced head-on.

Conversely, poorly conceived operational management can soon lead to higher running costs. A poor broadband service can mean a higher turnover of residents and increased collection. All of these costs can further erode into the income received, when in turn reduces ‘investment value’ or ‘gross development value.’

Parcel delivery management is a great example of this, especially at this time of year. Online shopping continues to grow in popularity and the festive season is the busiest season for many retailers. In large developments, this can create havoc in the run up to Christmas. The arrival of enormous quantities of parcels, which all need to be signed for, sorted and safely stored, and which arrive via numerous couriers at different times of day can have a surprisingly significant impact on a management team’s ability to complete normal day-to-day tasks. Parcel lockers and unit mail boxes with larger apertures (to accommodate DVD and book deliveries) are a far more efficient solution than a parcel storage room, but again this needs to be addressed during the design phase of the project.

With the staff team in mind, operational management also needs to consider the size and design of staffing areas, ensuring that they are enjoyable spaces to work in with as much natural light as possible. Dedicated managerial and leasing office space also needs to be factored in.

From a customer (tenant) perspective, specifying smart meters at the tender contract stage can reap benefits further down the line. Seamless move-in and move-out processes, as well as easily assured accuracy of utility consumption, mean a more satisfactory tenant experience. They also make life easier for the management team.

Layout is key too. It’s fantastic to include a gym or a flexible residents’ lounge space, but if these are located in an obscure part of the building that isn’t convenient to access, they can quickly fall out of favour (and use). The result is residents who feel they’re not quite getting what they’re paying for, which is never a good situation. There can also be cleaning and maintenance implications, in terms of both time and cost.

There are plenty more examples. Each one contributes not just to the overall living experience for the resident, but also to the ability of the on-site team to operate efficiently and, ultimately, to the development’s value.

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